By Obinna Chima
Nigeria’s former Finance Minister and leading candidate in the race for the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Director General, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has been announced as the recipient of the 2020 African of the Year award.
The Forbes Africa-CNBC award is the latest honour clinched by the multi-award winning development economist, one of the African Union (AU) Special Envoys appointed to mobilise international support for Africa’s efforts to address the COVID-19 economic fallout, according to a statement signed by her Media Adviser, Mr. Paul Nwabuikwu.
The award came weeks after the Chair of the General Council of the World Trade Organisation, Dr. David Walker and facilitators of the process for the appointment of Director-General formally submitted her name as the WTO DG-designate, being the candidate who had garnered the most support to head the organisation.
Okonjo-Iweala had emerged the overwhelming choice of WTO member-countries following a keenly contested race in which she got the majority support of the 164 member-countries.
She is also the World Health Organisation (WHO) Special Envoy for the newly inaugurated Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) accelerator and its offshoot, the COVAX facility, an international collaboration aimed at accelerating the development, production, and equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, drugs and tests kits around the world with the specific objective of ensuring timely, affordable and equitable access to poor countries.
Okonjo-Iweala also serves as the Chair of the Board of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, a public-private global health partnership that has immunised 760 million children in developing countries and saved 13 million lives.
Reacting to the news, Okonjo-Iweala, was said to have expressed her delight at the recognition and dedicated the award to Africans facing the health and socio-economic challenges of COVID-19 during a very difficult year.
“It is a great honour to serve Africa in different capacities,” the statement quoted her to have said.
“I look forward to deploying my energies at the WTO for Africa and the world,” she added.
A WTO General Council meeting has been scheduled to take place on December 17, but it is not clear whether the meeting can take place if the current restrictions continue.
The WTO had disclosed that during the selection process, majority of its members had indicated, “strong preference for Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as DG.”
The Geneva-based organisation had in a statement quoted Walker to have said: “She (Okonjo-Iweala) clearly carried the largest support by members in the final round and she clearly enjoyed broad support from members from all levels of development and all geographic regions and has done so throughout the process.”
The General Council is the WTO’s pre-eminent decision-making body, save for the Ministerial Conference, which normally meets every two years.
The General Council chair explained that since the process to replace Roberto Azevêdo as the sixth director-general of the WTO began the ultimate objective of the measured and clearly defined selection process has been to secure a consensus decision by members.
Azevêdo had stepped down as director-general of WTO a year before the expiration of his mandate.