By Obinna Chima
The widow of former South African President, Dr. Nelson Mandela, Graca Machel; the Chairman of the Board of FirstBank Nigeria Limited, Mrs. Ibukun Awosika, and other influential women across Africa have lined up behind Nigeria’s candidate for the position of Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
Other women in the group include the Chair of Johannesburg Stock Exchange, Mrs. Nonkululeko Nyembezi; and President, Business Women of Egypt 21, Dr. Yomna ElSheridy.
A statement yesterday by Okonjo-Iweala’s supporters listed others rallying support for her to include former Chief Executive Officer, Absa, Mrs. Maria Ramos; Partner, Udo Udoma & Belo-Osagie, Mrs. Myma Belo-Osagie, and Chair, Africa Regional Certification Commission for Polio Eradication, Prof. Rose Leke.
In the statement titled: “A Call to Elevate Africa’s Voice on the Global Stage,” addressed to WTO member states, the women made a strong case for the global trade body to elect the former Nigerian finance minister as its first female head since 1995 based on her clear status as the best candidate in the race.
“As African women in the business community, we stand behind Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in her bid to become Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). If appointed director-general, Okonjo-Iweala would be the first African person – man or woman – to lead the WTO,” they stated.
The women noted that “by 2050, one in eight people in the world will be an African woman.”
The group said the interest of the African woman, the continent and world trade would be best served by Okonjo-Iweala’s emergence as DG, WTO.
According to them, her victory would also represent a positive landmark within the WTO as an institution, which needs to improve its track record in gender representation within its ranks.
“Today, the number of women chairing WTO bodies, panels and working groups and representing Members and Observers to the WTO is considerably lower than that of men. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s appointment would signal not only a milestone in gender diversity but also be a watershed moment for Africa… Recognising the future ahead now is the time to ensure that African perspectives, especially African women’s perspectives, are represented on the global stage,” they added.
They stated that the election of the former World Bank managing director would help the WTO, which has been paralysed in recent years by US-China rivalry, to catch up with and maximise key regional trade landmarks like the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) in the interest of the continent.
This, they stated, was an imperative in a world where protectionism is increasing at the expense of globalisation because Africa has a strong stake in the realisation of the multilateral vision which has animated Okonjo-Iweala’s career.
“As the world becomes more protectionist, Africa is showing its commitment to using trade to accelerate development.
Regional trade agreements like the AfCFTA are modern and at the cutting-edge, but WTO rules have fallen behind. Under her tenure, Okonjo-Iweala will ensure that the rules take into account rapidly growing areas like the digital economy and services trade,” they added.
They stated that Okonjo-Iweala’s anticipated victory would be a win-win for Africa and the world both in terms of expected substantial accomplishments and powerful positive symbolism.
“We urge the WTO member states to recognise Okonjo-Iweala as the best candidate for director-general not only because of her vast experience leading national and multilateral agencies and initiatives but also because of her vision. At a time in which the world requires an innovative approach to tackle the challenges of recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, Okonjo-Iweala adds a fresh perspective not only as a female candidate but as an African woman. Given the region’s growing population, her appointment will be a profound step forward for free trade,” they said.