Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala makes history twice by taking over the WTO

Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala makes history twice by taking over the WTO

February 16, 2021 0 By Hitz
Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is the first woman and the first African to become director general of the World Trade Organisation. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

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.

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.