Tegegnework Gettu hails from Ethiopia. Since March of 2013, he has served as United Nations Under-Secretary General for General Assembly Affairs and Conference. The UN official says his first year as Under-Secretary-General was productive.
“I just finished my 10-month report to the Secretary General and he seems to be happy. I had six priorities, all of them addressed during my first year. So overall, it was very challenging, but I think I managed to do very well,” he says.
The six priorities included managing last year’s General Assembly session, reorganizing the department, promoting integrated global management, accelerated implementation of technological innovations, and work-sharing with offices in Geneva, New York, Nairobi and Vienna.
The UN official says public service is something he grew into as his career evolved.
“Getting trained in development administration and management skills and practically using it - in academics, international organizations and government - I managed to get exposure that progressively attracted me to it,” he explains.
The interview with the UN's Tegegnework Gettu
He says he has benefited greatly from the opportunities afforded him and from his long years of public service.
Tegegnework is one of a handful of Africans to have held the post of Under-Secretary General – an experience he says he finds humbling.
“As an African, I feel proud I was given this chance,” he says. “I have the double responsibility as an African to make sure that I succeed in this. It also shows that Africans are quite capable of competing and (performing) this kind of a job, and that more opportunities have to be opened up for more Africans.”
Some view UN officials as people who live cushioned lives and are detached from the realities of the world. Tegegnework considers such portrayals as inaccurate.
“The UN is not a monolithic organization; it has structural limitations and bureaucratic weaknesses,” he notes. “But it has played a very critical role in many parts of the world, and quite a large number of (UN) people have sacrificed their lives. So to reach such a conclusion is unfair.”
Tegegnework says despite the wear and tear, the UN has served the world well the past 68 years – especially the poor, refugees and the dispossessed.
The Ethiopian-born international diplomat has served with the world body for years – especially on issues that pertain to Africa. So how does he assess the continent’s status today – some 50 years after independence? Tegegnework sees a mixed picture with a promising outlook.
“We have lost decades of conflict, lost decades of dictatorships and lost decades of unaccountability in Africa,” he laments. “But the past few years, Africa has been making progress. The continent needs to focus now on continuing economic growth – not only from the service sector, but in the industrialization in agriculture and the creation jobs for the large youth population that is the majority in Africa today.”
Tegegnework says while economic development should not be held hostage to political issues, both democratic governance and economic growth are critical to Africa’s future.
“Economic progress, one way or the other, must be done in Africa because we have good natural endowment and huge labor force. But democratic institutions, accountable government and economic development are critical for Africa now,” stresses the Under-Secretary General.”
The UN diplomat says Africans need to move “from a survival to a stability mode, and on to a successful model mode.” That, he says, will lead Africa to become “significant” in global affairs.
Tegegnework is married and has two children.