By TOPE ADARAMOLA, Lagos
As the D-day draws closer, the nomination of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has continued to record higher pitch, giving a glimmer of hope that she would clinch the topmost position of Director- General of the 25 year old World Trade Organisation (WTO), headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. Barring any odd, If Okonjo-Iweala clinches the position, she would have broken the ice ceiling as the first Nigerian, and in fact African or black personae to occupy the office in the organization’s annals.
The WTO is the world apex institution dealing with management and regulation of global trade. Officially created in 1995 as a successor to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, GATT. The liberal open international trading regime being enjoyed today is not a product of happenstance, but of painstaking negotiations, as most countries would opt to close their doors from their neighbours during hard times. They no longer do that based on global trading regime that was hammered out over decades of multilateral negotiations. The WTO currently has 164 members and its protocols cover such issues as Multilateral Agreements on Trade in Goods and Services; Review of Government’s Trade Policies, Dispute Settlements and the Agreement on Trade and Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights.
Sadly, the WTO remains dominated by the most powerful countries, certain decisions are made in the so-called “Green Room Meetings” that exclude low income developing countries. At the time of populism and seeming retreat from multilateralism, it seems quite evident that the quality of leadership at the WTO matter profoundly for common future.
Like a hundred meters dash, the race for who occupies the coveted seat commenced on May 14 this year when the incumbent DG, Roberto Carvelho de Azevedo of Brazil disclosed he was stepping down after serving for more than seven years. Eight candidates angling for the position emerged after the stringent shortlisting mechanism. They are Jesus Seade kuri of MEXICO; Abdel-Ham Mandouh of Egypt; Tudor Ulianovschi of Moldovia; You Myung-hee of Korea; Amina Mohammed of Kenya ; Mohammed Maziad Al-Tuwajiri of Saudi Arabia; Lian Fox of Britain, and of course Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
Okonjo-Iweala needs little introductions having carved a niche for herself as a global technocrat who had put in over 25 years at the World Bank rising to the position of Managing Director, Operations of the apex global financial institution before her exit. A product of Harvard University and a Doctorate degree holder of the MIT, Okonjo-Iweala has an acceptable character indexed by her impeccable record of service as a two time Minister of Finance in Nigeria, the United national, the African Union and the World Economic Forum. Currently the Chairman of Gavi, the global Vaccine Alliance and Senior adviser of the prestigious French Investment Bankers, Lazard Freses. The African Union recently named her a member of the group mobilizing international financial resources for the novel Covid-19 Pandemic. She is an excellent Advisory Board Member and impeccable French speaker.
In the course of angling for the position, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has continued to give irrepressibly good impression of herself, throwing up reasons why she is the best fit for the job. Speaking under the klieg lights and cameras from a scrum of journalists, diplomats and global officers in Geneva on July 15, Okonjo-Iweala expressed her perfect understanding of the task on hand as the DG of the WTO, leaving all present with a resonation of the voice of optimism for an institution that had been beguiled by enormous challenges posed to the organization.
Also, during her appearance at the Board of the organization to defend her interest, Okonjo-Iweala stirred the hornets net by telling the President of United States of America, Mr. Donald Trump and other world leaders that it was not time for the US to leave the WTO. Said she: “we need an institution than can promote a rule based system. Remember the trade war of the past, we don’t need that. We want peace, security and stability. That is why the WTO is needed, with its ability to arbitrate disputes within members”.
As it is today, Okonjo-Iweala’s robust pedigree, superb continental and global connections, earned through unblemished services, has continued to attract to her candidacy from across the globe a flurry of endorsements and compliments.
Starting from home; in a motion moved by Hon. Ndudi Elumelu, Members of Nigeria’s House of Representatives unilaterally voiced their backing for Okonjo-Iweala as the best candidate for the job. Also, the former Vice President of the country, Atiku Abubakar, noted that “the experience and enormous related works she has done confirms without equivocation that her leadership shall be a blessing to the WTO and the world”. At the West African sub-continent, it was quite auspicious that Republic of Benin advised its own candidate, Mahamadou Issoufou, to withdraw for Okonjo-Iweala, averring that the support was based on the consensus reached by the Heads of States and Governments of its member countries.
Another game changing nod has been given by the iconic Kenyan Professor of Law and foremost intellectual, Patrick Lumumba. Lumumba, who is from the same country as Amina Mohammed, who is also in the race regarded Okonjo Iweala “as the best candidate and we should back her, given her robust credentials”. In what appeared a drift in the permutations of UK book makers, the Former Prime Minister of Britain, Mr. Gordon Brown in a report published by the Times UK, argued that Okonjo-Iweala has a record of delivering results in “the toughest of jobs”. He said that Okonjo-Iweala would make an “outstanding success” of running the Swiss based regulator, which is facing an existential crisis, while searching for its next Director General and grappling with the global disruption caused by Covid-19. It’s quite instructive that by backing Okonjo-Iweala and insisting she is respected “across the world”, Brown, a former Labour leader and Chancellor, has passed over Liam Fox, the former Conservative Trade Secretary, whom Britain has nominated for the job.
In her own vintage view about Africa’s inability to present a single candidate, Okonjo-Iweala denied a sense of continental diversion, saying ‘‘I am proud of my continent for providing three good candidates and it’s up to the Council to choose the best”.
Aside from cresting on her enormous goodwill, her irrepressible voice has been on the need for WTO’s role in helping African countries, who have failed to benefit from the global trading systems as it is structured today. Okonjo-Iweala said if elected she would push for instruments such as aid for trade, and other mechanism to help level playing field.
-From Tope Adaramola, A Public Affairs Analyst Based In Lagos