Norway’s Christian Democrats party (Kristelig Folkeparti, KrF) has a new secretary general: Hilde Frafjord Johnson has moved home after a decade working in top jobs for the UN overseas, and is taking on a new top role in her old political party instead.
“KrF is in an exciting phase and in the middle of a renewal process that I want to be part of,” Johnson told newspaper Dagsavisen. She also wants to be part of positioning the small, centrist party ahead of the next national election in the fall of 2017.
There’s a private side to her latest career move as well. The 52-year-old Johnson said that after living abroad for 10 years, most recently in Africa as UN special envoy to Sør-Sudan, she wanted to be closer to her parents, now aged 86 and 84. “I’ve been gone for 10 years, that’s a long time,” Johnson told Dagsavisen. “And I think Norwegian politics is exciting again.”
She admits she was “very tired” of Norwegian politics in 2005, when she ended her second term as government minister in charge of foreign aid issues in a center-right government headed by then-KrF leader Kjell Magne Bondevik. She also served as one of Bondevik’s ministers in his first government, from 1997 t0 2000.
During her ministerial terms, she managed to boost Norwegian foreign aid to its highest levels ever. Born in Tanzania herself, she’s always had a special interest in Africa and foreign aid. As a diplomat, she also was an architect of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement for Sudan, then became a deputy executive director of UNICEF before being named special envoy to Sør-Sudan in 2011.
The peace agreement didn’t hold, though, and Johnson became a target of increasing criticism from both sides in the Sør-Sudan conflict. She resigned in the summer of 2014 and has since written a book about international issues before landing the job back in KrF.
She called her new role both “strategic” and “heavy on the organizational side.” As a centrist party with only around 5 percent of the vote, KrF is relatively free to shift its allegiances from the right to left side of Norwegian politics, also on individual issues. It currently has an agreement to support Norway’s minority conservative coalition government, but may side with Labour if it prevails in the next election. Fickle or not, the party can choose sides based on where it stands to get the greatest return.
Johnson was careful about commenting on specific issues since she hasn’t officially begun in her new role, but she said she was “worried” that the “tone” in the refugee debate was getting tougher. KrF traditionally has had fairly liberal attitudes towards asylum and immigration, “and I fear rhetoric that casts suspicion on those coming here.” She still advises against KrF joining a government that includes the immigration-skeptical Progress Party.
“We’ll just have to see how things develop,” she said. “If there are more cuts in foreign aid, even tougher rhetoric from the government and more criticism from international organizations like the UN, the image of Norway abroad will clearly change.”