/OPINION/ Take It Or Leave It: Dr. Okonjo-Iweala Is Africa’s Best Candidate For WTO’s Director-General Elections
by Olatorera Dickson-amusa
I first heard Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s name when I was about ten years old; an ambitious child with her head in the clouds and so many dreams that they seemed more real than reality. I was at that stage of childhood when you want to be absolutely everything; doctor, writer, teacher, president, etc.
Young as I was though, I already had heroes I looked up to, a large majority of them, women. I rationalized that if they could do it, then I could too. My parents have always headed a school, and one day during current affairs, a question was asked.
“Who is Nigeria’s current Minister of Finance?”
None of us knew the answer, so the teacher – after the usual you people need cane, you people don’t read, you people need to know what is happening around you- rigmarole, told us Dr. Okonjo-Iweala as at then, occupied that position. Two things stood out for me that day:
- First, I dimly acknowledged that finance had to do with mathematics one way or the other, and immediately I was in awe, slowly processing the fact that not only did Dr. Iweala know that ‘accursed subject’ on a deep level (it was the bane of my childhood), but she had attained mastery of it!
- Secondly, even at that age I was already a firm believer of what a man can do, a woman can do better. And seeing Dr. Iweala in such a relevant role largely boosted my confidence in that notion. She was a girl; and she had risen.
It has been almost 14 years since Dr. Iweala made an impression on me. Fourteen years of relentless hard work and constant achievements. Recently, when I saw the announcement that she is vying for the position of Director-General of the World Trade Organization, the first thought that entered my head was, Yes! Massive boost for Nigeria.
We need that boost, the heavens know that we do. Thanks to Hushpuppi and his goons, our country’s reputation is at an all-time low. If you don’t believe me, try applying for an online job with a foreign freelance company and see what you come up with.
A few days ago I tried to pay for a WordPress blog plan, and I was already so pumped up. I followed all the steps, got to the checkout part. Filled all the slots, input country and postal code. I held my breath, watched it process. Long story cut short, my transaction was declined.
I was puzzled so I tried another card. Same thing. I went to google and typed, Why is WordPress rejecting my payment?. It turned out I was not the only person in that dilemma. Apparently the company is diligently staying away from online transactions with our country because of the high prevalence of internet scams. Oh joy.
We NEED Dr. Okonjo Iweala to WIN
The outcome of the World Trade Organizations elections is crucial to Nigeria’s future. This country needs to dig deeper roots into world politics and take a firmer stance. Some of the most distressing trends I have noticed, are the disturbingly large amounts of misrepresentation that Nigeria gets, due to our lack of proper channels to announce our intent to the world.
Hasnt it ever bothered you, for instance, that Africa has no internationally recognized News Agencies? A continent as large as ours that still generates news from outside! And when these foreign agencies disseminate news about us, we are painted in the most lurid colors, because BAD NEWS SELLS. Pictures, video clips of war torn countries. Half-starved children with flies circling them and hopeful buzzards hovering overhead. Slums, people speaking broken English. Random foreign celebrities who come in for publicity and a vague notion of charity, taking photos of African children. Wildlife enthusiasts going on safari in the African jungle. I could go on and on, because the list of stereotypes on Africa, Nigeria in particular, is very long. Do you recognize any of these scenarios I just painted? Most likely you do. I grew up seeing these things. I might even have believed them too, but as the proud child of teachers, I was taught to read, to examine and to find out.
Which drags us back to the issue of adequate representation. Who represents you and I? Educated, responsible Nigerians who speak and write English more fluently than the people who brought it to us? What about the large majority of people making impact, living simple lives?
Who is going to make these foreigners so curious about us that they actually bother to find out that all Africans are not related? That Africa is not one large jungly country with cheetahs ambling about and chimpanzees just waiting to become your best friend? Who is going to change the impression that all of Lagos is not just a street, and if you’re from Ghana you might actually not know some random friend your foreign companion bumped into recently? After all, you are both from Ghana, aren’t you? Remember that Black American hashtag that trended on twitter recently? That’s all I am saying. Representation.
We need more people in positions of global authority. People with clout, with experience, who can propel us beyond these stereotypes. There’s a song written by Emeli Sande, a line of which quotes: “if no one ever hears it, how are we going to learn your song?”.
Our song as Nigerians needs to be heard. And who better to change the narrative, than someone deeply steeped in the art of international relations, having been a top official at the World Bank for about 25 years, alongside being an active board member of Global Alliance for Vaccines And Immunization(GAVI). Stand by Dr. Iweala, Nigeria. She can do it. She did it for us TWICE, as Finance Minister.
Without the need for exaggeration, Dr.Iweala changed the Nigerian economy, for the better. She maintains the distinction of having changed the narrative of fiscal transparency, introducing the tradition of publications of the flow of federal funds to all levels of government so the concerned communities could see just how their money was spent.
Audits of oil companies under her tenure increased tax compliance, releasing resources for investments in health and education. Okonji-Iweala demanded accountability from politicians, and moved Nigeria from Transparency Internationals ranking as one of the most corrupt nations in 2002, to one of the most improved by 2005, which in itself is highly laudable. She is reputed to have negotiated a 35 billion dollar reduction in Nigerias external debt, dropping it to 5 billion dollars and consequently releasing resources for national development.
Furthermore, Dr. Iweala was a firm voice of support during the recent onslaught of allegations against Nigeria’s Akin Adeshina, President of the African Development Bank. Remember when US Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin called for an independent investigation following allegations that Adesina violated AfDBs Code of Ethics?
Of course that attack was obviously premeditated, as Adesina has gathered a lot of enemies and stepped on several toes by daring to make positive changes in the interest of Africa.
Even before Adesina was President, there had been an intense lobbying in favor of his candidacy, spearheaded by a delegation in which Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala featured prominently, alongside former AfDB president, Olusegun Obasanjo. Furthermore, as the attacks intensified in April, Dr. Iweala’s support was unflinching, as she said: “AfDB boss is doing a good job; he will find a way out of the squabble”.
What Advantages Does Dr. Iweala Have Over Other WTO Candidates?
What is Nigeria up against? In every race, a firm evaluation of your opponents is key to understanding how to move. That’s what a professional athlete might say, at any rate. I wouldn’t know, because I probably can’t run to save my own life. You get the point though. Here is a breakdown on the other candidates: achievements, strengths and chances of winning.
Introducing the chosen eight!
Jesus Seade Kuri, Mexico: An economist who has been working for the Mexican foreign affairs ministry since 2018, Kuri was the country’s chief negotiator for the U.S., Mexico and Canada Trade Agreement, known as USMCA.
Tudor Ulianovschi Moldova: Ex-Foreign Minister, Ulianovschi, fluent in four languages, was foreign minister in 2018-2019 and formerly a diplomat, with a 2016-2018 posting as Moldovan ambassador in Switzerland, covering also the WTO.
Yoo Myung-hee, South Korea: Trade Minister, South Korea’s first female trade minister previously led the renegotiation of a trade deal with the United States and worked on Seouls trade pacts with Singapore and ASEAN.
Mohammad Al-Tuwaijri, Saudi Arabia: Al-Tuwaijri, who studied aeronautics and business, was a Saudi Air Force pilot before working for a number of banks. He became Minister Of Economy And State Planning from 2017 until he was relieved of his post in March. He has also been on the board of directors at Saudi Aramco, Saudi Railways and Saudi Arabian Airlines.
Dr Liam Fox, United Kingdom: A former Defence Minister as well as an ex-doctor and staunch Eurosceptic, Fox campaigned for Britain to leave the European Union and, after the Brexit vote, became Secretary of State for international trade, but lost his position.
Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh, Egypt: Mamdouh has been working as a consultant since 2017, but had previously worked at the WTO. He was Director of the trade in services and investment division of the institution between 2001 and 2017.
Amina C. Mohamed, Kenya: Mohamed served as Kenya’s Foreign Affairs and International Trade Minister between 2013 and 2018. In this role, she chaired the 2015 WTO ministerial conference in Nairobi the first African to lead the highest WTO forum.
Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, Nigeria: Nigeria’s candidate is a global finance expert, who has served as the country’s Finance Minister on two occasions. Okonjo-Iweala has been named one of the “eight female anti-corruption fighters who inspire” in 2019 by Transparency International, and in 2014 Time magazine said she was among the 100 most influential people in the world.
- She is renowned as the first female to hold positions as Nigeria’s Finance Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs. She was the first female and black candidate to contest for Presidency of the World Bank Group (2012); the world’s highest development finance post.
- She is the founder of Nigeria’s first ever indigenous opinion research organization(NOI-POLLS) and the Centre for the Study of Economics of Africa( C-SEA).
- She served as the chairperson and co- chair for numerous government agencies, international organizations, cooperate boards and nonprofit organizations.
- She sits on the boards of Standard Chartered Bank, Twitter, Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization and the African Risk Capacity (ARC ).
- As managing Director of World Bank, Dr Okonjo- Iweala had oversight responsibility for World Bank $81 billion operational portfolio in Africa, South Asia, Europe and Central Asia.
- She was chair of the world bank’s successful drive to raise $49.3 billion in grants and low interest for poorest countries in the world.
- She spearheaded negotiation with Paris club that led to wiping out of Nigeria debt including the outright cancelation of other debts.
- She was responsible for leading reforms that enhanced government transparency and strengthened institutions against corruption.
- She has helped to empower Nigeria women and youth with Growing girls and women in Nigeria program.
- During her tenure as Minister of Finance, she helped in strengthening Nigeria’s public financial system and stimulating housing sector with the establishment of Nigerian Mortgage Refinance Cooperation (NMRC ).
I might be a little biased, but this does not detract from the fact that Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is indeed an icon. It also does not deter from the fact that we must gain visibility and recognition as a country- for the right things. If Dr. Iweala wins the position of Director- General of the World Trade Organization as she clearly deserves to, the resulting changes are for you and me.
Let us continue to cross our fingers, wish on every shooting star, search for the elusive four leaved clovers, and constantly ginger Nigeria’s own Dr. Iweala on…to victory.