WTO DG And Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala


The waters of participation in leadership is fast washing away the shores of past narratives. In recent years, we have seen a swelling tide of women emerging to top leadership positions in the sea of various countries and organizations across the world. De facto, there is an impressively growing female representation in leadership and governance. In Rwanda, for example, women occupy over 60% of the parliament — making it the most gender-inclusive government in the world. All of whom are performing their functions with utmost efficiency, competence, purpose and results. Also, at the senior executive and board level of companies and non-profit organisations, women are increasingly securing spaces in various key capacities, and contributing meaningfully in scaling organisational growth.

It’s no longer breaking news that in the 25-year history of the prestigious and leading World Trade Organisation (WTO), a woman is set to hold its highest office for the first time. Another indication of the ever-evolving narrative of women in leadership. However, amongst the two candidates who were shortlisted as finalists to bid for the post of WTO’s Director-General, Nigeria’s two-time finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, popularly referred to as NOI, predictably stands the best chance to win due to strong recommendation of the General Council and Troika, and as well endorsements drawn from most of its 164 member-countries. Albeit with seemingly intricacies in the process, it’s a sure way to go!

While NOI has been adjudged to most likely attract consensus by the WTO members, South Korea’s candidate, Yoo Myung-hee, is an equally strong contender. And interestingly, the United States government through its trade representative at WTO has pitched a tent with her candidacy. From all indications, this unilateral objection seems to largely favour the country’s interests and foreign trade policies under President Trump-led administration. And particularly underpinning on the government’s emerging rivalry with China against its unfair trade practices. All these pose an obstacle in the ratification of the consensus, as the U.S. has veto power on the selection process — engendering a threat on NOI’s candidacy. But now that the United States has elected Joe Biden as President, his government is projected to restore equity and fairness in the lame duck WTO with America’s world trade power and strong diplomatic strengths.

Meanwhile, since Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s nomination for the top and much-coveted job, she has enjoyed immense support from various multilateral organizations including the European Union (EU) and various governments. And of course, the African Union (AU) being Africa’s candidate — and the first African set to clinch the post. Apart from the achievement of free global trade in a critical time when the world is facing a post-pandemic economic recession, this will also facilitate the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA). Also, Africa will have an opportunity to strengthen its trade relations and agreements with the rest of the world.

NOI has a strong track record of leadership experience and professional expertise — having served in public service, co-ordinating Nigeria’s finances and helping to mitigate a major economic meltdown during fuel subsidy. Amongst other things, she is the former Managing Director of the World Bank and also serves on the board of reputable organizations. And now, she is set to reach what appears to be the blue apogee of her successful career as a financial expert and development economist. She is indeed a force of remarkable reckoning and professional of international repute.

Sequel to the postponement of the in-person meeting of the General Council earlier scheduled for November 9 to announce the new DG, one can only hope the best candidate wins — who, in any case, would be the very first woman to head the WTO in history. And whatever the outcome of the consultations leading up to the selection and announcement is, a message is passed and clear to the world already: women have the enormous ability to lead in high places, and also rise above boxed socio-cultural barriers to own their leadership journeys. And if nothing else, it is a reminder to the world — yet again or perhaps afresh — that we must champion inclusive spaces at all levels for women to thrive and have equal opportunity to lead.

Agbaje Ayomide is the Co-founder of Upskill Writing