Former colleagues of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala speak highly of the economist as she prepares to become the next director-general of the World Trade Organization. Her tenure begins during turbulent times.
The Nigerian economist already had broad support from World Trade Organization (WTO) members, including China, the European Union, the African Union, Japan and Australia. Her challenger, Yoo Myung-hee, the South Korean trade minister, withdrew her candidacy last Friday.
Former colleagues also believe she is well-suited for the position. “Ngozi is one of the most qualified people for that particular post she vied for. So I wish her well in terms of the final decision,” Dr. Shamsudeen Usman, a former minister of national planning, told DW. Okonjo-Iweala and Usman served alongside each other as ministers under Nigerian President Jonathan Goodluck in 2011.
However, she was not the favorite candidate for the United States under the Trump administration — hence complicating the decision-making process.
The election of a new director-general requires the consensus of all WTO) members.
“I know that she will discharge her duties very well as she has done in a lot of jobs she has held before,” Usman said of his former colleague.
The WTO, a Geneva-based body tasked with promoting free trade, has been without a permanent leader since Roberto Azevedo stepped down a year earlier than planned at the end of August 2020.
Azevedo’s resignation came after the WTO was embroiled in an escalating trade spat between the US and China.
Tide is turning for women
If she is confirmed, Okonjo-Iweala will become the first African and the first woman to hold the top position at the WTO.
She was the first female foreign minister and held the position of finance minister twice in her home country of Nigeria.
“I see her appointment as a validation of African women’s competency and leadership skills, and of African women’s excelling despite the systematic hurdles and obstacles facing them,” Fadumo Dayib, the first female Somali presidential candidate, told DW.
Dayibu added that the choice of Okonjo-Iweala is a sign that “the tide is turning in favor of competent women and it’s about time that happened.”
Nigerian economist Tunji Andrews agrees with Dayibu. He says the international community has finally realized that Africans can sit at the table with global powers.
“Many people across the world will start to say, let’s put more Africans in such roles, not just roles of peacekeeping, but roles of intellectual capacity and roles of pedigree.”
Accomplished economist on global stage
Although Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala will make history by becoming the first female and black African to lead WTO, Amara Nwankpa says his fellow Nigerian brings more than just “diversity and inclusion” to the world stage.
“I’m optimistic that her impact on global trade will be positive, given that her antecedents suggest that she’s passionately committed to reducing inequality, poverty, and corruption across the world,” Nwankpa, director of Public Policy Initiative at Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Foundation, a Nigerian nonprofit that is committed to promoting national unity and good governance, told DW.
During her second term as finance minister, Okonjo-Iweala was “credited with developing reform programs that helped improve governmental transparency and stabilize the economy,” according to the US business magazine Forbes, which ranked her No. 48 in the world’s top 50 “Power Women” in 2015.
The Harvard-educated economist holds a Ph.D. from MIT and chairs the Gavi board, a global vaccine alliance instrumental in ensuring that developing countries have much-needed access to COVID-19 vaccines.
Nwankpa says her background shows that “she brings to this job impressive skills in international negotiations and leadership capacity to confront the key challenges currently facing the planet.”
“She’s exactly the person that the world needs at the helm of international trade in these turbulent times,” he added.