Home / Lead Story / Okonjo-Iweala emerges first female, first African WTO Chief; Buhari, Lawan, others hail election
Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

Okonjo-Iweala emerges first female, first African WTO Chief; Buhari, Lawan, others hail election

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

Moscow, Feb. 15, 2021

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) members on Monday elected Nigerian economist, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, to be the next Director-General of the organization.

She will be the first woman and the first African to lead the WTO.

“WTO members have just agreed to appoint Dr Okonjo-Iweala as the next Director-General of the WTO.

The decision was taken at a special meeting today of the organisation’s General Council.

“Dr Okonjo-Iweala will become the first woman and the first African to head the WTO,” the WTO said in a statement.

Okonjo-Iweala will assume duties on March 1, while her term will expire on Aug. 31, 2025, but it could be renewed, the organisation noted.

Fellow female leaders, such as European Commission’s President Ursula von der Leyen and President of the European Central Bank Christine Lagarde, have already congratulated Okonjo-Iweala on the appointment.

“This is an historic moment for the entire world. I’m so glad to see a woman from Africa at the head. Europe is fully behind you.

“We support the reform of the WTO and will help you protect the rules-based multilateral trading system,”Von der Leyen said on Twitter.

Lagarde noted that she has “known Ngozi for many years. Her strong will and determination will drive her to tirelessly promote free trade to the benefit of people worldwide.”

Okonjo-Iweala’s appointment follows months of deadlocked discussions between the WTO members on who should be chosen as the next director-general since former chief Roberto Azevedo stepped down in August, a year earlier than his second four-year term was set to end.

The delays in the appointment of WTO chief reportedly stemmed from the reluctance of former U.S. President Donald Trump to approve the Nigerian economist’s candidacy.

The Trump administration favoured South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee.

However, after Joe Biden assumed presidency, the South Korean minister decided to quit the race paving the way for Okonjo-Iweala’s selection.

The economist and expert in international finance and development is regarded as a skilled negotiator and consensus builder, having gathered experience in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and North America.

The 66-year-old chairs the GAVI Vaccine Alliance and sits on the board of Twitter.

She was recently appointed African Union Special Envoy for the continent’s access to the COVID-19 tools accelerator.

Okonjo-Iweala spent 25 years as a development economist at the World Bank, during which she quickly rose through the ranks to become managing director of operations.

She spearheaded several World Bank initiatives to assist low-income countries during both food and financial crises, generating more than 40 billion dollars for the International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank’s grant and soft credit arm.

Okonjo-Iweala twice served as Nigerian finance minister (2003-2006 and 2011-2015) and briefly acted as foreign minister in 2006. She was the first Nigerian woman to hold both positions.

She earned an economics degree from Harvard University (1976), graduating magna cum laude, a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and received 15 honorary degrees from universities across the world.

Okonjo-Iweala is the author of numerous books and articles on finance and economics.

Transparency International named her one of eight inspirational female anti-corruption fighters in 2019, while Fortune Magazine called her one of the 50 greatest world leaders in 2015.

In 2014, Time Magazine listed her among the top 100 most influential people in the world.

Okonjo-Iweala is married with four children and has three grandchildren.

Reacting to the election of Dr. Okonjo-Iweala in a statement, Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant to the President (Media & Publicity) said, “as the Harvard-educated and renowned economist takes up another onerous task of service to the world and humanity, the President believes her track record of integrity, diligence and passion for development will continue to yield positive results and rewards to mankind.”
The statement said, “On behalf of the Federal Government and all Nigerians, President Muhammadu Buhari warmly felicitates with former Minister of Finance and Economy, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on her election as Director General of the World Trade Organisation, bringing joy and more honour to the country.”
It also said that “President Buhari affirms that Dr Okonjo-Iweala, who over the years set major records of economic reforms in Nigeria as Minister of Finance, and later Minister of Foreign Affairs, will excel in her new position and validate the global mandate of repositioning and strengthening the multilateral institution for the greater good of all,” and wished Dr. Okonjo-Iweala well in her new endeavour.
President of the Nigerian Senate, Ahmad Lawan, in his message of congratulation to Dr. Okonjo-Iweala on her emergence  applauded “the quiet but dogged diplomacy of Nigeria and the unwavering commitment of President Muhammadu Buhari which, no doubt, contributed to the acknowledgement of the sterling credentials of Dr Okonjo-Iweala and her ultimate triumph in the prolonged contest for the  very important position.”I heartily rejoice with Dr Okonjo-Iweala on this well-deserved victory.

“With her latest feat, the former Nigerian Minister of Finance and Managing Director of the World Bank has again brought honour to Nigeria, Africa and women everywhere,” Lawan said.

The Senate President, in his statement, by Ola Awoniyi, his Special Adviser (Media), urged the new Director-General to deploy her famed intellect, experience, energy and integrity in leading the WTO to promote global prosperity through fair trade.

Lawan said her task has been made even more onerous by the havoc that the Covid-19 pandemic has wreaked on economies across the world.

Lawan also congratulated Nigeria on  the latest feat of its great daughter on the international stage and prayed for Almighty God to imbue her with good health and wisdom to succeed in the task.



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