The first female Director-General of the World Trade Organization.
15th March 2021
Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a Nigerian-American economist and international development expert, made history on the 1st March when she was appointed as not only the first woman, but also the first person of African ethnicity to be the Director-General of the World Trade Organization. The WTO is an organization which allows governments to negotiate their trade agreements, and settle disputes regarding their trade. The Director-General, although they hold no formal power, is a necessary role and is essential for advancing global trade as well as global cooperation. The position was made vacant when the sixth Director-General Mr. Roberto Azevêdo stepped down in May of 2020, a year before his term was to expire. Her term as Director-General will last until 31st August 2025.
Okonjo-Iweala was born in 1954 in Ogwashi-Ukwu, Delta State, Nigeria and is the daughter of Professor Chukwuka Okonjo, who was the King from the Obahai Royal Family of Ogwashi-Ukwu. She relocated to the United States in 1973 where she studied at Harvard University, graduating three years later with a bachelor’s degree in economics. She successfully completed her PhD from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in regional economics and development in 1981. As well as this, she is also the recipient of many honorary degrees from an array of universities including Trinity College Dublin and Yale University.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is a powerful woman who has taken part in an array of projects which have proven to have positive effects. As well as being chosen as the Director-General, Okonjo-Iweala has 30 years of extensive political experience, serving two terms as the finance minister of Nigeria, the first term being July 15th 2003 to June 21st 2006 and the second term being from August 17th 2011 to May 29th 2015. She was also Nigeria’s foreign minister from June 21st 2006 to August 30th of that same year, the first woman to ever hold these two positions. During her first term, she was successful in wiping out $30 billion of Nigeria’s debt during negotiations with the Paris Club of Creditors. During her second term her main goal was to improve transparency with the government, leading this movement. This resulted in the establishment of the Government Integrated Financial Management System (GIFMS), the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Management System (IPPMS) and the Treasury Single Accounts (TSA).
Okonjo-Iweala was the former managing director at the World Bank during her 25 years employed there as a development economist. Here she is most notable for initiatives which she put in place in order to assist low-income countries, a well-known success being the raising of almost $50 billion in 2010 for the World Bank’s fund which catered towards the poorest countries, the International Development Association.
“During her first term, she was successful in wiping out $30 billion of Nigeria’s debt during negotiations with the Paris Club of Creditors.”
The COVID-19 pandemic saw Okonjo-Iweala being anointed as the African Union COVID-19 Special Envoy. She is responsible for international finance needed to help combat the pandemic, as well as being chosen as the WHO Special Envoy for Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator. She has, since being anointed, publicly expressed her plans to combat COVID-19 at a global level, with the use of international trade and the use of the WTO, in terms of both economics and health. Okonjo-Iweala says: “One of … top priorities that I have, that I’m passionate about, is how can trade and the WTO play a stronger role in bringing solutions to the Covid-19 pandemic, both on the health side but also on the economic side.” She is aware that global and fair trade is an essential aspect of the global pandemic, and with her experience in the industry and her expertise, she is well suited to this title. She has announced her future plans to ensure the vaccines will be handed out equally, regardless of the country’s wealth.
The appointing of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is a major milestone when it comes to the inclusion of minorities in global trade and will continue to encourage more marginalized groups to pursue careers in the field of international trade. Her success in achieving this spot has been encouraged and overall received in a positive light. The inclusion of minorities will help for a more inclusive future in not just this industry, but hopefully in other industries which may have been previously white and male dominated. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s history making position and her drive to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic whilst in this organization opens a more hopeful future, s her aims have been welcomed and supported with open arms. We can’t wait for what Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has in store for the world.
Featured Photo from World Trade Organisation on Wikipedia Commons