Certainly, the emergence of Dr. (Mrs.) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (NOI) as the Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) calls for celebration for two obvious reasons in my honest view. First, the new DG is the first black person of African descent to climb the exalted seat of the global trade body. Secondly, she is the first woman to occupy that same post. Beyond these two reasons (that are in my view, more psychological than substantial), I see no immediate or future benefits her elevation to the highest seat of the WTO will bring to Africa in terms of good and favourable terms of international trade and commerce. Why so? Recall that of the (un)holy triumvirate of Bretton Wood Institutions (BWIs), the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) (popularly known as World Bank), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Trade Organization (WTO), which John Williamson referred to as “The Washington Consensus”, the least powerful, least influential and least visible of them all is WTO. Any doubt that the West, particularly Americans, allow its headship (the DG) to be occupied by nationals of all countries irrespective of region to give impression of inclusive world that is a facade. A quick comparative look at the headship of the three international institutions of IMF, WB and WTO clearly shows that unlike the Managing Director of IMF and President of the World Bank, the Director General of WTO is a mere office for the boys (and now, for the girls too) by the powerful global North led by the United States. This explains why Americans, whether Democratic or Republican, Trump or Biden, theist or atheist, man or woman, will never ever allow any African with citizenship of any of the 54 African countries to ascend to the post of the Managing Director of the Fund or President of the Bank. That will be a miracle of the century if at all it ever happens. It will be easier for the proverbial camel to pass through the eye of a needle than such to happen. To draw home my point let us take a quick look at heads of these various agencies from their respective inceptions.
Eric Wyndham White, UK – 1948-68
Oliver Long, Switzerland – 1968-80
Arthur Dunkel, Switzerland – 1980-93
Peter Sutherland, Ireland – 1993-95
Renato Ruggiero, Italy – 1995-99
Mike Moore, New Zealand – 1999-2002
SupachaiPanitchpakdi, Thailand -2002-2005
Pascal Lamy, France, 2005-2013
Roberto Azevedo, Brazil – 2013-2020
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria -2021 -?
Source: Author’s compilation from Wikipedia (2021).
Camille Gutt, Belgium – 1946-51
Ivar Rooth, Sweden – 1951-55
Per Jacobson, Sweden – 1956-63
Pierre-Paul Schwetzer, France – 1963-73
H.Johannes Witteveen, Netherlands-1973-78
Jacques de Larosiere, France – 1978
Micheal Camdessus, France – 1978-2000
Horst Kohler, Germany – 2000-2004
Rodriego de Rato, Spain – 2004-2007
Christine Lagarde, France – 2011-2019
Kristalina Georgieva, Bulgaria, 2019 to date.
Source: Adapted from Usman, S. A. (2019). A Political Economy of Core Periphery Relations. Ile-Ife: OAU Press, p. 154, with update on Kristalina Georgieva from Wikipedia (2021).
The World Bank
From inception in 1946 to February 16, 2021 (when I compose this), all Presidents of the World Bank are Americans!
John Jay McCloy
Eugene Robert Black Sr.
George David Woods
Robert Strange McNamara
Alden Winship Clausen
Berber Con able
Lewis T. Preston
James D. Wolfensohn
Jim Yong Kim
Source: Ibid, p. 155.
Interestingly, the above have graphically showed us that while WTO, the least of the three BWIs is open to all nationals, IMF is reserved for Europeans and Americans, the Bank is strictly for Americans. This is the tide that the inaugural lecture of Professor Mimiko (2010) says the “long-disadvantaged in a fundamentally skewed global system”, the Third World countries and specifically Africa, will continue to swim against in times to come.
Yes, prima face, the Director-General of the World Trade Organization is the highest officer of the world trade responsible for supervising and directing the organization’s administrative operations. However, because WTO decisions are made by member states (through either a Ministerial Conference or through the General Council), the DG has very little or no power at all over matters of policy. This reduces the role of our darling Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala primarily to that of advisory and managerial without real executive power to exercise like her counterparts in IMF and World Bank. I keep asking myself these questions thereto that, supposing Ngozi’s advice to owners of WTO are not taken or received but not acted upon, of what meaning is the DGship then? How sure are we that sister Ngozi will give such advice that will give Africa and Nigeria fair deals in world trade that is so skewed to perpetually favour the West to the disadvantages of the long-disadvantaged considering her American, ditto World Bank orientation? Will she even have such courage (or temerity)? Then, why so much celebration for someone who only has power to advise but has no power to act independently?
No one captures the mood of the moment on this more than Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, the Kaduna State governor. In his book, The Accidental Public Servant, published in 2013, Mallam el-Rufai recounts that when he and others visited Chief Olusegun Obasanjo in his hotel room in Nicon Hilton in Abuja as president-elect preparatory to his swearing-in as president then, Chief Obasanjo took notice of his outspokenness and clarity of purpose and then promised to make him his Special Adviser. However, Mallam deftly refused that offer to Obasanjo’s face telling him that if he (Obasanjo) must consider him for any post in his government, it should not be adviser because according to el-Rufai, he was tired of advising people. He rather made a request to be given a post of responsibility where he can authoritatively exercise real executive power. Then, imagine el-Rufai as a Special Adviser to President Obasanjo’s eight-year term in office to what he indeed became, Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, in that administration.
Honestly, while I am so happy that a Nigerian and African (although, with American ideology and orientation) is currently at the helms of WTO, I am not in any major way persuaded or inclined to attend any merrymaking party to pop champagne. I only will at such a time when owners of world power restructure the world that will make all of us, Europeans, Asians, Americans, Africans, Jews, and Arabs alike, equal partners and stakeholders. Call it a mirage and daydreaming if you like.
Till then, I will say viva to NOI and the West and to Africa, it is aluta continua.
Dr Ayegba, from the Department of Political Science, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, sent this piece via firstname.lastname@example.org.
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