Josette Sheeran, who has served as the executive director of the World Food Program for the last five years is stepping down to assume a role at the World Economic Forum. The UN News Center heaps an appropriate amount of praise for her work at the helm of one of the world’s most logistically complex and competent organizations. (They can move food and other humanitarian assistance to anyplace in the world with remarkable efficiency and agility).
I’m somewhat surprised that Sheeran lasted this long, which is not a commentary on her competency as WFP director. The dirty little secret about these UN positions is that they are very politicized. By UN tradition, an American heads the World Food Program (and also UNICEF). But by American tradition, the nod usually goes to a member of the president’s political party.
This tradition has a lot to do with money: the USA is the largest single contributor to UNICEF and WFP–which must raise funds entirely through donations by governments or philanthropic entities. They government that pays the most, chooses the head. And the head of that government typically picks an ally from his own party.
That may not sound fair or be good practice, but it’s the way it is. In 2010, President Obama appointed Anthony Lake, a supporter and former National Security Adviser, to head UNICEF. He replaced President Bush’s former Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman who lead the organization since 2005. Sheeran served as an under-secretary of state in the George W. Bush administration and was tapped by President Bush to be the American choice for WFP director in 2007.
So who will replace Josette Sheeran? If history is any guide, it will be someone who has previously served under either President Obama or has a history of involvement with the Democratic party. I know that doesn’t narrow it down much, but that’s the basic pool from which previous heads have been tapped.