The crises that followed September 11 put the global spotlight on Afghanistan's near-collapse as a functioning state. The Afghans need the world's help--and they need someone who knows how to give it. This is Sadako Ogata's moment.
The silver-haired dynamo spent much of the 1990s, when she served as chief of the U.N. High Commission for Refugees, flying from one hot spot to another resolving crises. Tough and outspoken, she has stood her ground while dealing with Taliban warriors, Iraqi officials, and Balkan leaders. Ogata today is in center stage as Japan's special envoy on Afghan issues. That means she'll be drafting an ambitious agenda for Japan during Afghanistan's 10-year reconstruction period. In the process, Ogata is expected to help Tokyo shape a more visible and lasting presence in West Asia.
Ogata is already making headway. She chaired recent reconstruction talks in Tokyo that netted more than $4.5 billion in pledges for Afghanistan from major countries. Thanks to her prodding, Japan agreed to contribute $500 million over the next 30 months. But money alone won't suffice, says the 74-year-old Ogata. "Japan has to lead the way by building schools, hospitals, and community centers and helping women's groups," she told BusinessWeek.
Ogata is descended from several generations of politicians and diplomats. After earning a PhD in political science from the University of California at Berkeley in 1963, she pursued academic and public service careers. She was a minister to the U.N. as well as Japan's representative to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights. Then, for 10 years starting in 1991, Ogata served as U.N. refugee chief, improving the agency's response to crises. Now, with Ogata leading the way, Japan could emerge as leader of the global effort for Afghan reconstruction.
By Irene M. Kunii in Tokyo