Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala makes history twice by taking over the WTOFebruary 16, 2021
Crashing through glass ceilings, let alone ones with reinforced steel, doesn’t often happen in Geneva – the velvet-lined headquarters of the international system in Europe.
‘Chapeau’ to Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, as the well-watered burghers and bankers of this lakeside city would say.
As the first woman and first African to win the director general post of the of the 164-member World Trade Organisation (WTO) after navigating the body’s opaque electoral processes, Okonjo-Iweala will start work with a quotient of respect.
A little luck
Like Napoleon’s more successful generals, she was also lucky.
Back in November, then US president Donald Trump had ordered his trade envoy Robert Lighthizer to block her appointment – despite her winning support from more than 70% of the WTO members.
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Then Joe Biden defeated Trump in the US elections, triggering several foreign-policy about-turns – among them was to give “strong support” to Okonjo-Iweala. And at 15.00 Geneva time on 15 February, the WTO held its general council online to confirm the new director general.
Okonjo-Iweala is expected at the organisation’s forbidding grey-stone headquarters this week, say diplomats in Geneva. After that, she embarks on the task of reforming, perhaps reimagining, the WTO for the pandemic and post-pandemic era.