Jambo Africa Online’s Deputy Editor, Dithako Nakedi. Interviews the soon-to-be African princess of global trade.
Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was not satisfied with only being a princess, but actually had other ideas – she aimed at occupying the highest position of the World Trade Organization (WTO), in what could be a first for Africa and the world.
Having been born to the royal Obahai family of the Ogwashi-UKwu, in Nigeria, where her father is the Eze King, Ngozi- Iweala is one of the last two candidates shortlisted for the coveted WTO hot seat of the Director-General.
Across the dark continent, millions of people are crossing their fingers for the African Princess with the hope of seeing Africa participating meaningfully on matters relating to the world trade laws and rules and the subsequent stimulation of the continental economy.
Ngozi’s success will usher a realignment of multilateral power dynamics which could see Africa being included in formulation of the key economic and financial trade rules.
Her campaign for the Director-General’s position also coincides with the impending implementation of the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) that will transform the continent into the world’s biggest free trade area. This means Africa will embark on trade negotiations as a trade bloc.
Ngozi-lweala’s father, Professor Chukwuka Okonjo is the Eze (King) from the Obahai Royal Family of Ogwashi-Ukwu.
She was educated at Queen’s School, Enugu; St. Anne’s School, Molete; and, the International School Ibadan. She arrived in the US in 1973 as a teenager to study at Harvard University, graduating magna cum laude with a BA in Economics in 1976.
In 1981, she earned her Ph.D. in regional economics and development from the world’s prestigious university, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), with a thesis titled “Credit policy, rural financial markets and Nigeria’s agricultural development”.
She had received an International Fellowship from the American Association of University Women (AAUW), that sup- ported her doctoral studies.
She is married to Dr. Ikemba Iweala, a neurosurgeon, and they were blessed with four children – one daughter, Onyinye, and three sons, Uzodinma, Okechukwu and Uchechi .
The Chairperson of the African Union and President of South Africa, Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa, was full of praise for Dr Ngozi Okonjo-lweala on her advancement to the third and the final stage of the selection process that could see Africa occupying the helm of the WTO.
President Ramaphosa reportedly stated that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala was a highly distinguished African, who excelled in various public offices, in her native Nigeria, including responsibilities at the AU, and in numerous international assignments.
“At a time when international organiza- tion’s need to be repurposed, Dr. Okonjo- Iweala is the right person to reposition the WTO in order to be an effective instrument for facilitating a fair, just, equitable and rules-based trading system,” Presi- dent Ramaphosa asserted. “I have no doubt that she has the credentials and ca- pability to restore order in an otherwise turbulent multilateral trading system.”
President Ramaphosa encouraged all member states of the African Union to rally behind Dr. Okonjo-Iweala during the final round of nominations, which will see for the first time in the history of the WTO, the appointment of a female Director-General – and most likely, and preferably, one coming from the African continent.
Furthermore, President Ramaphosa expressed his optimism that other regions and countries will also unite and support the African candidate, whose leadership of the WTO will assist in the full integration of the continent as an important player in the global multilateral trading system, particularly at the time when the continent is working on operationalizing the biggest free trade area in the world through the AfCFTA.
Other high calibre contestants from the African Continent who vied for the position before the final two were announced included Mr Abdel Hamid Mamdouh of Egypt and Ms Amina Mohamed of Kenya.
Dr Ngozi-lweala worked for the Nigerian government as both Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Finance. She’s going toe-to-toe with the South Korean, Yoo Myung-hee, in the battle for the position of the WTO’s Director-General.
Both women were picked from a group of five that included Kenya’s Amina Mo- hamed and the UK’s Liam Fox, and the contest between the two is expected to be very close since the two appear to be di- vided by a very thing margin.
The WTO’s members are set to vote on the selection of a director-general after consultations with various internal bodies running until October 27.
Ambassador David Walker, chairperson of the general council, was reported as saying that the ultimate objective of the selection process is to make sure that the head of the global trade body is chosen by consensus.
“Our aim continues to be to encourage and facilitate the building of consensus among members and to assist in moving from this final slate of two candidates to a decision on appointment,” he announced.
Okonjo-Iweala is an economist and inter- national development expert, known in Africa for her time as Nigeria’s minister of finance under former presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan. She’s also a former Managing Director of the World Bank.
She sits on several board of trustees that include the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) and the African Risk Capacity.
Now that only one African candidate remains, the division is expected to give way to the overwhelming undivided continental support for Okonjo-Iweala, boosting her chances of being elected.