WTO names Okonjo-Iweala among candidates for DG election

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Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

The World Trade Organisation (WTO), on Tuesday, named Nigeria’s candidate, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, among the three candidates whose nominations have so far been accepted to vie for the organidation’s Director-General position.

The WTO’s General Council Chair, David Walker of New Zealand, who announced the shortlist of three candidates, said Mrs Okonjo-Iweala would be squaring up against the Mexican representative, Jesús Seade Kuri, and Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh of Egypt.

The announcement of the former World Bank Managing Director and two-time Nigerian minister by the organisation is coming against a stiff opposition.

President Muhammadu Buhari’s nomination of the former minister last Thursday to replace the current deputy Director General of WTO, Yonov Frederick Agah, as Nigeria’s nominee caused a stir.

Shortly after her nomination, the Egyptian government wrote to the African Union (AU) and United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) in Addis Ababa to demand that Mrs Okonjo-Iweala be disqualified, as she was coming into the race after three candidates had already been shortlisted.

The three candidates included Eloi Laourou of the Republic of Benin, Abdulhameed Mamdouh of the Arab Republic of Egypt Arab Republic, and Mr Agah of Nigeria.

With the withdrawal of Mr Agah’s candidature, the Egyptian government said it was requesting the Ministerial Committee on Candidatures to officially inform the African Group in Geneva about the development and Nigeria’s disqualification.

Mr Walker said the release of the three-member candidates’ shortlist was in line with the procedures for appointing the WTO Director-General as described in document WT/L/509.

The procedures included that WTO members would be informed of nominations of candidates as soon as they are received from their countries.

On May 20, 2020, Mr Walker said the appointment process for the next Director-General would formally commence on June 8 with nominations accepted till July 8.

After July 8, Mr Walker said he would issue to members a consolidated list of all the candidates, while candidates would be invited to meet with members at a special General Council meeting shortly after the nomination period has closed.

During the meeting, the candidates would be allowed to present their views and take questions from members.

Okonjo-Iweala’s profile

A renowned global finance expert, Mrs Okonjo-Iweala is an economist and international development professional with over 30 years-experience, having worked in Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America and North America.

She is currently the Chair of the Board of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; a member of the Boards of Standard Chartered PLC and Twitter Inc, and was recently appointed as African Union (AU) Special Envoy to mobilise International Financial Support in the fight against COVID-19, as well as Special Envoy for the World Health Organization’s Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator.

Twice Nigeria’s finance minister (2003-2006) and (2011-2015), Mrs Okonjo-Iweala also served briefly as Nigeria’s foreign minister in 2006, the first Nigerian woman to hold both positions.

She had a 25-year career at the World Bank as a development economist, rising to the position of managing director (operations).

As finance minister, Mrs Okonjo-Iweala steered Nigeria through a varying degree of reforms, particularly on macroeconomic, trade, financial and real sector issues.

As managing director (operations) at the World Bank, her several portfolios included oversight responsibility for the Bank’s $81 billion operational portfolios in Africa, South Asia, Europe and Central Asia.

She spearheaded several World Bank initiatives to assist low-income countries during the 2008-2009 food crisis and later in the trying period of the global financial crisis.

In 2010, Mrs Okonjo-Iweala served as chair of the World Bank’s successful drive to raise $49.3 billion in grants and low-interest credit for the poorest countries of the world.

President Buhari used the memo to solicit the support of AU member-States, as well as Permanent Missions and Embassies in Addis Ababa for Mrs Okonjo-Iweala’s candidacy during the elections.

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