Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former Minister of Finance has been appointed the head of the World Trade Organization(WTO). The 66-year-old groundbreaker on Monday went down in history as the first African and woman to head the position. This is following President Biden’s endorsement of her candidacy which was previously blocked by Trump.
The development expert stated that her topmost priority would be to look into the economic and health consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic for instance lifting export restrictions on supplies and vacancies and promoting vaccine production in more countries. Other considerable undertakings include reforming the organization’s dispute resolution process and identifying means for trade rules to deal with change such as digitalization and e-commerce.
Okonjo-Iweala was born in 1954 in Ogwanshi Ukwu, Delta State. Her father is a traditional ruler. Most of her life was spent in the United States. She graduated from Harvard University with a degree in economics and did her Ph.D.. in regional economics and development at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
‘I absolutely do feel an additional burden, I can’t lie about that. Being the first woman and the first African means that one really has to perform,’ she stated.
The appointment will be effective March 1, 2021. Okonjo-Iweala dedicated 25 years of her career to the World Bank where she served as an advocate for economic growth and development in poorer countries. She attained the No 2. position of managing director where she supervised development financing in Africa, South Asia, Europe, and Central Asia with an $81 billion sum. She also served as a finance minister and foreign 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.
Not long ago, she was named the African Union’s special envoy to rally international support for the continent’s efforts to look into the huge economic fall resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.
“One way to ensure the adequate supply and equitable distribution of vaccines is to remove some of the barriers created by intellectual property and technology transfer laws,” she wrote in April in Foreign Affairs magazine.
Despite her many achievements, some critics have expressed doubts over her capacity to take up the position. Sarah Chayes, author of ‘Thieves of State’ condemned her years of service in the ministry stating that although Okonjo-Iweala did some box-checking technocratic transparency reforms ‘the fact is, nearly a billion dollars a month were going missing from oil revenues when she was finance minister’.
Critics have stressed that she should have done more to stop corruption while she was in power. ‘At the very least, she had the opportunity to resign from office and expose the corruption,’ said Olanrewaju Suraju, from the Human and Environmental Development Agenda campaign group.
‘Rather, she kept quiet and allowed high-level corruption to fester under the regime, only to complain after leaving office.’
Over and above the applauds and criticism, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has set the pace with her huge strides, making it possible for not just Nigerians but Africans in the future to aspire to such height. “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 Hassan.