Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, 66
Ngozi Okonjo Iweala is in the business of making history.
An economist and permanent fixture on the international development circuit, Okonjo Iweala’s profile towers above her peers. Her two-decade plus career at the World Bank had her peak in the number two role as managing director, operations. She became the first woman to serve as Minister of Finance in Nigeria. She was so good, she did it twice and under two different presidents. Her record is there for all to see. Since she crashed that ceiling, there have been at least three women in the role.
She isn’t done making history just yet.
In the coming weeks, the World Trade Organisation faces a record making choice. For the first time in its 25-year history, the next Director General of the organisation is going to be a woman. Should present momentum hold, then the job will go to Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
Before the selection process was put on hold, Okonjo Iweala was the candidate to beat, as she enjoyed the largest support by members in the final round. She also garnered broad support from member states from all levels of development and from all geographic regions. Matter of fact, only the United States of America stands in the way of her potential and historic announcement.
Few people are as ready to meet this moment as Okonjo Iweala is. Her depth of experience garnered from decades on the job, impressive connections and inside knowledge of the workings of multilateral institutions will come in handy as the WTO seeks to restore some semblance of normalcy to a global trading system devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic. As a dual citizen, Okonjo Iweala is armed with the credentials and authority that will help her address global divisions sure to be caused by trade tensions between China and her second home, the United States.
Okonjo-Iweala is also positioned to pay closer to attention to Africa.
Long considered as expendable in high level trade discussions, the continent will surely benefit from an insider and friend. One that is willing to push for a strong and connected network of African markets. The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), now impacted by the coronavirus pandemic is on track to come into play significantly in 2021. This landmark initiative will help address Africa’s unnecessary fragmentation by creating the world’s largest common market. Okonjo Iweala’s influence will no doubt play a huge role in getting countries like Nigeria to show serious commitment to the process.
A former chair of GAVI, the vaccine alliance where she supported the team in securing its $8.8 billion replenishment war chest through her legendary persuasion skills. Okonjo-Iweala’s entire career has been devoted to reducing inequality at policy, program and technical levels. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Okonjo Iweala has been appointed as one of the African Union special envoys to mobilize international financial support for Africa’s efforts to manage the pandemic. She also doubles as the WHO Special Envoy for access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator.
There is so much that Okonjo Iweala does, it is a wonder how she finds the time to do them all. Surely not the same 24 hours available to the rest of us. She serves on the boards of the Rockefeller Foundation and the Centre for Global Development, among others. She is also the chair of African Risk Capacity, a specialized agency of the African Union to help member states prepare for and respond to extreme weather events and natural disasters. She sits on the board of Twitter and on Standard Chartered PLC.
While the WTO concludes its process, it would be nice to remind them why Okonjo Iweala is the most suitable candidate to lead the institution in this most troubled of times. Beyond her watchful competence and talent for strategy, she is also a tough negotiator. Her eagle-eyed persistence, keenness for reform and refusal to take no for an answer helped write off Nigeria’s debt to the Paris Club during her first stint as finance minister. The WTO role demands a candidate with the energy, enthusiasm, and ability to see opportunity in the face of disruptions.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is the woman for the job.
To vote Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as YNaija Person of the Year 2020; visit ynaija.com/personoftheyear2020