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ITU gets its first female leader… and she’s American

The Worldwide Telecommunication Union’s (ITU’s) member states have elected Doreen Bogdan-Martin (pictured) as its new Secretary-Common.

Bogdan-Martin will exchange China’s Houlin Zhao as chief of the United Nations telecoms and ICT company on 1 January, turning into its first feminine Secretary-Common in addition to the second American to carry the submit since its inception in 1865.

The nationality of a brand new ITU head at all times captures headlines, however on this event maybe greater than standard, as a result of Bogdan-Martin’s opponent within the election is Russian. Whereas Bogdan-Martin is an ITU insider, having spent 28 years working there, latterly as Director of its Telecommunication Growth Bureau, Rashid Ismailov hails from Vimpelcom and has a stint on the Russian telecoms ministry on his CV.

Cue a media furore a couple of US-Russia battle over the way forward for the Web itself, with the the previous being painted as on the aspect of openness and freedom, and the latter dogged by mutterings over censorship and elevated authorities management.

There’s a kernel of reality in it. As you may anticipate, each candidates have been extremely vocal on connecting the unconnected, driving digital inclusion, and so forth. However Ismailov’s closely scrutinised – however very rigorously worded – marketing campaign feedback additionally embrace references to the position of nationwide states, transnational companies and “influential regulators,” which performs into the Chilly Battle narrative.

Nonetheless, the collective sigh-of-relief issued by the West when Bogdan-Martin gained a landslide victory over Ismailov, with 139 votes to his 25, was in all probability pointless.

You possibly can argue that beneath Houlin Zhao’s management the ITU has proven a beneficial leaning in direction of Chinese language firms and pursuits. There has definitely been an elevated Chinese language presence on the company.

However on the similar time, his eight-year tenure – Zhao was re-elected, uncontested, by the way, in 2018 – coincided with a broad Western demonisation of Chinese language-made gear that has successfully pressured Huawei and its compatriots out of cellular networks in lots of main economies. Whereas that has little to do with the ITU, it does point out the extent of affect the UN physique actually has over the worldwide telecoms market.

Ladies’s rights campaigners will – rightly – cheer the arrival of the primary feminine Secretary-Common. And we are going to likely hear extra from her on that topic and related.

“The world is dealing with important challenges – escalating conflicts, a local weather disaster, meals safety, gender inequalities, and a pair of.7 billion folks with no entry to the Web,” she stated, in an announcement accompanying the ITU’s election outcome announcement. “I consider we, the ITU and our members, have a chance to make a transformational contribution. Steady innovation can and will probably be a key enabler to facilitate decision of many of those points.”

The ITU does have a task to play in bringing folks collectively to enhance connectivity and setting requirements, however its capacity to form the telecoms panorama will at all times fall behind that of politicians and massive enterprise.

Finally, discuss of the US having defeated Russia in a battle for management of the worldwide Web might be overblown.


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