History is made – Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is now WTO Director-General

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 16 February 2021:

WTO members made history yesterday, 15th of February, 2021 when the General Council agreed by consensus to select Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria as the organization’s seventh Director-General.

When she takes office on 1 March, Dr Okonjo-Iweala will become the first woman and the first African to be chosen as Director-General. Her term, renewable, will expire on 31 August 2025.

“This is a very significant moment for the WTO. On behalf of the General Council, I extend our warmest congratulations to Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on her appointment as the WTO’s next Director-General and formally welcome her to this General Council meeting,” said General Council Chair David Walker of New Zealand who, together with co-facilitators Amb. Dacio Castillo (Honduras) and Amb. Harald Aspelund (Iceland) led the nine-month DG selection process.

“Dr Ngozi, on behalf of all members I wish to sincerely thank you for your graciousness in these exceptional months, and for your patience. We look forward to collaborating closely with you, Dr Ngozi, and I am certain that all members will work with you constructively during your tenure as Director-General to shape the future of this organization,” he added.

Dr Okonjo-Iweala said a key priority for her would be to work with members to quickly address the economic and health consequences brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I am honoured to have been selected by WTO members as WTO Director-General,” said Dr Okonjo-Iweala. “A strong WTO is vital if we are to recover fully and rapidly from the devastation wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic. I look forward to working with members to shape and implement the policy responses we need to get the global economy going again. Our organization 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.” Her full statement is available here.

The General Council decision follows months of uncertainty which arose when the United States initially refused to join the consensus around Dr Okonjo-Iweala and threw its support behind Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee of the Republic of Korea. But following Ms Yoo’s decision on 5 February to withdraw her candidacy, the administration of newly elected US President Joseph R. Biden Jr. dropped the US objection and announced instead that Washington extends its “strong support” to the candidacy of Dr Okonjo-Iweala.

Amb. Walker extended his thanks to all eight of the candidates who participated in the selection process and particularly to Ms Yoo “for her ongoing commitment to and support for the multilateral trading system and for the WTO”. His full statement is available here.

The General Council agreed on 31 July that there would be three stages of consultations held over a two-month period commencing 7 September. During these confidential consultations, the field of candidates was narrowed from eight to five and then two.

On 28 October, General Council Chair David Walker of New Zealand had informed members that based on consultations with all delegations Dr Okonjo-Iweala was best poised to attain consensus of the 164 WTO members and that she had the deepest and the broadest support among the membership. At that meeting, the United States was the only WTO member which said it could not join the consensus.

The consultation process undertaken by the chair and facilitators was established through guidelines agreed by all WTO members in a 2002 General Council decision. These guidelines spelled out the key criteria in determining the candidate best positioned to gain consensus is the “breadth of support” each candidate receives from the members.

During the DG selection processes of 2005 and 2013, breadth of support was defined as “the distribution of preferences across geographic regions and among the categories of members generally recognized in WTO provisions: that is (Least developed countries), developing countries and developed countries”. This same process, agreed by all members in the General Council in 2020, was strictly followed by Chair Walker and his colleagues throughout the 2020-21 DG selection process.

The process for selecting a new Director-General was triggered on 14 May when former Director-General Mr Roberto Azevêdo informed WTO members he would be stepping down from his post one year before the expiry of his mandate. He subsequently left office on 31 August.

Mo Ibrahim Foundation today published a statement welcoming this historic appointment of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as Director-General of the WTO. This is what the statement says:

“The Mo Ibrahim Foundation welcomes the appointment of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO). As its first female and first African leader, this is a significant moment.

“This comes at a difficult time for multilateralism. Against the backdrop of COVID-19, a tumultuous period for global trade and increasing nationalist tendencies, the WTO faces significant challenges. Our sister Ngozi will fill this critical role with experience, wisdom and determination – steering an inclusive global trade agenda that is the only way to lift millions out of poverty and bring shared prosperity to the world.

“We hope that the WTO will temporarily waive the specific Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). This will provide the know-how to manufacture vaccines in Africa, a key step in enabling access to vaccines for all as quickly as possible. This is the only way to ensure a global, coordinated effort to contain COVID-19. If there is one emergency we must address, this is it.

“A close friend of our Foundation from its very beginning, and member of the inaugural Prize Committee, the new Director-General of the WTO can rely on our full and committed support.”

The Sierra Leone Telegraph wishes Madam Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala every success in her new role as head of the World Trade Organisation.

9 Comments

  1. MR STARGAZER – Thank you so much for your very kind words and sentiments. Yes, I believe that a cardinal rule of any honest quest for knowledge and truth is to own up to the mistakes you make, apologise for them, and rectify them at the earliest opportunity. It was in this spirit that I alerted fellow forumites to the error relating to the year the Rwandan genocide occurred. I want to take this opportunity to commend you for the very high quality of your numerous and varied posts. They strike me as the work of a crafty, imaginative and linguistically resourceful debator, one with a fearful demolition power. I doff my hat with utmost sincerity to you for that. It is an immense pleasure to have you now and again on the opposing side in a debate. As regards our continent, one cannot but hope and perhaps even believe, that the dark, long night of daunting political and economic challenges will come to a close one day.

    The hope and belief stem from what I see as the abundance of the continent’s most prized asset: its human resource, one which we must exploit fully if we are really serious about taking our rightful place in the world. Indeed an early and defining instance of our exploiting this resource dates back to the Nkrumahs, Lumumbas and Kenyattas, great architects of our collective freedom and independence, for which they either lost their individual freedoms or paid the ultimate sacrifice. They should be honoured and celebrated, as indeed they often are, for enabling our continent to take charge of its own political destiny. However, life moves on as indeed it must, circumstances evolve, and Africa must now recalibrate its use of its human resource in a way that translates the political freedom it has inherited into a tangible and viable economic one.

    Perhaps the sole guarantor of the continent’s ability to enter into meaningful, dignified equipollent relationships with other continents. We have to hope that the next crop of continental heroes will bring about the economic freedom that has eluded us so far; a lack that has prevented our political freedom from taking on it real, concrete significance. Dr Okonjo-Iweala and other technocrats in the continent and in the diaspora seem destined, for all their shortcomings and inadequacies, to take up from where the Nkrumahs and Lumumbas left off in that gradual accretion of steps taken by our continent towards full political and economic self-realisation. Call me an optimist, a naive one at that. However, hope and believe we must in the possibility of such continental self-realisation.

  2. Fellow Forumites – I just want to draw your attention to a factual error in my most recent post relating to Dr Okonjo-Iweala. The Rwandan genocide occured in 1994 and not 1993 as I mistakenly wrote. Thank you.

    • Mr Yillah – It is truly refreshing to have a man of good judgment in our midsts; this kind of attitude in my view speaks volumes about a person’s character and his fervent desire to embrace the admirable ideals of untainted humility and sincerity, mainly for the purpose of enhancing simple constructive and mutual dialogue. A man who fac-checks himself is deemed an asset wherever he goes, especially on this glorious forum where Special Agent Young4na consistently has to shoulder the daunting responsibilities of fact-checking a small crowd of slippery SLPP loyalists on a daily basis. (lol) And by the way Kofi Annam later admitted that the UN under his command had failed the Rwandan People and went on to apologize. Will Madam Wahala do the same to the Nigerian people? I sincerely do not think so, because for someone living in denial, to dismount from their high horse and admit to a fault is a thing unheard of in Nigeria, where Okonjo was born.(lol) Perhaps you Mr Yillah can help us ignite a tiny candle of hope that will brighten and illuminate her indifferent heart that frowns on the suffering masses.

  3. Yes, Mr Stargazer is right in saying during the cold war years, the vast majority of coups were carried out in conjunction, and approval of Western intelligence agencies. The murder of Lumumba, the overthrow of Nkrumah, the support that was given to the secessionist Biafran in Nigeria, and the US government and Apartheid regime of South Africa unwavering support for UNITA, under Dr. Jonas Savimbi as he waged a war against the MPLA government in Angola.

    Chief Mangesuto Butelize the Zulu-based head of the Inkatha movement, in support of white minority rule in South Africa during the days of Apartheid. Just like slavery, colonialism, Apartheid, the overthrow, or sometimes the assassination of promising African leaders, are successful, because we have what I call the USEFUL AFRICAN IDIOTS amongst us that are ready to sell their soul for the benefit of outsiders. How else, does one explains, a Finish Court from a Scandinavian country that has no colonial hangovers, just opeedn the first war crimes Tribunal in Liberia, against a Sierra Leonean national Gibril Massaquio whose trial got underway this week.

    Liberians tbat lost more than two hundred and fifty thousand people, will finally see the piperatratus of Charles Taylor’s NPLF wars called to account. There have been few trials held in the United States and UK, against the likes of Junky Taylor, son of Charles Taylor, and more recently the fomer NPLF spokeman. If we really want to be independent of Western influences, these are the sort of cases that should have been set up in Liberia, so victims of that war will have their day in court. Now they are getting it thanks to the foreign government in Finland and the Finnish courts.

  4. MR STARGAZER – Could Dr Okonjo-Iweala and Dr Annan have intervened to stop in its track the 1994 Rwandan genocide? Undoubtedly, they were both in influential positions of global reach at the time, and it is only too logical to think that a word or two from them to the right people in the right places at the right time might have saved the hundreds of thousands of Rwandans that were brutally and systematically murdered. However, we should remember that the origins of that tragic collision between the Hutus and Tutsis are complex and complicated and that at that particular point in history the horror was probably inevitable, sweeping everything before it.

    Is Dr Okonjo-Iweala a saint, a goddess, ready made to rid Africa of all it woes? Certainly not and nor indeed have I sought to beatify – for as far I know she is still alive – her or indeed deify her. Is she corrupt? Opinion is divided on this question. One thing I do find convincing is the disarmingly simple point put forward by her husband in response to claim that she had dipped her hands in the national till and made off with TWO BILLIONS (a colossal sum of money by any measure whether it is dollars or nairas). He simply wondered why it was that he was still paying their mortgage. You and I are aware that in our continent today, crusaders against state organised corruption have the funny experience of being given a taste of their own medicine. In all likelihood, the crusader called OKONJO-WAHALA was having dirt dished on her for standing up to corrupt officials in Nigeria’s petroleum industry.

    Dr Okonjo-Iweala fascinates me simply because I see her as possessing the knowledge and experience that will enable our continent to take full advantage of the possibilities available to it in a global marketplace where all the continents of the world contest, collide and clamour for individual attention. Indeed her role as head of an organisation concerned with world trade places her in a unique position, one that will open doors to her continent, enabling it to hold its own and thrive alongside other continents of this earth, our common home.

  5. Gentlemen – There was once a tiny gold fish in a glass bowl that mistakenly thought that her little space was all the universe consisted of; One day her owner took her to the majestic oceans and released her into its enchanting fathomless depths;” See for yourself dearly beloved, what the real oceans looks like,” She said to the little happy-go-lucky gold fish;” Witness the dazzling magical colors reflecting beneath and above its splendid surfaces – let the petrifying giant octopuses, fearless sharks and massive Whales now become your faithful mentors and guides. Indeed the time has come for me to show the little squirmy fishes what the real world looks like. The Former 2005 Africa Finance Minister of the year Madam Okonjo Iweala is no saint as many are trying to portray her to be; Her involvement in shady underhanded deals were widely known to many discerning and pragmatic minds around the globe.

    It was under President Goodluck Jonathan that she did her worst against the poorest of the poor in Nigeria by her deep involvement in the process of facilitating an unscrupulous Presidents arms procurement deal that was worth over 2 billion dollars that eventually lead to the shameful arrests of Nigeria’s former National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki by President Buhari – the governor of the Central Bank and countless businessmen that were inseparable bedfellows with Dr iweala were also roped in. Awwww…You Still think Dr Iweala is a beacon of hope for the African continent? Oh Well, its time to consider this also – The Former Vice President of the World Bank held two cabinet positions under Goodluck Jonathan in which politicians resembling brigantine pirates brazenly robbed the national coffers empty through their wicked, criminal, disruptive behaviors; And guess what?

    While small armies of beggars, disabled and mentally ill on the Streets of Nigeria struggled among bustling unforgiving crowds of millions for a bowl of soup, the highly paid Dr Okonjo Iweala shrugged off the worst financial crimes against the nation and quietly, tenderly, with gentle eyes looked the other away. Answer – Were White people not aware of Dr Iwealas questionable behaviors? Of course they were! Then Stargazer Why do they keep on employing her? Well, the enemy always needs agents that are totally familiar with the terrain he desires to exploit in order for things to move rapidly and successfully – Dr Iweala is one of them, and so was the highly revered Kofi Annan who looked away when he could have intervened to stop a heartbreaking genocide in Rwanda that chewed, crunched and swallowed countless millions with one huge frightening gulp. Now what do you say?(lol)

  6. I just wanted to share the below link with fellow forumites to a recent BBC Radio 4 profile of Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, first broadcast on Saturday, 20th February 2021, at 7pm British Standard Time.

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000sgw3

    Dr Okonjo-Iweala emerges as a truly remarkable, inspirational woman. She hails from a traditional African royal family. The family is one of high achievers for whom education is the key to success in life. She, her parents, siblings and children are holders of advanced degrees. Her humanity is only too evident, shaping into love of family and country to the point of her willingly swapping the comfort and safety she enjoyed as a top US-based World Bank executive for the uncertainty and at times danger of providing economic stewardship for her country of birth. She is possessed of a great work ethic: a hard taskmaster who gets things done the right way. Oh, how I love the nickname she was given by her detractors: OKONJO-WAHALA! Corrupt Nigerian officials did not dare mess with her. I believe she will give her all as head of WTO, with Africa’s best interest in mind. Perhaps as things stand in our beloved Sierra Leone, the country needs its own – homegrown or from the diaspora – OKONJO-WAHALA.

  7. Dr Okonjo-Iweala, an agent of the West? When did this black African woman whose appointment to the Director Generalship of the World Trade Organisation was unequivocally blocked by a US President at one point, become a puppet of Western capitaslist stranghold on Africa? Is her treatment by Trump the way Westerners usually recruit or repay their non-Western collaborators? Some puppet or agent indeed! You see, it is all too easy to lay the blame for all of Africa’s past and present predicament at the door of white imperialists, colonialists and ne-ocolonislists. Africans themselves have had nothing to do with it! And if somehow they did get involved in causing say the abject deprivation, political dictatorship, gross economic mismanagement and catastrophic fratricidal wars with which their continent has been beset since gaining its independence, it would still wholly be the fault of an ill-willed, terrifying, insatiable Western capitalist bogeyman.

    And presto being an African but schooled in the West becomes not an achievement for which you might deserve a commendation, but rather a crime, a sin even, against your own continent of birth, especially so if somehow you beat the odds and gain such high profile employments as a Deputy Directorship at the World Bank, the Directorship of the World Trade Organisation and the Headship of your country of birth’s v Ministry of Finance. You are viewed with suspicion, rejected out of hand, avoided like the plague. You are ridiculed, your achievements nullified and your very personality thrashed and thrown under the bus. You are told you are a stranger in your own continent and that it does not need your knowledge and expertise as it will be all the worse for them.

    What a way to disown one of our own! As for the West, is it still the all-devouring economic monster it is made out to be? With the rise of China and to a lesser extent India. does Africa not now have room to manoeuvre as it strives to make the best of a world that is increasingly and irrevocably intertwined and interdependent? Of course no single one of us has all the answers to the myriad of challenges we face. However, we have to recognise that there are people among us – at home and in the diaspora – who by their training, professional experience and global stature, are best suited and placed to steer us through the treacherous currents of globalisation. They may not solve all our problems all of the time, but like the rest of us, their love for and commitment to the welfare of our continent should not be doubted. Nor indeed should their knowledge and expertise be conflated with what some people consider to be Western capitalism’s duplicitous operations, aimed at running us and our resources into the ground.

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