Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, an economist, and former Finance Minister of Nigeria, has been selected as the first female and first African leader of the World Trade Organization (WTO). This unprecedented appointment is a sign of not only merit, but a newly forged pathway for other women to also hold powerful positions. Ms. Okonjo-Iweala’s appointment, which notably took place during Black History month, is of significance to many especially young Black and African-Americans. She has been celebrated across the globe by people from all walks of life especially women, people of color, and many more. Thrilled by Ms. Okonjo-Iweala’s trailblazing achievements, many are using their social media platform to express how she is a source of inspiration to them and are posting pictures of themselves dressed as Ms. Okonjo-Iweala with the hashtag #BeLikeNgoziChallenge
An Accomplished Economist
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University with an AB in Economics in 1976. She also made history by becoming the first woman to serve as Nigeria’s Finance Minister from 2003-2006 and then again from 2011-2015. Due to her economics background, she has also served in the World Bank for 25 years, rising to the position of Managing Director. According to Forbes, she ranked 48th on the list of the world’s top 50 “Power Women” in 2015. During her tenure as Nigeria’s Finance Minister, she gained a reputation of being a good negotiator. [LN(ANC1] In the year 2005, Ms. Okonjo-Iweala helped broker a deal to cancel billions in debt between Nigeria and the Paris Club.
66 year old Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has been chosen to serve a four-year term as the WTO Chief with a budget of $220 million and 650 members of staff. She is also expected to end the trade war between China and the USA, which has severely affected world trade. She is hopeful of functionalizing the appellate body of WTO, which the former President of the U.S. had paralyzed by preventing new judges’ appointment, therefore, rendering it unable to rule on any trade disputes. Ms. Okonjo-Iweala is aware of the power of trade and its ability to assist developing countries in becoming self-sufficient and achieving robust economic growth. She believes in strengthening the multilateral trading system, as it is in the interests of all countries, especially during these unprecedented times. More importantly, Okonjo-Iweala recognizes that while economic recovery is reliant on trade, solving public health challenges also requires “good trade.”
COVID-19 Vaccination a Top Priority
Following her appointment, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala mentioned putting the Covid-19 vaccination at the top of her priorities to ensure that the WTO is more involved in addressing the pandemic. “One of …[the] top priorities that I have, that I’m passionate about, is how can trade and the WTO play a stronger role in bringing solutions to the Covid-19 pandemic, both on the health side but also on the economic side,” she told CNN. Ms. Okonjo-Iweala emphasized lifting the restrictions on exports, which have affected the supply of medicines and vaccines. “Vaccine nationalism at this time just will not pay because the variants are coming. If other countries are not immunized, it will just be a blowback,” she said.
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