Two African women are in the running for the World Trade Organization (WTO) top job. In the race, we have a Nigerian and a Kenyan woman running against seven other candidates to become the next director-general of the organization. There is another African from Egypt (but not female). Other contenders are from South Korea, Mexico, Moldova and Britain.
Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a development economist who used to be finance minister for her country, and Amina Mohamed, Kenya’s current sports, culture and heritage minister, are two of the seven candidates vying to be the next director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
The two African women have been nominated alongside others from Egypt, South Korea, Mexico, Moldova and Britain.
The current head of the WTO, Roberto Azveldo who is from Brazil will be stepping down at the end of August, as such it is imperative that his replacement is secured for the smooth operation of the Geneva based organization.
A term for DG of the WTO lasts four years, but Mr. Azveldo has chosen to step down a year ahead of the expiration of his tenure.
Azevedo’s successor would be saddled with the task of steering the WTO through reforms and negotiations in the face of rising protectionism, a deep recession caused by the coronavirus pandemic and growing trade tensions, especially that between heavyweights, United States and China.
Sources following the process told Reuters news agency that there is a broad support to see to it that an Africa woman picks up the mantle for the WTO.
No African has been WTO director-general since its founding in 1995, nor headed its predecessor organization, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which was founded in 1948.
Madam Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is a development and finance specialist who spent 25 years of her career at the World Bank as a development economist and eventually rising to the position of bank’s Managing Director.
“Few doubt that Okonjo-Iweala is a force to be reckoned with,” the US news site Politico reported in June, calling her a “political heavy hitter” in an article about her nomination.
Okonjo-Iweala also served as Nigeria’s finance minister twice. She served from 2003 to 2006 under President Olusegun Obasanjo and 2011 to 2015 under President Goodluck Jonathan.
She is a Harvard-educated economist, who also holds a PhD from MIT. Asides service as a Minister in Finance for her country, she also at a point was Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs.
“The 66-year old sits on the board of the Twitter social media network and Standard Chartered bank, and chairs the board of Gavi, a global vaccine alliance.”
“I’m interested in [the WTO] position because I believe in the power of trade to lead to a shared prosperity, to lift people’s lives,” Okonjo-Iweala told DW in a Facebook Live interview when her nomination was announced.
“Everybody knows that the WTO is going through a rough time, so I’ll be looking to see what critical reforms members can subscribe to… either reforms to the dispute settlement system or in updating the rule book of the WTO, which will take time,” Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala said.
Madam Amina Mohamed is Kenyan Sports, Culture and Heritage Minister, she is also a lawyer (and she was admitted to the State bar just last Friday). She is a diplomat and politician who has vast public service experience at national and international levels.
“She has been an important player in Kenya’s multilateral negotiations in bodies like the Commonwealth and the World Trade Organization,” according to the book Muslim Women in Postcolonial Kenya, which noted “her skills in economic and commercial diplomacy.”
Mohamed, comes from an ethnic Somali family, and has had remarkable achievements despite the peculiar challenges she faced growing up.
She was also foreign minister from 2013 to 2018, becoming the first woman to hold this position and the first Muslim woman in the Kenyan Cabinet.
The 58-year-old speaks English, Russian and Swahili. She has also risen through the ranks in Kenya’s diplomatic service to become Kenya’s ambassador to the WTO and, in 2005, was the first woman to chair the WTO’s General Council.
Mrs. Amina Mohamed used to be assistant secretary-general of the United Nations. She was also the deputy executive director of the UN Environment Program’s Africa Office, in Nairobi.
She holds a Master’s of law from the National University of Kyiv, in Ukraine. She later went on to acquire a postgraduate diploma in international relations at the University of Oxford, in the United Kingdom.
She has had an earlier shot at the WTO top job when she ran against Azvedo in 2013 but lost. Mr. Azvedo was reelected in 2017 without any contender.
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