Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala: WTO’s historic appointment

“It’s been a long and tough road, full of uncertainty, but now it’s the dawn of a new day and the real work can begin,” - Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

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Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

The appointment of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the first woman and the first African to serve in the post of Director General for the World Trade Organisation (WTO) was big news for Africa. WTO was created in 1995 to help settle trade disputes, write new trade rules and encourage the flow of goods and services worldwide.

She takes the helm of the WTO at a particularly difficult time for the global trade body, while promising that she would make global economic recovery from the pandemic a priority.

Okonjo-Iweala not only brings stature, but also experience, a network, a temperament of trying to get things done and strong credentials. After studying economics at Harvard and MIT, she spent 25 years at the World Bank. She was a development economist, working on programme and policy reforms, and eventually became its managing director.

She also served as Nigeria’s finance minister twice – in 2003-2006 and 2011-2015 – and was the first woman to assume the role. She also sat on the boards of Standard Chartered PLC and Twitter. Until last year she chaired the board of African Risk Capacity, an agency that helps African governments to better prepare and respond to extreme weather events and natural disasters.

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First, let me mention the books by Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala: ‘Fighting Corruption is Dangerous,’ ‘Women in Leadership,’ Reforming the Unreformable,’ Chinua Achebe the Teacher of Light,’ and then a collection of essays under the title ‘Nigeria’s Economic Challenge’. All these are well researched economics classics explaining how Africa can work on its Challenges of poverty and bad governance. Additionally, Dr Okonjo has also published very many insightful papers on youths and development in Africa through entrepreneurship.

One of her best papers appears at the website of African business and economic development known as CNBNC Farewell Africa. This paper articulates how best the youths in Africa can take advantage of COVID -19challenges to delve deep in economically gainful innovation. In a nutshell, Okonjo was intellectually fit for the post of Director General at World Trade Organisation (WTO).

In fact, intellectual competitiveness is supposed to be a center of focus when talking about Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as a new WTO boss, not her gender and colour of the skin as most of the conventional media houses have made some cynosure out of them when reporting about her. To be the first black woman heading WTO should not be a news item in the modern world. Instead Okonjo’s intellectual hard work and Discipline should be brought to the surface as two virtues to be appreciated and benchmarked by those who aspire to make similar achievements. Such approach can make logic to some extent.

Apart from learning some personal lessons in Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s success story, it is also notable that she has promised to lead WTO towards fighting poverty in Africa and other developing countries through entrepreneurship. And this means involving youthful entrepreneurs in international trade.

This is possible given that WTO is an intergovernmental organization with organs like ‘ministerial conference’ focused on building entrepreneurial capacity among the poor countries through training and capacity building. WTO also monitors financial plans and development policies of the member countries to ensure that they reflect inclusivity across nations, gender, age and related economic diversities.

All these structured approach in the WTO organization to support development of poor countries cannot be useful to any country, societies, or individual unless they are in business.

This position needs to make more sense for the youths in Africa. The youths in Africa are obliged to realize that euphoric celebrating of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s intellectual and professional success because we share a black skin with her does not make any sense. Nations of black people can only be useful to the current leadership of WTO if they can achieve to make shift in paradigm of their collective economic thinking from dreaming to spend entire life working as civil servants to going into corporate activities that are organizationally fit to attract intergovernmental funding, engagement and partnership. Thus, the ball lingers in the court of Africa’s youths.

Alexander Opicho

I am a poet, essayist, freelance writer and a short story writer based in Lodwar Kenya. Lecturer of Conservational Biostatistics.