Meet Nikki Haley, the first woman of colour on Donald Trump’s team

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Moya Crockett
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Nikki Haley has been named by President-elect Donald Trump as his choice for ambassador to the United Nations.

At 44, Haley is the youngest governor in the US, representing South Carolina. She is also the first woman of colour to be appointed to a cabinet-level position in the incoming Trump administration: she was born Nimrata Randhawa in Bamberg, South Carolina, to Indian immigrant parents.

“Governor Haley has a proven track record of bringing people together regardless of background or party affiliation to move critical policies forward for the betterment of her state and our country,” said Trump in a press release.

“She is also a proven dealmaker, and we look to be making plenty of deals. She will be a great leader representing us on the world stage.”

The popular politician will be “the pleasant face on what is likely to be a very harsh administration internationally,” said Ted Galen Carpenter, senior fellow for defence and foreign policy studies at Washington’s Cato Institute, a libertarian research group.

Haley’s promotion is in many ways something of a surprise, given that Trump has so far awarded most of his administration’s top jobs to people who remained loyal to him during his presidential campaign. ‘Traditional’, experienced Republican figures have been dramatically eschewed – see the sacking of New Jersey governor Chris Christie – in favour of men like Steve Bannon and Michael T. Flynn.

But Haley was sharply critical of Trump during his run for the White House. While she did eventually vote for him, she first backed his rivals: Florida Senator Marco Rubio, then Texas Senator Ted Cruz.

She denounced the eventual President-elect’s conduct on the campaign trail, warning that his brash manner could endanger America’s diplomatic relationships with other countries and even suggesting that Trump’s tendency to lash out at his critics could prompt World War III.

Haley has also condemned Trump for failing to speak out forcefully against white supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan, and stated that the President-elect had behaved in an “un-American” manner by proposing to ban Muslim immigrants and refusing to release his tax records.

However, the South Carolina governor said in a statement that she was pleased to accept Trump’s offer of the position of UN ambassador, adding that this month’s election had brought “exciting changes to America”.

“When the president believes you have a major contribution to make to the welfare of our nation, and to our nation’s standing in the world, that is a calling that is important to heed,” she said.

Watch: How Trump’s policies could affect women

Haley’s attitudes towards racial politics are markedly different to many others in Trump’s cabinet, who have been described in an essay by New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait as a “team of racists”. She was governor of South Carolina in June 2015 when white supremacist Dylann Roof shot and killed nine African-Americans at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina’s main city.

As a consequence, Haley had the Confederate battle flag – which is widely associated with slavery, and perceived by many Americans as an inherently racist symbol – removed from South Carolina’s State Capitol building, and told reporters that it “should never have been there” in the first place.

There are other areas where Haley’s politics do meet those of the rest of Trump’s team. Having converted to Christianity after being raised in a Sikh household, she describes herself as “pro-life” and has supported legislation in South Carolina that would restrict abortion rights.

According to the New York Times, Haley’s beliefs “raise questions” about whether she will use her new position to undercut the UN’s goal of advancing sexual and reproductive rights around the world. She could also reimpose a funding ban on groups that promote family planning in other countries.

Images: Rex Features