The Inter-Parliamentary Union has elected Martin Chungong of Cameroon as its secretary-general, the first African and the first non-European to lead the organization in its 125-year history. Chungong, a former member of the Cameroonian parliament, has been the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s deputy secretary-general under Anders Johnsson, of Sweden, who officially retires on June 30.
Chungong has also been director of programs for the organization, focusing on strengthening democracies and, most important, the work of national legislatures, where much institutional development can take place, as the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) emphasizes. In the past, it has called for increased interaction with the United Nations General Assembly, which deals mostly with heads of government.
The IPU, which consists of 163 member legislatures and 10 associate members, has observer status at the UN. It was founded in 1889 by British and French legislators, with the United States as one of its first members. The US Congress no longer belongs to the union, having quit in 1999 during the Clinton administration under pressure from Congressional Republicans.
Chungong’s career at the IPU “has focused on developing and leading programs aimed at strengthening parliaments by being more modern, representative and effective institutions that are better able to fulfill their democratic mandate,” a statement from the organization said on March 20, after the election.
In his own words, Chungong added: “People everywhere are demanding more from their political representatives and from their parliaments in a rapidly evolving age. My commitment is to help parliaments meet this challenge head on.”
Chungong’s competitors for the secretary-general position were Shazia Rafi of Pakistan, the former secretary-general of Parliamentarians for Global Action, and Geert Versnick, a former member of the Belgian parliament.
The World Bank categorizes Cameroon, which has a population of 21 million and is located in West Africa, as a “lower middle income” nation. The UN Human Development Index, which measures quality of life in a country, placed Cameroon in the low human-development category, ranking 150 out of 187 countries; despite democratic reforms, its president, Paul Biya, has remained in power since 1982.
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Barbara Crossette is the senior consulting editor and writer for PassBlue and the United Nations correspondent for The Nation. She is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She has also contributed to the Oxford Handbook on the United Nations.
Previously, Crossette was the UN bureau chief for The New York Times from 1994 to 2001 and previously its chief correspondent in Southeast Asia and South Asia. She is the author of “So Close to Heaven: The Vanishing Buddhist Kingdoms of the Himalayas,” “The Great Hill Stations of Asia” and a Foreign Policy Association study, “India Changes Course,” in the Foreign Policy Association’s “Great Decisions 2015.”
Crossette won the George Polk award for her coverage in India of the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 and the 2010 Shorenstein Prize for her writing on Asia.