Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s advance to the final selection round for director-general of the World Trade Organization gives Africa a chance to have a say in shaping global commerce.
The 66-year-old former Nigerian finance minister is well qualified. She spent 25 years working as a World Bank development economist and is chairman of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation. In 2012, she ran for the presidency of the World Bank.
If Okonjo-Iweala wins she will be the first African and the first woman to lead the WTO.
“Africa is extremely under-represented in important economic-governance positions globally,” said Catherine Grant Makokera, a former New Zealand diplomat who now works as a director at Johannesburg’s Tutwa Consulting Group. “Having an African in a leadership position will provide an opportunity to developing countries from Africa and other regions to make sure that they have someone that understands their concerns.”
Still, if she does manage to beat South Korea’s Yoo Myung-hee to the post, Okonjo-Iweala will face the hard reality that her job will likely be dominated by issues far away from Africa.
Global trade has been thrown into turmoil by the dispute between the biggest economies, the U.S. and China. In addition, the WTO’s role has been diminished by the U.S.’s refusal over the past two years to consider nominees to fill vacancies on the panel at the appellate body, the main forum for settling worldwide trade disagreements.
Whoever wins will have their hands full. If it’s Okonjo-Iweala, there is at least greater potential for Africa’s voice to be heard.
“An African at the head of the WTO who is also a multilateralist is an ernomous opportunity for the continent and a source of pride,” said Vera Songwe, head of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.
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