Asked last week whether she would run to become the next Secretary-General of the United Nations, Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados gave a thumbs up, smiled and walked away. Unofficially, however, UN experts say she is probably one of her favorites.
The 2026 selection process is still a ways off, but talk has already begun about who is best positioned to win the powerful job.
Historically, there has been a geographic rotation for the position, so it seems likely that the next UN leader will be from the Latin American and Caribbean region, and many advocates say it is time to choose a female candidate, after 78 years of only male leaders. .
In the hallways and backrooms of the United Nations headquarters in New York, Mottley is one of several names being floated as possible contenders. Two sources said former Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos – a Nobel Peace Prize winner – will launch a campaign soon, although a Santos representative denies this.
Among others, the Argentine diplomat Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, is also a recurring name in discussions about who could succeed the current UN Secretary General, António Guterres, as is Alicia Bárcena, secretary of Foreign Relations of Mexico; Rebeca Grynspan, high-level UN official and former vice president of Costa Rica; and María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, former president of the UN General Assembly and former minister of Ecuador.
But it is the charismatic and outspoken Mottley whose name tends to generate the most excitement. Although Mottley has not yet said he will run, a UN diplomat said he would “jump with excitement” if he did.
Ralph Gonsalves, prime minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, a neighboring island, said she would have his vote if she decided to campaign.
“I think she would make a great Secretary General,” he said, “Whatever she does, I will support her.”
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Mottley became prime minister of Barbados in 2018 and won a second term in a landslide election four years later.
Internationally, he has been noted for severing his country’s postcolonial ties with the British monarchy and for his powerful rhetoric on slavery reparations, climate change, and the need to reform global financial institutions through the International Monetary Fund and others. multilateral banks.
Mottley doesn’t mince his words when it comes to big powers either. In his speech to the General Assembly last week, he asked: “How is it possible that Chevron and the European Union can access oil and gas from Venezuela, but the people of the Caribbean cannot access them with the 35 percent discount?” What does the People of Venezuela offer?”
In 2022, Mottley spearheaded the Bridgetown Initiative, a policy plan to reform the global financial architecture and development finance to make it more equitable, particularly in the face of the climate crisis. The initiative would change the way money is loaned to developing countries and establish a special emergency fund for climate disasters.
In April, Mottley also joined forces with current UN chief Guterres and announced a revamp of his company, called Bridgetown 2.0, presenting six development priorities for development financing that will be discussed on the world stage at the annual meeting. of the IMF-World Bank. group in October, COP28 in November and the Future Summit in 2024.
Many diplomats in New York City and beyond said they believe in Mottley’s potential to represent issues affecting the developing world as U.N. leader, but also in his ability to bring his unique leadership style to the role. .
“I don’t think I remember any other leader in recent history, other than Obama, who has had the attention of the international community like her,” said a UN diplomat.
Still, some warn that he is taking political risks. Considering that the initiative significantly challenges the status quo of international finance, UN expert Richard Gowan of the International Crisis Group says Mottley needs to carefully plan his next steps.
Other observers point out that trying to alter existing systems risks angering at least one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, who have the final say over the Secretary-General’s selection process.
Mottley’s office did not respond to multiple interview requests.
The next UN Secretary-General would take office in January 2027. Is four years too early to start talking about who will be the organization’s next leader? For some, it is a necessary debate for an institution that is at its turning point, as it grapples with criticism and geopolitical paralysis in the powerful Security Council.
“I don’t think it’s soon at all,” said Elina Valtonen, Finland’s foreign minister, “it’s very important to start discussing that because I think it’s also very much a question of what the future should look like for the UN and the UN”. Security Council.”
Valtonen and others also say that yesterday it was time for the organization to have its first female leader. “This position should be based largely on merit,” she said, “but I think it would be very notable if, once again, it were not a woman who was chosen.”
The selection process has long been secret, but was opened up somewhat in 2016. To be considered, candidates must first be nominated by a country, usually their own, and then recommended by the Security Council to the General Assembly.
During the last selection process in 2016, a group of countries committed to presenting only female candidates; An initiative is currently being revived for the next selection process. In 2016, thirteen candidates ran, seven of whom were women. But Guterres, a Portuguese diplomat long considered the favorite for the job, was eventually chosen.
“There are always a lot of men who want to run,” said Ben Donaldson, head of campaigns at the United Nations Association of the United Kingdom.
This year, he said, “I hope the message comes loud and clear from most states and from civil society that no state should field male candidates. “We are all working to increase the stigma around this, hopefully we can nip it in the bud.”
Susana Malcorra, a former candidate in the 2016 Secretary General election and co-founder and president of the advocacy group Global Women Leaders Voices, is also working to ensure that political pressure moves female candidates forward in the next cycle.
“It’s not so much about talking about Julie, Anne or Mary, but more about talking about a Madam Secretary General as a general proposal, and then making sure we pave the way to get there,” he said.
But not everyone agrees with the effort.
Dennis Francis, president of the 78th UN General Assembly, originally from Trinidad and Tobago, does not believe that men should refrain from running. “I think next time men should run, just as I think women should run in numbers,” he said.
“Because what I would like to happen is for a woman to win in those circumstances, not from a field of women. “That would be the wrong message.”
And with the powerful Security Council already frozen on a number of issues since the start of Russia’s war in Ukraine, it is difficult to imagine its members eventually reaching a consensus on a single candidate.
“All I have to say is grab your popcorn,” said Julia Maciel, a diplomat from Paraguay.