…Efforts Underway For Africa’s Consensus Candidate
By Kolawole Ojebisi
Nigeria’s former Minister of Finance and candidate for the Director-General (DG) position of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has said the Geneva-based organization needs a “fresh pair of eyes” to overcome its numerous challenges exacerbated by the Coronavirus pandemic.
Okonjo-Iweala said in an interview with the UK Telegraph, while reacting to the Egyptian nominee, Hamid Mamdouh’s claim that his years of experience makes him “the engineer to fix the car”.
She said the issues aren’t just technical. “If they were, they would have been solved long ago.
“I’m not from the WTO but that’s good. We need a fresh pair of eyes and ears that stands back and looks at things from a different perspective and picks up where the intersections are and where we can make progress,” she said.
Okonjo-Iweala, however, debunked reports that the African Union (AU) has agreed on a consensus candidate for the position.
She said, “The notion that there’s an AU candidate at the moment is not true. We’re working extremely hard to make sure we bring Africa to support me and it’s going quite well.”
Recall The New Diplomat reported last week that the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has endorsed Okonjo-Iweala’s candidacy. Also, Nigeria’s next door neighbour, Republic of Benin has withdrawn nomination for its candidate to support her bid.
There had been wranglings after President Muhammadu Buhari withdrew the candidacy of Ambassador Yonov Frederick Agah, replacing him with Okonjo-Iweala as Nigeria’s candidate for the WTO DG position. Egypt that has staged a mega challenge for an African consensus faulted Okonjo-Iweala’s nomination, alleging it violated the candidature guidelines provided by the AU.
However, the WTO had said that the former World Bank Managing Director is eligible to run for the top office.
The Nigerian embassy also said the AU candidature guidelines did not say anything about candidate replacement, hence no violation had taken place.
Okonjo-Iweala, who currently chairs the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) backed by the Bill Gates Foundation, said having previously negotiated with Beijing and Washington, she has a track record to “work with both sides and listen to them carefully.” But she quickly added that it wouldn’t be up to her to resolve their trade issues.
“I see the job of the next director-general as restoring the WTO, breaking out of the challenges it faces and restoring it to serve the multilateral trading system that the world needs. China and the US are members so I’ll be looking to see how I can serve their interests so that the system can be stronger. But my desire is to be there for all members.” she maintained.
Okonjo-Iweala said it is the turn of a qualified person who merits the job to take over as WTO DG — “If on top of that, the person is an African and a woman, why not?”
Recall that the WTO, founded in 1995, is being buffeted by challenges, the type it has never experienced in its 25-year history.
The supreme court of trade – its appellate body – has been paralysed since December, leaving the rules-based international system under threat as global trade has been choked by the US-China trade war and the raging pandemic.
But Okonjo-Iweala said she has intimidating credentials and competence that would serve her in good stead to guide the organization out of the “woods”.
She added that her gender is an advantage. “A woman brings attributes that could help in the difficult situation we are in. We are unique people who are very persuasive, we have strong listening and negotiating skills. These are things a lot of women have – I’m not saying men don’t have them – but my training and experience have heightened these qualities.”
The 164-member organization will receive candidates’ nominations between June 8 and July 8 ahead of the election scheduled for 2021.