The Obama administration announced last week its nomination of Anthony Lake to serve as the new head of UNICEF. Current Executive Director Ann Veneman, a Bush appointee, announced she would not seek a second term in an e-mail to all UNICEF staff in late December 2009. Publicly, Veneman declined to give a reason for her departure.

The bulk of 70-year-old Anthony Lake’s experience is as a national security advisor for the Clinton Administration. While Lake has laudably served on the boards of several child right’s organizations, including Save the Children and the US Fund for UNICEF, his expertise is in advancing the interests of the U.S. government.

For years, insiders at UNICEF and in the international community have fumed at the progression of Americans running the agency.  They have every right to be upset.  The U.S. traditionally gets to pick the head of UNICEF simply because they are the largest donor to the agency. While all countries are currently allowed to “nominate” candidates, it’s a dog and pony show that always comes out in favor of the American nomination.

Wouldn’t a true competitive selection process turn up the best possible candidate? Other UN agencies have created more transparent processes for selecting their Executive Directors, such as UNAIDS. Ban Ki-Moon and the UNICEF Board should take this opportunity to end the unspoken rule that the U.S. controls UNICEF’s direction. After all, the children and young people UNICEF serve deserve the best possible Executive Director around — not one whose greatest qualification is he’s American.

Caitlin L. Chandler

* Caitlin is a new, regular, contributor to Africa is a Country (I said this blog will become a group blog.) She currently works on young people’s issues in the international AIDS response.