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Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala: How global and local experience would play out in WTO top job

THE global economy faces profound uncertainties, particularly in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, faith in the efficacy of international bodies such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO) has been weakened by a power struggle between China and the US. By Ezebuilo Ukwueze  As the process for appointing a new head of the organisation moves into its final phase, it’s worth considering what front runner Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala could bring to the complex role of managing an international organisation, including designing and implementing reforms. The WTO describes itself as a forum for governments to negotiate trade agreements. A key objective of the WTO is the liberalisation of trade for the benefit of its members. This concept has become a divisive issue as a result of the perceived imbalances in the rights and obligations of members and the perceived uneven distribution of the gains from trade. Okonjo-Iweala would be in a position to use her multifaceted experience to energise the WTO’s 164 members to work harder to achieve the value of the multilateral trade systems. Given her experience in being able to diplomatically manage people and institutions resistant to change, she could also provide the impetus for member countries to overcome the challenges that have paralysed the trade organisation for years. Okonjo-Iweala has gained acute negotiation skills from her experience in negotiating with institutions and countries, as she did when she negotiated for Nigeria’s debts relief. In addition, Okonjo-Iweala has held top positions in several international bodies, including corporates as well as not for profit organisations. Her ability to serve in senior positions in these disparate cultural settings means that she will be able to navigate the complex terrain of an organisation that has a mandate to serve the interests of 164 member States. Her international exposure also means that she has developed an extensive network across the globe which she is bound to call on in the WTO job. In addition, Okonjo-Iweala has a proven track record in carrying out successful reforms both at the World Bank and as the finance minister in Nigeria. Carrying out these reforms would have required negotiating with various constituencies. The early days Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was born to a royal family of Chukwuka and Kamene Okonjo on 13 June 1954, in Delta state, Nigeria. Her parents were both professors at the University of Ibadan. She completed secondary school at the International School Ibadan and St Anne’s School, Molete, Ibadan. The young Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala proceeded to Harvard University. She graduated in 1977 with honours in economics. She went on to complete a PhD in regional economics and development at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Okonjo-Iweala’s professional life points to decades in the thick of economic policy — global as well as local. She worked for many years at the World Bank where she started as an intern. After gaining her PhD she returned to the bank to work as a development economist. She was to spend 2