United States Endorses Nigeria’s Okonjo-Iweala for WTO Director General, Africans Fête Elevation with Caution

Nigerians have greeted with excitement news that the United States government has retracted its decision not to back Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria for the job of Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The Erstwhile government of former US President, Donald Trump had refused to support the former Nigerian Finance Minister for the position, preferring to back her main challenger, Republic of Korea’s Trade Minister, Yoo Myung-hee.  The Korean dropped out of the competition for the top job Friday.

It was not a surprise, however, when a statement from the Office of the United States Trade Representative Friday February 5, announced that the Biden/Harris administration would back Okonjo-Iweala to become the first woman and first-ever African WTO Director-General.

President Joe Biden and VP Kamala Harris portraying perfect agreement for increased US Global Presence (C) Wired

 

In a statement Friday, February 5, the US Trade department wrote: “The United States takes note of today’s decision by the Republic of Korea’s Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee to withdraw her candidacy for Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO)”.

In an outright expression of support to the Nigerian candidate, the Department further outline “The Biden-Harris Administration is pleased to express its strong support for the candidacy of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the next Director-General of the WTO.  Dr. Okonjo-Iweala brings a wealth of knowledge in economics and international diplomacy from her 25 years with the World Bank and two terms as Nigerian Finance Minister.  She is widely respected for her effective leadership and has proven experience managing a large international organization with a diverse membership”. 

The race which has now ended with the crowning of a Nigerian as first African to capture the WTO top job, was significant in that two women beat everyone on their way to the final, giving the world an opportunity to tap from the wealth of experience that women bring onboard. This aspect of the contest did not leave the US government indifferent.

“It is particularly important to underscore that two highly qualified women made it to the final round of consideration for the position of WTO Director-General -- the first time that any woman has made it to this stage in the history of the institution,” the US Trade Department statement noted.  

Reactions in Nigeria have not been long in coming.

“It was, indeed, cheering news and one that strengthens my belief in merit-based structures and positions. I was pained when the administration of President Trump blocked her appointment, even when she came first during the interview and got most endorsements from WTO Members. I am happy that our own, a Nigerian and an African is positioned to lead the WTO. It demonstrates that something better can still come out of Nigeria, despite the poor administration in Nigeria,” said Dr. Chiwuike Uba, a Development Economist and Board Chairman of Amaka Chiwuike-Uba Foundation (ACUF).

Dr. Chiwuike Uba, Development Economist, Board Chairman of Amaka Chiwuike-Uba Foundation (C) The Sun Nigeria.

 

Taking a critical look of what Nigeria and the African continent, in general, stands to benefit from this elevation, Dr. Chiwuike said “Honestly, beyond the ride of having our own, a Nigerian and Africa as the head of WTO, there will be no special benefit that will accrue to Nigeria and Africa outside what the continent merits. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala believes so much in merit, equity, and trade relationship that benefits all parties. Therefore, her leadership, will in one way or the other only help Africa to benefit from the global trading system”. 

With the euphoria still gathering steam about the breakthrough, Dr. Uba has a message for Dr. Okonjo-Iweala.

“She must recognize that her service is unto God first, and unto humanity, therefore, she needs to do her job with the fear of God. All eyes are on her as the first African and a woman to lead the organization. The stakes are exceedingly high; hence, the need to abide by the core principles upon which the WTO was founded. The principles of non-discrimination, transparency, predictability, and stability. The entire world is as weak as the weakest country, hence, the need for inclusiveness at all times,” he said.

A Lagos-based Public Affairs Analyst, Adewunmi Bashiru Agunloye applauded President Biden’s administration for doing the right thing with the endorsement. He told Timescape Magazine that he personally “feels so elated and happy that our citizen is being recognized in the world economy. There is no doubt that Nigeria is blessed with many talented and competent citizens who can contribute meaningfully to the development of the world. For Africa, it is to prove that Africa as a continent is equally blessed with brilliant people…Let me advise Okonjo-Iweala to be a good ambassador of Nigeria and she should try her best to promote equality”.

Veteran journalist, Ikpo Igbinoba had different views about a Nigerian or an African being considered to head the WTO. While acknowledging that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala deserved and is qualified for the position, he warned that the Black Continent should not celebrate that one of her own has been handed the top job.

“Why are we celebrating that a Nigerian woman and indeed an African woman is getting the job? This won't benefit Nigeria, neither will it benefit the continent of Africa. There won't be a significant benefit because we have not been able to contribute significantly to world trade. Our contribution is inconsequential. For the appointment of one Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to benefit us, we must have something tangible to contribute to world trade,” he warned.

The man of letters delved into illustrations: “Take, for example, Nigeria with her crude oil is not a big player in world trade because we failed over the years to add any value to our crude oil. Nigeria and Africa as a whole have relegated ourselves to the background when it comes to world trade. So, Africa has nothing to offer when it comes to world trade”.

Like in every other circumstance where Africans hoped so much and ended up with so little or nothing, Ikpo Igbinoba regretted that “The big nations of the world are the ones to benefit from the appointment of Okonjo-Iweala as the Director-General of the WTO”.

Dr. Abiodun Duyile, Department of History and International Relations, Ekiti State University, Nigeria

 

In the same vein, Dr. Abiodun Duyile of the Department of History and International Relations, Ekiti State University, Ado Ekiti in Ekiti State, southwest Nigeria told Timescape Magazine that he was not happy with the dual citizenship of the incoming Director-General of the WTO.

“I have a piece of short advice for Dr. Okonjo-Iweala. Although I am not comfortable with any Nigerian that has dual citizenship, as you know Okonjo-Iweala is a United States citizen/Nigerian citizen. Nevertheless, I will like her to do everything possible to reverse the trade relations between Africa and the rest of the world. Africa since the 19th century has been condemned to a primary market. It is so sad that Africa has become a dumping ground for other countries of the world, especially the advanced nations. 

“She should help Nigeria also. The WTO should take a definite stand on Cryptocurrency.  She should push for the regulation of that currency and help the African states to understand this new economic currency. Nigeria must do the needful so it can benefit,” he pointed out.

To Mr. Yahaya Majeed, a former Trade Union Chairman at the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation (OAGF) in Abuja, the “WTO is an important international organization, whose existence is so crucial to developed countries and I was not surprised when the US under the former President Trump objected to Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala because of trade rivalries with China. The general belief of former president Trump was that she will be biased in decisions considering the multilateral relations between China and African countries, particularly Nigeria”.

If approved, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala would enter an organization that has been crippled by actions of the Trump administration in the United States, which had refused to approve nominees to fill vacancies on a panel charged with resolving trade disputes.

Mr. Trump defied the organization’s principles by starting a trade war with China. He also threatened to pull the United States out of the trade body, which he repeatedly accused of unfair treatment of the United States. Global trade has been severely affected by the coronavirus pandemic, and it is left to be seen how Dr. Okonjo-Iweala brings a new dynamic to once more steady the ship.