Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala set to make historical past at WTO

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala set to make historical past at WTO

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

Having survived the murky waters of politics in Nigeria, the place her mom was kidnapped to ship her a message, and rising to quantity two on the World Financial institution, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala should not have any hassle coping with worldwide commerce negotiators in her new job on the World Commerce Organisation (WTO).

The 66-year-old would be the first lady and the primary African to occupy the place.

Regardless of not too long ago taking out US citizenship, she revels in being Nigerian and is fiercely patriotic – flaunting her African identification in her African-print tailor-made outfits.

She instructed the BBC in 2012 that she had in actual fact adopted such apparel as a working mom of 4 to do the college run, a straightforward reply for a wise look – and a thrifty one at that, given she estimated every outfit value round $25.

The Harvard-educated growth economist is seen as a down-to-earth, onerous employee, who instructed BBC HardTalk in July that what the WTO wanted was a shake-up.

“They want one thing completely different, it can’t be enterprise as standard for the WTO – [they need] somebody prepared to do the reforms and lead.”

Reform in Nigeria

Throughout her 25 years on the World Financial institution, she is credited with spearheading a number of initiatives to help low-income international locations, particularly elevating practically $50bn in 2010 from donors for the Worldwide Growth Affiliation (IDA), the World Financial institution’s fund for the poorest international locations.

However it’s her reform agenda in Nigeria through which she takes actual satisfaction – particularly the 2 occasions she served because the nation’s finance minister beneath Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala at African finance ministers' press briefing in 2003
Ms Okonjo-Iweala gave up her job on the World Financial institution to work as Nigerian finance minister

Considered one of her best achievements was main a group which negotiated a whopping $18bn debt right-off in 2005 for the nation, serving to Nigeria get hold of its first ever sovereign debt score.

The nation’s money owed had dated again to the early Eighties, and had ballooned to greater than $35bn resulting from penalties and late charges in the course of the Nineties.

Her financial reforms had a far-reaching impression and saved Nigeria at a vital interval, in line with distinguished Nigerian economist, Bismarck Rewane.

This included de-linking the funds from the oil worth, permitting the nation to save cash in a particular account when oil costs had been excessive.

“It was this buffer that ensured Nigeria’s financial system survived between 2008 and 2009,” Mr Rewane instructed the BBC.

Ms Okonjo-Iweala had given up a well-paid job on the World Financial institution and left her household in Washington, the place her husband works as a neurosurgeon, to work in Nigeria, the place not like different ministers she didn’t have a big home employees or fleet of automobiles.

The truth is she even appreciated doing her personal cooking when she might, with cowtail pepper soup being a favorite, a Monetary Instances interview revealed in 2015.

No-nonsense method

However her reforms and particularly her crackdown on corruption within the gasoline sector, the place some highly effective importers – referred to as entrepreneurs – claimed large sums of cash in subsidies from the federal government for gasoline that they had not bought, got here at private value.

Her mom, Kamene Okonjo – a medical physician and retired professor of sociology – was kidnapped from her residence in southern Nigeria in 2012, aged 82.

Kidnapping is frequent in Nigeria, the place it’s a profitable legal enterprise and households usually pay up because the safety providers don’t usually discover these kidnapped.

The then-finance minister stated the abductors had first demanded her resignation after which a ransom.

However she says she refused to do both.

“I knew that the most important vested curiosity that I had not too long ago offended in my anti-corruption work was an unscrupulous subset of the nation’s oil entrepreneurs,” she stated in her account of the occasion.

Mrs Okonjo was launched inside 5 days in unclear circumstances, however her daughter’s no-nonsense method might have come to bear within the matter.

Considered one of her sons – Uzodinma Iweala, creator of the 2005 novel Beast of No Nation – has stated of his strict upbringing: “My mum is a really highly effective lady. She is aware of how she desires issues executed, and should you do not it her method, you’re in hassle.”


  • Born 1954 in Nigeria

  • Studied at Harvard 1973-76 and earned a PhD at Massachusetts Institute of Expertise (MIT) in 1981

  • Spent 25 years on the World Financial institution, rising to the No.2 place as managing director (2007-11)

  • Twice Nigerian finance minister – 2003-2006 and 2011-2015 – and the primary lady to carry the put up

  • Served briefly as overseas minister in 2006, additionally the primary lady to take action

  • Sits on the boards of Twitter, Customary Chartered Financial institution and the World Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI)

  • Nominated by President Mohammadu Buhari as candidate for director-general of the WTO in June 2020

‘I can take hardship’

Her drive might come from her information of actual poverty. She lived along with her grandmother till the age of 9 as her dad and mom had been overseas getting their training.

“They had been gone for nearly a decade earlier than I actually noticed them and knew them. I did every part a village woman would do, fetch water, go to the farm with my grandmother all of the chores, I noticed what poverty meant, to be poor at first hand,” she instructed the BBC in 2012.

Her expertise as an adolescent in the course of the Biafra civil conflict of 1967-1970 crystallised this.

Her Igbo dad and mom misplaced all their financial savings in the course of the battle as her father, a famend professor, was a brigadier within the Biafran forces.

“I can take hardship. I can sleep on the chilly flooring anytime,” she stated.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala lays foundation of new classrooms for a school in Chibok burnt down by Boko Haram fighters - 2015
Ms Okonjo-Iweala lays basis of recent lecture rooms for a college in Chibok burnt down by Boko Haram fighters in 2015

However at all times fast to snort in interviews, she added: “I also can sleep on a feather mattress.”

This willpower and independence helped her as she took on different reforms in Nigeria – like her resolution to disclose the sum of money allotted month-to-month to native authorities for issues like the development of roads and the working of rural faculties and clinics.

Economist Pat Utomi stated Nigerians had not realised how a lot regional directors had been receiving.

“However she got here up with the thought of publishing them and principally embarrassed lots of people,” Prof Utomi instructed me.

She additionally launched a system that helped to take away hundreds of faux employees and pensioners from authorities payroll.

However when the federal government determined to take away a gasoline subsidy in 2012, issues didn’t go nicely.

Ms Okonjo-Iweala stated the subsidy was unsustainable because it was costing $8bn a yr, and inspired corruption.

Nonetheless, the federal government was compelled to again down after nationwide protests – the subsidy was solely eliminated earlier this yr, with the federal government promising to maintain the worth capped.

And a few imagine whereas her reforms in Nigeria had been good they haven’t been long-lasting.

‘Like working a family’

However Nigerian ladies’s activist Josephine Effa-Chukwuma says Ms Okonjo-Iweala’s profession is a lot extra spectacular given how little respect ladies may be proven in Nigeria.

“She made ladies proud {that a} lady in a patriarchal and misogynistic nation like Nigeria might maintain her personal and carry out creditably opposite to what detractors thought,” she instructed the BBC

“She was trustworthy, clear and accountable – virtues not usually present in public office-holders in Nigeria.”

The economist, who additionally serves on Twitter’s board of administrators, as chair of the Gavi vaccine alliance and as a particular envoy for the World Well being Group’s Covid-19 combat, has joked earlier than that ladies appear to be much less corrupt.

“Girls are usually extra trustworthy, extra simple, extra targeted on the job, and convey much less ego to it. I do not know if it is a female intuition however working an financial system is typically akin to working a family,” she instructed the Impartial in 2006.

And ladies are additionally on her agenda on the WTO.

In her job software, she stated: “It must also be attentive to the problem of facilitating the higher participation of girls in worldwide commerce, notably in creating international locations, the place higher efforts needs to be made to incorporate ladies owned enterprises within the formal sector.”

Ms Effa-Chukwuma says this all bodes nicely for the WTO: “We belief her to ship on the job and be certain that creating international locations profit from worldwide commerce.”

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