Nigerian-American to Head WTO

Updated: Mar 16

The appointment of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has just been announced.


The Nigerian-American economist Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is to become the first female and first African leader of the World Trade Organization (WTO), it was announced last week. Her term will begin in March.


In brief, the WTO is the only international organization dealing with the global rules of trade. Its main function is to ensure that trade flows as smoothly, predictably and freely as possible. Many say the WTO is in need of reform and if anyone can deliver change, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is likely to be a good choice.


She's a proven trailblazer. In 2003 she became the first woman to serve as Nigeria’s finance minister - a post she held twice. Her credentials include a 25 year stint at the World Bank, where she was known for introducing and leading initiatives to assist low-income countries.


Currently, Dr Okonjo-Iweala is Chair of the Board of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. Since its creation in 2000, Gavi has immunized 760 million children globally and saved thirteen million lives. She also sits on the boards of Standard Chartered bank and Twitter.


Okonjo-Iweala’s work to tackle corruption in Nigeria is widely believed to have prompted the 2012 kidnapping of her 82 year old mother, Kamene Okonjo. Okonjo-Iweala said the kidnappers demanded she resign from her post as finance minister. She refused and her mother was released five days later.


She will need to be as brave and as skilful with her negotiations in her new role at the WTO.