by Esther Nakkazi
Upon taking office in January, Ban Ki-Moon, the new UN Secretary General, announced that he would appoint a woman as the second in command at the UN Secretariat. That his appointment turned out to be East African activist, a woman, and someone outside of the UN system, was a pleasant surprise.
Dr. Asha-Rose Migiro was named as the UN Deputy Secretary General in January, making her the third African to hold such a senior position at the UN in about twenty years, after former Secretary Generals Kofi Annan and Butross Butross Gali.
A statement issued from the UN Secretariat describes her as a highly respected leader who has championed the cause of developing countries over the years. Throughout her distinguished service in diverse areas, she has displayed outstanding management skills with wide-ranging experience and expertise in socio-economic affairs and development issues.
Her appointment to such a high level gives African women hope that at one time, they will be at the pinnacle of the United Nations.
It also adds a name to the list of celebrated female achievers from East Africa. Women like Tanzanian Dr. Anna Tibaijuka, the UN-Habitat Executive Director who held the highest post in the UN system, Gertrude Mongela, the president of the Pan African Parliament, Kenya’s Mathaai Wangari, the environment Nobel Prize winner, and Uganda’s woman activist Winnie Byanyima, currently the director for Gender in the Bureau for Development Policy at the UN.
Born in July 1956, Dr. Asha-Rose Migiro was appointed last year by the President of Tanzania, Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, as the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation.
In the history of Tanzanian politics, she became the first woman to hold that post in the Republic. The appointment also showed a lot of trust by Kikwete, who headed the ministry for 10 years prior to becoming the president.
But some can argue that she was fit and favored for the post in the ministry because for a long time before her appointment, she had been head of the department of Politics and International relations for Tanzania’s ruling party, Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM).
For five years however, she was the Minister of Community Development, Gender and Children in the government of former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa, but under the same CCM party.
It is this experience that Dr. Migiro hopes to use at her new appointment in the UN as Deputy Secretary General. She said during her six-year term as minister she learned how to deal with new challenges enabling her to be a better leader by collaborating with the others.
Dr. Migiro maintains four keys issues she hopes to tackle at the UN during her tenure: scrap the death penalty, maintain equality, reduce the gap between the North and South and to bring peace and stability to Africa.
A lawyer by profession, Dr. Migiro is not only an academician, but a politician and woman activist. She has been a senior lecturer at the University of Dar-es-Salaam where she excelled during her bachelor’s degree studies and was instantly accepted to take on her Masters, while at the same time teaching at the faculty of law. She later attended the University of Konstanz in southern Germany to attain her PhD.
Her former lecturers describe her as an intelligent and principled person who excels at everything she does. Others who know her performance in politics believe that she will rise to greater heights.
“I am confident that she will rise to the occasion of the tremendous responsibilities which the UN Secretary-General has entrusted in her. Her vast experience spanning an illustrious career as Minister of Government in Tanzania will certainly translate into a great asset for the UN quest for a new and better world economic and social order,” said the Secretary General of the East African Community, Juma Mwapachu.
On the women’s scene, Dr. Migiro was one of the founders of the Feminist Activism Coalition (FEMCAT), a coalition of over 50 non-governmental organizations that deal in democracy, human rights, gender equality and development.
"We have worked with Dr. Migiro and have always admired her level of professional integrity as a lawyer and a woman academician. She is respected for being hardworking, articulate, and committed to serve the people. She is also a highly educated Tanzanian," the statement from FEMCAT said.
Dr. Migiro believes her appointment was due in part to Tanzania’s role in the UN Security Council and the country’s major strides in international relations. Tanzania’s participation in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Sudan through the Africa Union has thrust the country into the lime light as a peace broker.
But the statement from Ban Ki-Moon says her appointment was based on merit, ability and experience.
“This position at the centre of world diplomacy is a well deserved honor and recognition of your demonstrated skills and abilities and indeed an acknowledgment of Tanzania’s successful foreign policy,” Mwapachu.
Tanzania’s diplomats in peace affairs like Daudi Mwakawago and Dr. Salim Ahmed Salim, who was appointed by Kofi Anaan as peace mediator in Darfur, have added to the credibility of a people from a country that has seen peace prevail since its independence in 1961.
Dr. Migiro’s appointment comes at a crucial period in major global issues and developments affecting the East African sub-region and indeed the African continent. Threats to world peace, security and stability loom large over the globe.
In Africa, the economic and social crisis that has blighted the continent for decades persists unabated—all this requiring the urgent, appropriate and decisive interventions of the United Nations.
But she says that being an African lends her first hand experience of the situations facing Africa and developing countries in general. “I will use this experience to contribute in effecting development changes on the global level.”
Dr. Migiro, 50, becomes the first black woman and first African to hold the position of Deputy UN Secretary-General, a post created in 1998. She follows after Louise Frechette of Canada and Mark Malloch of Britain in the post.
She is married to Prof Cleophace Migiro, a lecturer at the university of Dar es Saalam and they have two children. She is a product of Tanzania’s education system, having studied at Mnazi Mmoja Primary School, Korogwe Primary School, Weruweru Secondary School and Korogwe High School. She is fluent in German, Swahili and English.