As Dr. Okonjo-Iweala assumes office as WTO Director General

Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, global finance expert and economist, two-time Minister of Finance (2003-2006 and 2011-2015) and former acting Foreign Affairs Minister, has arguably featured as the country’s poster woman and ideal technocrat for years. She had been called upon on several occasions to save the country in dire times and she had always performed creditably.

As the World Trade Organisation (WTO) formally announced her appointment as its Director General last week, she became the first African and the first woman to head the global organisation. While many hailed her appointment, describing it as entirely merited and cataloguing her previous strides on the global plane, a few others could not reconcile themselves with the possibility of a woman, much less a grandmother, becoming the boss of an organisation previously headed by men. Okonjo-Iweala had defeated not less than eight candidates from other continents of the world to clinch the job.

Without any doubt, the job of WTO Director General represents the most daunting in the entire experience of Dr Okonjo-Iweala. Former US President Donald Trump was cynical about her nomination, and so were the Swiss tabloids which referred to her as a grandmother in rather pejorative terms upon her emergence as WTO boss. These tabloids only toned down their biases when they were called out for their rather overt racism. As an international citizen, it is expected that Dr Okonjo-Iweala would not  be fazed by these sentiments but instead focus her attention on accomplishing the tasks ahead. She resumes office formally on March 1, 2021. It is helpful that her nomination and eventual appointment as Director General of WTO had the full support of the Nigerian government and many other countries simply on the basis of merit.

In the corporate world, particularly at the international level, appointments are based on merit and nothing else. Dr Okonjo-Iweala’s  intimidating curriculum vitae stood her in good stead despite the keen competition and close scrutiny that she faced while the process lasted. Before this appointment, she had worked with different international organisations, including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and she also sits on the board of many non-profit organisations. These assignments confirm her capability for the tasks ahead at the WTO. We hope that her formidable skills in negotiations will go a long way in  helping to lift the poor countries of the world out of poverty, particularly at these trying times when the world struggles to cope with the ravages of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The WTO’s achievements across a number of key areas, including strengthening the institutional foundations of the trade system, widening its membership and increasing participation, deepening trade integration through lower barriers and stronger rules, improving transparency and policy dialogue, strengthening dispute settlement, expanding cooperation with other international organisations and enhancing public outreach, have been well noted by analysts. It is our belief that with Okonjo-Iweala in the saddle, things can only get better at the organisation.

We congratulate Dr Okonjo-Iweala on her new appointment and wish her great success.

 

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