These days, good news in global politics is rare. But the election of António Manuel de Oliveira Guterres, Portuguese politician and diplomat, as the new UN Secretary General is VERY good news for a world facing turbulent times. Here are just five reasons for being optimistic about Guterres’s election.
Guterres is well known for his good sense of humour. A sense of humour is a sign not only of intelligence, but also of strong empathy, something which has been sadly depleting in modern politics. A good sense of humour relies on spotting paradoxes and thinking creatively. Ultimately, a good joke is often a ‘serious’ joke. It conveys a message, makes people think, and inspires them to act, even as they’re laughing.
Guterres is a man of deep conviction, shaped by a mix of his political career and his religious upbringing. He and Pope Francis will get along very well. As a person of values and convictions, Guterres didn’t shy away from speaking truth to power during his decade-long leadership of the UN Refugee Agency. Today, the powers need to be told the truth more than ever before, whether that truth is about climate change, wars in the Middle East, or the fight against poverty. Take your pick. Add to the list. When Guterres conveys difficult messages, people listen to him.
Compromise is about values, too. The alternatives to compromise and negotiations are war and violence. Compromise is the only effective way of addressing our complex and interdependent modernity.
Guterres is a master of compromise. He perfected his skills in the Portuguese semi-presidential political system where compromise is the only way to deal with many complex checks and balances. As Prime Minister of Portugal (1995–2002), he was very effective in EU politics, the politics of compromise par excellence. At the UNHCR (2005–2015), compromise was at the core of his dealing with complex refugee problems.
Compromise is not appreciated in the modern era. In many societies, it is associated with weakness and betrayal. Yet Guterres’s successes give compromise the proper standing it deserves as a way of solving conflicts peacefully by understanding others and their diverse interests. And his strong values kept him from crossing the delicate line between good and rotten compromises.
Transition has been a key word in Guterres’s political life, shaped in Portugal, a country which has undergone one of the most complex transitions from a dictatorial colonial state to a respected democracy. In the UNHCR, he led a very complex organisational transition, and this experience qualifies him to spearhead the profound transition needed in the UN as a whole, and in global politics also, a transition that goes far beyond ritual reforms.
Guterres’s election was a rare moment in global diplomacy, when the USA and Russia actually agreed on something. A photo with Ambassadors Churkin and Power next to each other has to be a good omen for Guterres’s start as UN Secretary General.
These are just five of the reasons that make Guterres’s election very good news for our modern world. World problems are major. Expectations are high. And the chances that Guterres will deliver are reasonably good. Bon courage!
This post has also been published at the Huffington Post blog channel.