Nigeria’s Okonjo-Iweala Officially Becomes WTO DG

Reading Time: 2 minutes

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) has announced Nigeria’s former Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, as its Director General.

Okonjo-Iweala was affirmed as the new head of WTO at a special meeting of its General Council on Monday.

With her emergence as DG, Okonjo-Iweala becomes the first woman, first African and first black person to head the global trade body.

WTO had been without a substantive head since its former director general, Roberto Azevêdo, a Brazilian, resigned on August 31, 2020.

Okonjo-Iweala had last October secured the vote of 163 of the 164 members of the trade organization, but could not be declared the head of the WTO because the organisation’s selection rules stipulate that its DG has to emerge by consensus.

The United State government of former President Donald Trump had opposed her emergence as the head of the global trade body, backing South Korea’s Yoo Myung-hee for the position.

South Korea’s Myung-hee, backed by the US, later became Okonjo-Iweala’s sole opponent after other contestants withdrew from the race last year. She recently announced her withdrawal from the race, after discussions with the United States and other major nations.

The new United States government of Joe Biden penultimate week gave its formal approval to the emergence of Okonjo-Iweala as the next Director General, thereby removing the final obstacle to her bid to be the first woman and the first African to run the Geneva-based trade body.

The director general of the WTO is appointed for a term of four years and the office supervises the WTO secretariat of about 700 staff.

66-year-old Okonjo-Iweala was born in Ogwashi-Ukwu, Delta State, Nigeria. She attended Queen’s School, Enugu; St. Anne’s School, Molete, Ibadan; and the International School Ibadan. For her tertiary education, Okonjo-Iweala studied at Harvard University, graduating magna cum laude with AB in Economics. She later earned her Ph.D in regional economics and development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Okonjo-Iweala spent 25 years at the World Bank as a development economist, rising to the position of Managing Director, Operations (2007–2011). She later served as Finance Minister in the Nigerian government of former President Olusegun Obasanjo (2003–2006) and under former President Goodluck Jonathan (2011–2015), where she also Coordinating minister of the economy. Before her exit from the Obasanjo government, she served as foreign minister.

Okoonjo-Iweala sits on the Boards of Standard Chartered Bank, Twitter, Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) and the African Risk Capacity (ARC).