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BLUE SMOKE: A monthly column, from PassBlue and UNA–UK, spotlighting senior appointments at the UN

Blue Smoke

A Newsletter Tracking Senior UN Appointments


President Joe Biden presents the Medal of Freedom for former U.S. Senator John McCain to Ambassador Cindy McCain.
President Joe Biden presents the Medal of Freedom for former US Senator John McCain to Ambassador Cindy McCain, July 7, 2022, in the White House. McCain has been named the new head of the UN’s World Food Program, succeeding another American, David Beasley. White House/Adam Schultz
March 4, 2023

“It’s confidential”!

Welcome to the second (March) issue of Blue Smoke, a new monthly newsletter shining a spotlight on senior appointments at the United Nations.

When will the most senior leadership positions at the UN next be contested? For what duration were the UN’s leaders appointed? Have any been secretly reappointed without the public being informed? How much longer will the head of the UN’s 100,000-strong peacekeeping force remain in his post, now that he has exceeded the normal contract length? Is Russia going to be allowed to maintain its monopoly on the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism despite its invasion of Ukraine?

According to the Chef de Cabinet of the UN Secretary General, the answers to all these questions represent “confidential information” — the UN tells us that a good UN leader is “accountable to the people they serve…rewards merit and operates with integrity, transparency and fairness.” Yet the UN believes the public has no right to know the terms upon which power is exercised by this publicly funded institution in their name.

The UN’s position is unsustainable. Until they open up, we will endeavor to fill in some of the gaps.

What you’ve missed

Executive Director of the World Food Programme: The fix is in. As we reported was likely to happen, yet another American will lead the WFP. The official announcement came a few days ago and with it confirmation that the global call for applications was indeed bogus.

President of the World Bank: Another recruitment process run on the basis of “non Americans need not apply”. The United States has selected Ajay Banga to be their candidate for President of the World Bank, meaning it would take an unprecedented event to prevent him from winning. And so for the 14th time in a row, the person who decides how billions are spent, mostly in the Global South, mostly in ways that impact women disproportionately, will be an American man. You can read more about the process in our briefing here.

UN Peacekeeping and Peacebuilding: As we mentioned at the start, we know that UN Peacekeeping Head Jean-Pierre Lacroix is likely to remain in post for “at least another year,” as UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric told PassBlue. We know no more than that, and clearly his reappointment was unannounced. The same is true for the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs.

In the meantime, important appointments are coming up to head key UN missions in Mali and Haiti. We don’t know much about Mali yet, but in Haiti Isabel Salvador of Ecuador was named, becoming the first non-American to hold the role in some time. The appointment wasn’t entirely straightforward: the incumbent, Helen La Lime of the United States, reportedly requested more time in the role and we heard that the US made a strong if late push for Carl Alexandre, but the Secretary-General showed conviction in insisting that a non-American woman get the role.

Coming up soon

Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organization: Elections will be held in July and the closing date for applications is 31 March. We hear there may be six or seven candidates, but so far only two have gone public: Arsenio Dominguez and Nancy Karigithu. Both hail from countries (Panama and Kenya) who are no strangers to controversy around the laws of the sea, and so it will be vital that whoever is chosen be a truly independent international civil servant with no national allegiance. We hope others will join us in ensuring this process is carefully scrutinised.

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President of the UN General Assembly: It looks like Dennis Francis, of Trinidad and Tobago, whose candidacy we reported on last month, will be unopposed in his election. Some diplomats are rightly furious that this means that there will be a 74th man elected out of the 78 people to hold that role, but they have been unable to organise a rival to run against him. Pressure has at least caused Mr. Francis to publish a vision statement, although that is perhaps a generous term for a short document containing only four paragraphs on policy. We wish Mr. Francis the best of luck in this important role but regret that the process wasn’t strengthened by meaningful competition and a thorough policy platform.

What’s going on at DGC?

While Blue Smoke focuses primarily on the senior-most leaders of the UN, clearly our work sits within the broader push for effective, fair recruitment practices open to all.  We are therefore concerned about backsliding in the quest for gender parity and fair geographic distribution at lower levels. We have been contacted by individuals raising eyebrows about the pattern of recent appointments at the UN Department of Global Communications which leave it skewing distinctly male and Western. Please get in touch on the tip line below if you have more info on this.

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Do you know something more about the appointments we mentioned or another upcoming one? Reach out to us in total confidence at Any information you give us will only be used on the terms you set.

We would love your thoughts. Please comment:

Blue Smoke: “It’s confidential”!
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Robert G Johnston, UN Secretariat (ret.)
Robert G Johnston, UN Secretariat (ret.)
6 months ago

Excellent initiative. Much of the senior UN system leadership is arrogant, self-serving, seriously lacking in initative and innovation, a product of political patronage and of course unsupervised.

Marjolijn Snippe
Marjolijn Snippe
6 months ago

Did you check? A World in Need of Leadership: Tomorrow’s United Nations : a Fresh Appraisal

A study written by Erskine Childers and Brian Urquhart; published by Dag Hammarskjold Foundation in 1996.

The book is about how governments choose the executive heads of the UN system. It is illustrated with many statistics. The study concludes with fifteen detailed recommendations.

Blue Smoke is a joint project coordinated by the United Nations Association–UK and delivered in media partnership with PassBlue. Visit the Blue Smoke website to find out more.

TIP LINE: Know something that you would like to share about UN appointments? Reach out to us in total confidence at

The United Nations Association–UK (UNA–UK) is UK’s foremost advocate for action at the UN; the UK’s leading source of analysis on the UN; and a vibrant grassroots movement of 20,000 people from all walks of life.


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