Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala becomes first African and first woman director general of WTO

#AnkaraArmy, #BeLikeNgoziChallenge trend as Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala heads the WTO

Nigeria marked the appointment of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in style after her role as the new  World Trade Organization boss was confirmed. As a former finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala shattered the glass ceiling by becoming the first African and woman to take the helm of the global trade body. 

To mimic her unique Afrocentric style, Nigerians adorned full outfits and head ties in ‘Ankara’ an African wax cloth, necklaces, and clear eyeglasses. Before the WTO announcement, a global trend #NOIGoesToWTO emerged and was shared over 30,000 times under different hashtags. One of the trends, #BeLikeNgoziChallenge was followed by women sharing how they are inspired by a woman holding such a powerful position. 

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Okonjo-Iweala has enjoyed an illustrious career, where 25 years were spent working for the World Bank as a development economist. She later rose to the position of managing director and chaired the board of Gavi that distributes coronavirus vaccines globally. Her term at the WTO starts in March and runs till August 2025. 

The African Union chair, Moussa Faki Mahamat congratulated Ngozi Okonjo after she received her confirmation. In a press release, he pointed out his pleasure in the global consensus that supported her appointment to the role. UN Secretary-general Antonio Guterres was upbeat about strengthening the UN-WTO relationship. 

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The WTO is in a peculiar position and faces increasing pressure over partisan global trade wars, calls for reform, and disputes over cases involving billions in sales. The 66-year-old Okonjo-Iweala made her priorities straight during her first address, “economic and health consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic” would be top of her list. 

She believes working together to solve global challenges, collectively makes the WTO stronger, more agile, and adaptive to the global economy. US President Joe Biden endorsed her candidacy which had previously been blocked by former President Donald Trump. The move was an undoubtedly clear indication of the new administration’s desire for a constructive and cooperative approach to international problems and trade disputes.

Trump repeatedly accused the WTO of unfairly treating the United States, began a trade war with the world’s second-largest economy China, and began the process of pulling the United States out of the body entirely. In another defiance to the WTO rules, Trump hit European allies with 25% steel and aluminum tariffs basing his argument on national security. At the moment, the current US president has not confirmed whether he will withdraw the steel tariffs that are supported by US steel and Union groups. 

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Yoo Myung-hee, South Korea’s trade minister, withdrew her candidacy, setting up Okonjo-Iweala as the sole contender. Roberto Azevedo (Brazil), the predecessor to the position, resigned on Aug. 31, a year before his term was due. Many women are currently leading prominent positions in international bodies, such as Christine Lagarde at the helm of the Europen Central Bank, Audrey Azuley at UNESCO, Winne Byanyima at UNAIDs, Ursula Von der Leyen the European President, and Kristalina Georgieva. 

The WTO is the global body dealing with trade issues arising among the 164 member nations. It is the custodian of all WTO agreements negotiated by most of the world and ratified by their national legislatures.