Election of the UNESCO Director General

UNESCO Conference Room

UNESCO Conference Hall

UNESCO has been in crisis for nearly two years. When the UNESCO General Conference met in 2011 it elected Palestine to membership. As a result, the United States immediately began to withhold its contributions to the Organization; 22 percent of the regular budget was suddenly gone. The United States continues to withhold its contributions although the Obama administration has requested that Congress appropriate the necessary funds. The current gridlock in the Congress suggests that the funding may not be authorized soon, and it may be that the United States will lose its voting rights at the General Conference. 

In its next meeting, as part of a complex agenda, UNESCO’s Executive Board will consider the UNESCO’s program and budget for the next two years and the election of a Director General for the next four years. The members will do so knowing that UNESCO will be expected to provide global leadership in the planning for education and science to meet the Sustainable Development Goals to be defined by the United Nations for the coming decades. UNESCO will also be expected to deal with the crisis in education created in the Levant by the millions of refugee Syrian children. It will also be expected to work to preserve world heritage sites threatened by conflict and by environmental problems. And of course, it will be expected to continue to find ways to build the defenses of peace in the minds of men, as it has always sought to do.

There are three nominees for Director General of UNESCO. During its upcoming meeting (24 September-11 October 2013) the 58 members of the UNESCO Executive Board will select  one to recommend to the UNESCO General Conference. The General Conference will almost certainly accept that recommendation during its 2013 meeting (November 5 to November 20).

Irina Bokova

Irina Bokova, a Bulgarian career diplomat and the current Director General, is running for a second four year term. UNESCO provides three documents illuminating her vision for UNESCO in addition to her biography:

There have been rumors for some months that she might withdraw from the election, but there have been public announcements of her country’s support for her candidacy.

There has also been negative media attention to her candidacy. Recently The Huffington Post published a quite negative piece on DG Bokova’s candidacy titled “Unesco: Irina Bokova doit-elle être reconduite?“, It cites:

Similarly, there has been a recent critical article from politics.co.uk. So too, in the United States the conservative National Review published an article critical of UNESCO and DG Bokova in March.

Rachad Farah

Rachad Farah was nominated last year by his country, Djibuti.  An experienced diplomat, and serves as Djibuti’s Ambassador to several countries and is its Permanent Delegate to UNESCO. Here is his biography, He has publicly outlined his vision for UNESCO. Here is a more formal vision statementHere is his website.

Ambassador Farah has been actively campaigning for the position, and has received a number of endorsements:

He has also been the subject of some media attention:

Joseph Maila

Joseph Maila has been nominated by the Government of Lebanon. According to an April post by the World Public Forum Dialog of Civilizations “Joseph Maila is specialist in Islamic studies and international mediation. He is former president of the Catholic Institute of Paris, former director of the French Center of Research for Peace and founder of the French Mediation and Negotiation Training Institute.” He has also worked for the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs in recent years. Here is his biography on Wikipedia. Here is a statement of his vision for UNESCO.

There has been some media coverage of his candidacy including:

Members of the Executive Board in the Board’s deliberations represent not only their own governments but also the the other members states of their regions. Directors-General have been elected from many continents, and the global community seeks to assure that leadership positions in the UN family of organizations are fairly distributed among the nations of the world.

The last four Directors-General of UNESCO have all served more than one term, and one might therefore expect that Director General Bokova would be the favorite in the current election. However, the Executive Board must consider whether her leadership over the last two years indicates that she is the best choice for the next four. Moreover, larger issues in the governance of the network of international organizations may intervene in the deliberations of the member states. The deliberations of the Executive Board should be most interesting.

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About John Daly

John Daly is the former director of the USAID Office of Research and instructor at George Washington University on UNESCO. His professional background is in promoting the capacity for science and technology in developing nations, especially the applications of information and communications technology. He served as the acting Work Program Administrator of infoDev, and has been a consultant with the RAND Corporation, the World Bank, the World Health Organization, and on the Research and Training Network of the Development Gateway. He served as Vice President of Americans for UNESCO from 2005-2012.