OKONJO-IWEALA AND THE WTO

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Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

The G10 countries should endorse the Nigerian contender as DG of the World Trade Organisation, writes Sam Nwokoro

Indications have emerged that the Secretariat of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) has accepted the nomination of Nigeria’s frontline contender for the post of the Director-General of WTO, Dr Ngozi Okonjo- Iweala. She is already being touted to clinch the office. And many factors count in her favour. One, she is an African woman contending for the position after many years of non-African holding that post.

Secondly, and as attested to by many world diplomats and international scholars across world’s ideological divide, Mrs Okonjo-Iweala parades a far more encompassing and embracing resume than many other contenders for the position.

Global media reports profiled her as already preferred candidate based on her wide exposure to micro and macroeconomic elements of many sovereign economies including Africa, Latin America, Asia, Europe and North America in her field operations as a World Bank Managing Director some years ago.

“Already, the African Union (AU) and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have thrown their unflinching support for her. This backing implies that Africa is strongly behind her, and further shows a popular acknowledgement among top diplomats and politicians that Africa may be in line for the Director-General’s post at WTO,” said Keith Marwick of London School of Economics.

Last June, WTO kicked off the process for selecting a new Director-General after its current Brazilian Chief, Roberto Azevedo, decided to leave his job a year early, at the end of August. The surprise announcement has left everyone scrambling. His successor will have, as required, to steer reforms and negotiations in the face of rising protectionism, a deep recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and growing trade tensions, notably between the United States and China.

The global development analyst, Marwick, also noted inter alia: “Biographical records, however, show that Okonjo-Iweala developed a 25-year career at the World Bank in Washington. She then served two terms as Finance Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (2003-2006 and 2011-2015) under the political leadership of President Olusegun Obasanjo and President Goodluck Jonathan respectively.”

Born into a royal family in Delta State, her father Professor Chukwuka Okonjo became the Eze (King) from the Obahai Royal Family of Ogwashi-Ukwu. With high aspirations, Okonjo-Iweala studied at the prestigious Harvard University, graduating magna cum laude with an AB in Economics in 1976. In 1981, she earned her PhD in regional Economics and Development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with a thesis titled Credit Policy, Rural Financial Markets, and Nigeria’s Agricultural Development. She received an International Fellowship from the American Association of University Women (AAUW) that supported her doctoral studies.

With a solid education and broad experience, a number of African presidents, such as Niger’s President and ECOWAS Chairman Mahamadou Issoufou has strongly urged non-African countries to get behind and endorse Africa’s candidature, referring to Okonjo-Iweala. In addition, the Nigeria’s Foreign Ministry explained in a statement that ECOWAS had thrown their support behind her candidacy due to “her long years of managerial experience at the top echelons of multilateral institutions.”

There is broad support for an African candidate and a woman, since neither have headed the Geneva-based body. Supporters of Okonjo-Iweala vaunt her negotiating skills, including clinching a multi-billion dollar debt relief package for Nigeria, noted the international Scholar who also writes on global issues for the influential US-based Centre For Strategic And International Studies in New York.

There is general opinion that the rich countries of G10 made up of Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK, and USA would consolidate their economic and trade ties with African countries by backing Mrs Okonjo- Iweala as the next Director-General of WTO. This is predicated on certain sure scenarios: one, there is need for the G10 countries who have spent so much in bilateral and multilateral assistance to African economies to have an African at the WTO in order to be able to oversee how these aids and grants have been working in making African trade competences and competitiveness ginger positive growths, and by that temper rampant fundamentalists-inspired terrorism plaguing most states in Africa.

No doubt, one strand of argument which most fundamentalist terror groups in sub-Sahara Africa has given is that the liberal economic reforms that have swept through the continent since 2000 is choking Islamic precepts.

The inability of most sectarian states in Africa to cue in to the liberal ways which has wrought growth in some other climes is partly due to the lack of presence of African technocrats in global policy making positions where they can leverage on collective alliances and neutral platforms to advance liberal ethos in African states. To smother creeping theocracy in most African states, which has in the past six or seven years given impetus to terror gangs, the advanced G10 economies should see to it that an African, in the person of Okonjo- Iweala becomes the next Director-General of WTO so that an equitable moderator between African economies and trade matters and western liberal economies can be effectively initiated through equitable trade protocols that promote the efforts of African enterprises and advance the cause of liberal trade.

Nwokoro wrote from Lagos