With three candidates contesting the coveted job of next Director General and Chief Executive of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the highly influential Pan African Business Forum (PABF), has publicly declared its support for the candidature of Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the widely respected former Nigerian Finance Minister and Managing Director of the World Bank in charge of Africa, South and Central Asia and parts of Europe.
PABF’s support will prove useful to her cause; although not a household name among Africa’s general public this grouping of like-minded high tier public and private sector officials, both serving and retired, has proved very influential in the continent’s corridors of power.
For example its lobbying contributed significantly to the appointment of former South African presidential candidate, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma as chief executive of the African Union Commission during the previous decade.
But even with PABF’s support, Dr Okonjo-Iweala faces a very competitive contest for the top job in the multilateral organization that regulates global international trade. Nevertheless, the Forum is fully convinced that she is the best option for a job that itself will be an extremely tough one amid global supply chain disruptions instigated by the COVID 19 pandemic and trade tensions between the United States, China and Western Europe, as well as BREXIT, all of which are encouraging a retreat from multilateralism in trade by several countries around the globe.
But Dr Okonjo-Iweala is already the front runner in the contest because of her huge accomplishments both the World Bank and in Nigeria which have earned her deep respect and renown globally. Indeed, in the recent past she has been a leading candidate for the job of managing director of the International Monetary Fund, getting closer to that job than any citizen from a developing country before, or since.
“This is a unique opportunity now unfolding, to win the trust and confidence of all its members around the world” points out Dr Ladislas Agbesi, the Beninoise and Ghanaian President of PABF, who is domiciled in South Africa, where the Forum is also headquartered.
“The big, rich economies that are currently embroiled in trade disputes with each other need someone who they see as a neutral arbitrator and the smaller, relatively poor economies need someone who they can trust not to simply support the interests of the rich ones at their expense, which has been their thinking up till now.”
Dr Okonjo-Iweala herself acutely realizes this and indeed bases her campaign for the job largely on her suitability in this regard.
“I see the ability for developing countries, especially the least developed countries, to benefit, whilst not taking away from developed countries,” she proposes.
“This is why trade is so interesting, is that you can actually have win-win outcomes for the participants and not a zero-sum game.
“To get to these issues, you need an honest broker, an objective head, someone with the right skills, someone who knows the subject but with strong political and negotiating skills, the managerial skills to move things and also be someone who can listen well, who is very solutions–oriented.”
Her educational background, her working experience and her track record of accomplishment all support her suitability.
Dr. Okonjo-Iweala was educated at Harvard and has a Ph.D. in Regional Economics and Development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including Honorary Doctorates from Trinity College, Dublin, Brown University and Amherst College, among others. She is the recipient of Time magazine’s European Hero of the Year Award, 2004, for her work on economic reform in Nigeria, Euromoney magazine Global Finance Minister of the year, 2005, Financial Times/The Banker African Finance Minister of the year 2005, This Day (one of Nigeria’s premier newspapers) Minister of the Year award 2004 and 2005.
In 2006, she was named by Forbes magazine as one of 100 most powerful women in the world. Portfolio, the Conde Nast International Business Intelligence magazine, called her one of 73 “Brilliant” business influencers in the world of business and public service.
Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is former Minister of Finance for the Federal Republic of Nigeria, appointed in July 2011. She previously served as a Managing Director of the World Bank where she had oversight responsibility for the World Bank’s operational portfolio in Africa, South Asia and Europe and Central Asia.
Dr. Okonjo-Iweala spearheaded several World Bank initiatives to assist low-income countries during both the food and later financial crisis. She is chaired the replenishment of over $40 billion for the International Development Association (IDA), the grant and soft credit arm of the World Bank.
From September 2006 to November 2007, she was Distinguished Visiting Fellow at Brookings Institution. From June to August 2006, she was Minister of Foreign Affairs of Nigeria, overseeing Nigeria’s External Relations; and from July 2003 to June 2006 she served a prior term as Minister of Finance and Economy of Nigeria and head of Nigeria’s much acclaimed Presidential Economic team responsible for implementing a comprehensive home-grown economic reform program that stabilized the macro-economy and tripled the growth rate to an average 6% per annum over three years.
Her achievements as Finance Minister garnered international recognition for improving Nigeria’s financial stability and fostering greater fiscal transparency to combat corruption. In October 2005, she led the Nigerian team that negotiated the cancellation of 60% of Nigeria’s external debt ($18 billion) with the Paris Club.
The debt deal also included an innovative buy-back mechanism that wiped out Nigeria’s Paris Club debt and reduced the country’s external indebtedness from $35 billion to $5 billion. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala oversaw Nigeria’s first Sovereign credit rating of BB—from Fitch and Standard and Poor’s—a rating that grouped Nigeria with other emerging market countries such as Vietnam, Venezuela and the Philippines.
Previously, she pursued a 21-year career as a development economist at the World Bank, where she held the post of Vice President and Corporate Secretary. This included two tours of duty (1997-2000) working in the East Asia Region during the East Asian financial crisis; two duty tours in the Middle East Region, the last (2000-2003) as Director, Operations (deputy vice-president) of the region. Dr Okonjo-Iweala also served as Director of Institutional Change and Strategy (1995-1997). From 1989 to 1991, she was Special Assistant to the Senior Vice President, Operations.
Adding to his explanation as to why PABF has chosen to actively support her candidature, Dr Ladislas Agbesi further asserts that “Her vision for the WTO is spot on. The direction she wants for the organization is precisely what it needs.”
“One very critical issue is going back to the fundamental principles on which trade was founded” she espouses.
“This multilateral trade system delivered, because it was delivering for all. The principles of stability, predictability, non-discrimination, fairness, transparency – these are all the important principles on which the WTO and the world trading system was founded. It delivered, it stopped all the trade wars and it can deliver again”
Oscar Ugoh, PABF’s vice president, a highly regarded Nigerian media entrepreneur and corporate publicist who is domiciled in Ghana, adds his voice to the Forum’s stance.
“Her education as a thoroughbred financial economist provides the deep technical skills required for the job” he asserts. “Her track record of achievement as Nigeria’s finance minister evidences her excellent negotiating skills. Her experience at the highest level in the World Bank has given her complete insights into the workings of economic multilaterism in practical form.
Her nearly successful candidacy for the post of managing director of the IMF illustrates the global respect she has deservedly earned from member countries of the WTO. Combined this makes her perfectly suited to lead the WTO through these trying times.
Indeed it is instructive that the WTO has not conducted any comprehensive multilateral trade negotiations since the Doha round back in 1995. Dr Okonjo-Iweala acknowledges this as a failure but insists that she has the solutions.
So does the PABF.