Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on Monday broke through multiple glass ceilings to become the first female and first African Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
The path to the top was cleared of opposition two weeks ago as her main competitor, Yoo Myung-Hee of South Korea, dropped out of contention following “close consultation” with the United States.
She was confirmed in the post by member states of the global trade body during a virtual special general council meeting.
She will take up her post on 1st March and her term, which is renewable, will run until 31st August, 2025.
Dr Okonjo-Iweala, who has twice been Nigeria’s finance minister as well as its first female foreign minister, used her first statement as Director-General to address the organisation’s problems and look forward to beat the COVID-19 pandemic.
“A strong WTO is vital if we are to recover fully and rapidly from the devastation wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic,” said the 66-year-old economist.
“I look forward to working with members to shape and implement the policy responses we need to get the global economy going again.”
“Our organisation faces a great many challenges but working together we can collectively make the WTO stronger, more agile and better adapted to the realities of today.”
Dr Okonjo-Iweala was born in Nigeria in 1954 in Ogwashi Ukwu, in Delta State, western Nigeria. Her father was Obi, a term indicating a traditional ruler, from the Obahai Royal Family.
She sits on the boards of Twitter and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, amongst others.
She graduated Harvard University magna cum laude, and earned her PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
She spent 25 years at the World Bank, working as a development economist, before climbing the ranks to the number two position of managing director of operations in 2007.
Her illustrious career of high profile positions has also seen her serve twice as Nigeria’s Finance Minister.
“I think she has delivered, whether in Nigeria or in other countries where she worked,” Idayat Hassan of the Centre for Democracy and Development research and advocacy group told AFP.
“She is not just liked in Nigeria, she is loved, because she is a symbol, and people are gunning for her because of what she represents for womanhood,” said Mr Hassan.
The WTO, which is tasked with promoting free trade, has been without a permanent director-general since Roberto Azevêdo stepped down a year early after the organisation was caught in the middle of the escalating trade fight between the United States and China.
The Trump administration was highly critical of the WTO, which was undermined by America’s imposing of tariffs on Canada, Mexico, China and the European Union.
President Joe Biden has already taken steps to restore support for multilateral institutions after the damage dealt to support by ex-President Trump.
Dr Okonjo-Iweala’s will ascend to Director-General-ship aiming to help mend both a world economy battered by COVID, and a world trade system shaken by Sino-US economic conflict.
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