WTO: Nigerian Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala takes the reins!

It is a double revolution within the World Trade Organization. Indeed for the first time since its creation recorded on January 01st, 1995, the institution is headed both by an African personality and a woman. Double record for Nigerian Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala African Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has become the newest Director-General of the World Trade Organization. The only candidate in the running after the withdrawal of the South Korean Minister of Commerce, her confirmation to this post on February 15 by the General Council of the organization, will certainly be a milestone in the annals of history. Indeed if Dame Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is the seventh president of the WTO, she has this double or triple characteristic of being the first woman and African to occupy this position. Indeed, only Africa had not yet sat in the chair of the institution’s management. It is now done. Moreover, this choice also has the merit of placing a woman in the destiny of the institution. Which is also a first. This appointment of the Nigerian comes after a long and tedious procedure to replace the Brazilian roberto Azevêdo in post since 2013 and who, to everyone’s surprise, resigned from his post in May 2020. Either one before the end of his second mandate. Also the series of consultations to find him a successor, started since September 2020 as reported by the French media La-Croix, brought together 08 candidates including two women. It is the latter, moreover, who survived these “confessionals”, as they are called for their peculiarities of scanning each of the contenders and requesting discharge from all of the member countries until the ‘we get a consensus. And in this game, the Nigerian has had to experience the refusal of the Trump administration, finding her little experienced in international trade. Preferring the South Korean Minister of Commerce Yoo Myung-Hee, the second postulant. But since then, water has flowed under the bridge. The White House changed tenants on January 20, and two weeks later, Yoo Myung-Hee announced through an official statement, are withdrawing from the race. Thus leaving the way open for the nomination of the Nigerian. Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala thus becomes the first woman and the first African to sit at the head of this 164-strong international organization. This appointment of Dr Ngozi raises a lot of hope given the lethergy in which the organization is plunged by the block made by the United States of the renewal of the statutory judges of the Appellate Body. In addition, there are a number of other challenges which mean that opinions on the mandate of the new director are divided between doubts and hopes. That said, the Nigerian who during the campaign had announced the colors of her term of office by repeating “I am the candidate for reform” seems to have the right stuff to put the institution back on track. Indeed after more than 20 years spent at the World Bank, this graduate in economics from Havard, then from the Massuchett Institute of Technology (MIT), did not hesitate to leave the felted offices of New York where she leaves her family to fly to help the economy of his native Nigeria. She will be finance minister there twice (2003-2006 and 2011-2015) and will work to fight fiercely against corruption and the debt of her homeland. One can count among the feats of arms to his credit of his passage in this function, the erasure in 2005 of nearly 18 billion dollars of debt and the rate of inflation reduced from 23 to 11%. These feats are certainly remarkable but which remain little beside the series of reforms to impose transparency in the management of public funds. An engagement that earned her reprisals, including the kidnapping of her 82-year-old mother in 2012 by “an unscrupulous subset of oil traders” as she told the microphone of the BBC HardTalk show in July 2020 of the country Unsuccessful attempt because not complying with their requirements. Reforms? this will certainly be expected with this iron lady. Already at the opening of the consultations, then postulant, did not go dead letters to show his ambitions. “I am the candidate for reform,” she proclaimed. Without mince words, she let it be known during this TV show “They need something different, the WTO cannot continue to function as if nothing had happened – of someone who is ready to reform and lead ”. Words that announce the colors of what will be a mandate for which two (02) major priorities have already been set. Namely an agreement on fisheries subsidies that it hopes to prepare by the next Ministerial Conference and to re-establish the entity’s conflict resolution body. A difficult mission certainly, but far from impossible for “a very powerful woman” who “knows how she wants things to be done”, as Uzodinma Iweala, one of her four children, described it in her novel Beast of No Nation published 2005. A nice warning for the world of commerce who knows what to expect! NGY