WTO: African women rally support for Okonjo-Iweala

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Influential African women have stepped up campaign for the candidacy of Nigeria’s former minister of finance and coordinating minister of the economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala for the post of the director general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Conveners and supporters in the group include Ibukun Awosika, chair, First Bank of Nigeria; Graca Machel, wife of Nelson Mandela; Nonkululeko Nyembezi, chair, Johannesburg Stock Exchange, and Yomna ElSheridy, president, Business Women of Egypt 21.

The other campaigners are Maria Ramos, former chief executive officer of Absa; Myma Belo-Osagie, partner, Udo Udoma & Belo-Osagie, and Rose Leke, chair, Africa Regional Certification Commission for Polio Eradication.

In a statement entitled “A call to elevate africa’s voice on the global stage”, addressed to WTO member states, the women made a strong case for the global organisation to elect the Okonjo-Iweala as its first female head since 1995 based on her clear status as the best candidate in the race.

“As African women in the business community, we stand behind Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in her bid to become Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). If appointed director-general, Okonjo-Iweala would be the first African person – man or woman – to lead the WTO,” they said.

They noted that by 2050 one in eight people in the world will be an African woman.

Therefore, they said the interest of the African woman, the continent and world trade would be best served by Okonjo-Iweala’s emergence as the director general of the WTO.

They further pointed out that her victory would also represent a positive landmark within the WTO as an institution which needs to improve its track record in gender representation within its ranks.

“Today, the number of women chairing WTO bodies, panels and working groups and representing Members and Observers to the WTO is considerably lower than that of men.

“Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s appointment would signal not only a milestone in gender diversity but also be a watershed moment for Africa.

“Recognizing the future ahead, now is the time to ensure that African perspectives – especially African women’s perspectives – are represented on the global stage,” the women stressed.

The group believes that Okonjo-Iweala’s election will help the WTO which has been effectively paralysed in recent years by US-China rivalry to catch up with and maximise key regional trade landmarks like the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) in the interest of the continent.

This, they said, is an imperative in a world where protectionism is increasing at the expense of globalisation because Africa has a strong stake in the realization of the multilateral vision which has animated Okonjo-Iweala’s career.

“As the world becomes more protectionist, Africa is showing its commitment to using trade to accelerate development. Regional trade agreements like the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) are modern and at the cutting-edge, but WTO rules have fallen behind.

“We urge the WTO member states to recognise Okonjo-Iweala as the best candidate for director general not only because of her vast experience leading national and multilateral agencies and initiatives, but also because of her vision.

“Today, the number of women chairing WTO bodies, panels and working groups and representing members and observers to the WTO is considerably lower than that of men. Okonjo-Iweala’s appointment would signal not only a milestone in gender diversity but also be a watershed moment for Africa.

Under her tenure, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala will ensure that the rules take into account rapidly growing areas like the digital economy and services trade,” they said.

The further stated that Okonjo-Iweala’s highly anticipated victory would be a win-win for Africa and the world both in terms of expected substantial accomplishments and powerful positive symbolism.

“At a time in which the world requires an innovative approach to tackle the challenges of recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala adds a fresh perspective not only as a female candidate but as an African woman. Given the region’s growing population, her appointment will be a profound step forward for free trade,” they said.

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