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10 Things you should know about new UN boss António Guterres

By PETER ODUOR January 4th, 2017 3 min read

Silently, lost over the celebrations to usher in the New Year, the leadership of the United Nations changed. Ban Ki- moon who led the UN for 10 years bowed out on Sunday handing over the body to a 67 year old former Portuguese Prime Minister and international diplomat António Guterres.

Here are a few things you may not know about the new UN boss.

1. He is multi-lingual

He speaks French, Spanish, English and Portuguese fluently.

2. He is twice married

The new UN chief is currently married to the Culture Secretary for the City of Lisbon Catarina Vaz Pinto. His first wife, Luísa Guimarães e Melo died of cancer in 1998.

3. He is a former teacher

He studied Physics and Electrical Engineering at Instituto Superior Técnico (IST) in Lisbon and a short while after finishing he began teaching, as an Assistant Professor of Systems Theory and Telecommunications Signals. He left soon after to join politics, and steadily rose to become the Prime Minister of Portugal.

4. He is a prolific deal maker

As a politician in Portugal and as the High Commissioner for Refugees at the UN, he was known to have a knack for getting people together even when facing what would look like an impossible situation and getting then to agree on a way that benefits all involved. He was a member of the team that negotiated Portugal’s entry into the EU, in 2015 when the Kenyan government demanded the shutting down of Dadaab camp, he flew from Geneva to Mogadishu, and spoke with the President of Somalia, then flew to Kenya to speak with President Uhuru Kenyatta. The camp is still open. He has been called an honest broker and a bridge builder.

5. He intends to increase the number of women in the top posts at the UN

His deputy is Nigeria’s Amina Mohammed. He plans on appointing Maria Luiza Ribiero Viotti of Brazil as his chief of staff and Kyung-wha Kang of South Korea as senior policy advisor. He has promised to increase the number of women at the top posts in the UN.

6. Resigned half-way into his second term as the Prime Minister of Portugal

In December of 2001, he resigned from office because his party was failing. There were internal party conflicts and the economic growth of the country was dangerously slowing down. In his resignation speech, he said, “I am resigning to prevent the country from falling into a political swamp.”

7. Offering free Mathematics lessons to slum children in Lisbon

Even after rising to the post of Prime Minister, he would sneak out and head to the slums of Lisbon where he tutored slum children. On such occasions, he forbade TV stations and newspaper reporters from writing or broadcasting anything that he did in the slums.

8. He beat 10 other candidates to get the top job

As of the final straw poll on the 5th of October 2016, there were 10 other candidates gunning for the UN top job. Most of the people in the race were former foreign affairs ministers, there was a former President of the United Nations General Assembly, former Prime Ministers and former Presidents.

9. Forbes’ World’s Most Powerful People list

In 2009, aged 60, he was named number 64 by Forbes magazine in its list of the World’s Most Powerful People. At that point in his career, he was the High Commissioner for Refugees at the United Nations, in charge of overseeing the welfare of over 34 million refugees in 110 different countries across the globe.

10. He takes over an ineffective UN

On the 27th of December 2016, America’s President-elect Donald Trump, Tweeted this:

“The United Nations has such great potential but right now it is just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time. So sad!”

The feeling that the UN is not living up to its potential is overwhelming. What with the UN’s response to the war in Syria, its terrible response to the conflict in South Sudan, its complacency in handling the chaos in Somalia and the disinterested dealings with the drowning refugees as they struggle to get to Europe? Ban Ki-moon has been criticized for being too soft spoken in the 10 years he led the institution to have dealt with some global crises effectively. Antonio is outspoken on maters to do with peace and it is believed that he can steer the institution a lot differently.