Today will go down in history as the day where Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala becomes not just  the first African to be Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), but also the first woman ever to hold the position. 

The WTO has called a special general council meeting in Geneva, at which the former Nigerian finance minister and World Bank veteran Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is expected to be formally named as the global trade body’s new director-general.

Okonjo-Iweala’s accession to the top spot at the WTO follows a long and winding process filled with drama. The previous head stepped down in August, and Okonjo-Iweala emerged as the favorite of the organization’s 160 plus member states in October. She was closely opposed by South Korea’s Yoo Myung-Lee, who later dropped off the race; but her major challenge was the Donald Trump administration that unilaterally blocked her candidacy, one of a series of actions from the former president that thwarted the progress of the organization. However, on Feb. 5, the Biden trade officials expressed “strong support,” and Okonjo-Iweala got the head way that she required in her race to be the next WTO director-general.

It is rather public knowledge that the mandate of the World Trade Organization is relatively restricted: to make and enforce the rules of the road for global trade and resolve problems when they arise. Okonjo-Iweala however, seems to have grander goals in mind when she assumes her new office as the DG of the WTO. In a recent interview, she said that “global trade can help ease the COVID-19 pandemic, tackle climate change and restore faith in the system of cooperation that has faltered in recent years.” 

It goes without saying that her job is cut out for her in the WTO, an organization presently described as “a near-paralyzed institution desperately needing a kick-start.” Having survived and thrived in Nigerian politics as a two time finance minister  (2003-2006 and 2011-2015) and its first female foreign minister in a two-month stint in 2006, and rising to number two at the World Bank, we believe that she would have no trouble dealing with international trade negotiators in her new job at the World Trade Organization (WTO). 

She has brushed off claims of perceived lack of experience as a trade minister or negotiator, insisting that what is needed to lead the WTO is not technical skills but “boldness, courage”. Okonjo-Iweala has stated from the beginning of her race that she wants to bring a fresh pair of eyes and ears to the WTO. And just like she mentioned in her campaign video, we believe that she is the woman for the job! 

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