Repositioning the WTO – Rooting for Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

That Dr. Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has joined the train of eight other world financial experts to compete as the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation, WTO, is no longer news. The one-time Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy is one woman whose monumental achievements in both corporate and public spheres are worth the unending accolades that they can get. Her list of degrees is an intimidating one, having passed through one of the most sought-after Ivy league schools in the world, Harvard University, and graduating magna cum laude in Economics 1973. She earned a Ph.D. in  Regional Economics and Development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology having authored a thesis titled  Credit  Policy,  Rural  Financial  Markets, and Nigeria’s  Agricultural  Development as well as an International Fellowship from the American Association of University Women (AAUW). This clearly shows that she is as qualified as other contenders to wear the big shoes of DG, WTO.

Even though it is almost hard to admit, such lofty heights, requisite experiences of international exposure are a determinate factor. Iweala has enjoyed a 25-years illustrious career at the World Bank. In fact, becoming the Managing Director, Operations from 2007-2011 is a testament to the fact that, with this development,  she has proved her worth in economic development circles. As a board member of Standard Chartered Bank, Twitter, Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) and the African Risk Capacity (ARC), her eyes and ears are on the ground on conversations and happenings in and around the dynamics of international finance and world trade modus operandi.

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) was established on January 1, 1995, signed by 123 nations on April 15, 1994 as an arbitrator and regulator for international trade as well as intellectual property undertakings among nations of the world. Formerly known as General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), WTO is considered the biggest organisation in charge of international trade and finance. Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, WTO is currently headed by Roberto Azevedo. 

Since the race for the position of the Director-General of WTO began, different nations had indicated interest for their citizens to be a leader. Since the WTO did not prohibit any of its member-states to compete for the post, it gives an ample opportunity for any eligible candidate to indicate their interest through the appropriate medium. Amongst the current list of contestants, there are 3 African contenders for the big job. They are Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala,  the former Nigerian finance minister;  Amina Mohamed, the former Kenyan foreign minister and past chairperson of the WTO General Council. She also previously served as chairperson of the WTO General Council. There is also Abdel-Hamid Mamdouhm, an Egyptian lawyer, ex-WTO official. Since the founding of WTO, no African has held the post. This may explain the apparent line-up for the position.

Sentiments apart, all other two African contenders cannot be brushed aside. Clearly, if Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is to emerge on top, she has her African brother and sister to slug it out with, before facing the other equally qualified candidates from other countries of the world.

The rule of geo-politics is another factor to consider. First world countries in other civilised climes are obviously not left out of the jostle. They want to be sure that their economic interests are secured and that the fortunes of several decades are kept intact. No one wants to be a forgotten hero with diminished fortunes. The richer and developed countries want to remain at the top while the poorer ones want to surmount the Sisyphean manacle to ensure that they get to the top of the world economic food chain. The United States of America who had shown little or no interest in the WTO’s top-man job has clearly awoken from the long hours of their catnapping. In the coming weeks, the media would be awash with plethora of reports ranging from whys and why nots to other questions and reasons for giving any consideration to a candidate being considered for the elevated position.

As a pivotal section of the WTO, Africa plays a key role. The second largest continent in the world accounts for about 35% of membership. Considering that the region has not produced any Director General since the inception of the WTO, the continent may stand a better chance of heralding the victorious song at the end of the election. Though, concerns raised by the US, Japan and the European Union (EU) about the WTO’s rules as regards the ‘special and differential treatment’  in creating a favourable trade terms for third world countries could form another stumbling block  aginst the emergence of a possible African Director General of the World Trade Organisation. 

According to these protesting industrialised countries, the leadership of the WTO should consider the impactful trend in the rise of more developing countries and the Chinese industrial subsidies. It is clear that the Director General of WTO can wield such enormous executive powers and influence as other international organisations such as the UN and the World Bank, especially as this is a very crucial time in the existence of international trading policy formulation and implementation. There is need for a quick revamp of the working system of the WTO, perhaps seeking inspiration in another region other than countries that has led the Geneva-based organisation to problems, challenges and internal wrangling.

Iweala understands the multilateral agreements and institutions arena. With the imbroglio of the trade disputes between USA and China, the dichotomy of trading policies amongst member nations and the downward pummeling of WTO’s activities.  It needs the right person to take over from the incumbent DG of WTO. Iweala is a citizen of the most populated black nation on planet earth, whose economic potentials is tested through projects, treaties and projects by many countries of the world. She is a multi-award-winning finance expert, developmental economist, a global civil servant and a consultant to different developmental projects across the world. She understands the language of the Americans and other internationalists and has the capacity to bring nations together to a boardroom that represents cooperation and healthy competitiveness. The position and outlook of her nation in the comity of nations may make or mar her strides in securing the top job. For many international partners, Nigeria’s robust potentials is a plus to her integrity, experience and pedigree but Nigeria’s corrupt history of financial mismanagement, high-level corruption and the rising spate of violence may mar her chances as well.  

If she replicates the ideals of Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina, the current President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), the emergence of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala will further help boost the otherwise sidelined developmental structures that could help Nigeria attain a height of economic relevance. It may bring about the needed changes that Africa desires to impress and implement the economic policies to erode the stiffening and cut-throats interest rates on borrowings from international monetary organisations. The consequences of galloping inflationary trends are unceasing cases of unemployment, poverty and lack of innovation among others.

Read Also: WTO: Nigerians Drag Trump’s Government for Opposing Okonjo-Iweala

Africa must be given a chance on the world stage to create the balance of economic negotiations that will make Africa and the rest of the world thrive. This will eventually erode the ‘handout’ culture that has besmirched African nations into a position of ‘bad borrowers’ due to the different factors of socioeconomic instabilities.  The rest of the world must realise that there is a shift in the cosmos of economic discourse, as countries who were once emerging economies now have a say in the stability of global economics. It will take an African, especially a Nigerian to embrace, understand and recreate the positions of inequality, support struggling economies, and engage the established modalities of the world’s powerbrokers. Unfortunately, the African contestants have not decided to come together to present a common ideological front and a single persona who can respond to the evolving realities of the world in relation to Africa, and Africa in relation to the world.

Babatunde Odubanwo

Writer, Economist and Media Person  

Categories: Economy

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