GILBERT Houngbo, the former prime minister of Togo, has been elected the next head of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), and will become the first African to lead the UN agency.
After two rounds of voting, the ILO’s governing body on Friday elected the 61-year-old to succeed British trade unionist Guy Ryder, who steps down at the end of September, after 10 years in the job.
‘You have made history,’ Houngbo told the governing body after the election.
‘I am deeply and absolutely honoured to be the first representative of the African region to be selected to lead the ILO after 103 years.’
Houngbo was chosen from among five candidates and had been seen in a strong position after the African Union threw its weight behind him.
His opponents in the race were former French labour minister Muriel Penicaud, South Korea’s ex-foreign minister Kang Kyung-wha, South African entrepreneur Mthunzi Mdwaba, and ILO deputy Greg Vines of Australia.
The oldest specialised UN agency has 187 member states, which are, uniquely in the UN system, represented by governments, employers and workers.
Houngbo’s win marks a dramatic shift for the ILO, which since its founding in 1919 has been led only by men from Europe or the Americas.
The vote outcome, he told the governing body, ‘fulfils the aspirations of a young African, a young African boy whose humble upbringing turned into a lifelong quest for social justice.’
The married father-of-three has previously held several high-level positions within the UN system, such as finance director at the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and deputy director-general of ILO itself, from 2013-2017.
Houngbo will take the ILO helm on October 1.