Former Togo Prime Minister Gilbert Houngbo was elected as the next Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO) on Friday, making him the first African to oversee the UN organization. After two rounds of voting, the ILO’s governing body chose the 61-year-old to succeed Guy Ryder, a British trade unionist who will stand down at the end of September after a decade in the position. After the election, Houngbo informed the governing body, “You have made history.” “I am genuinely and completely honored to be the first African delegate to be chosen to lead the ILO in its 103-year history.”
Houngbo was chosen from a field of five candidates and was viewed as a strong contender when the African Union-backed him. He was also backed by the labor movement as the current head of the Rome-based International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). From 2013 until 2017, he held numerous high-level posts inside the UN system, including financial director at the UN Development Program (UNDP) and deputy director-general of the International Labour Organization (ILO). Former French labor minister Muriel Penicaud, South Korean ex-foreign minister Kang Kyung-wha, South African entrepreneur Mthunzi Mdwaba, and Australian ILO deputy Greg Vines were his opponents in the campaign.
Houngbo’s victory is a significant shift for the ILO, which has been managed solely by men from Europe or the Americas since its founding in 1919. The UN’s oldest specialized agency has 187 member states, all of which are represented by governments, employers, and employees, a first in the UN system. The governing board of the organization has 56 members, half of whom represent governments and a quarter each of employers and labor. Behind closed doors, the vote was conducted by secret ballot. In the second round of voting, Houngbo earned 30 votes, securing the majority, according to the ILO. Penicaud had 23, Kang had two, and Mdwaba had one.
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