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Who is Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala?

The first African and woman Director-General of the World Trade Organization, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, was born on the 13th of June, 1954 in Ogwashi-Ukwu, Delta State, Nigeria.

She is a Nigerian-American economist and international development expert.

Okonjo-Iweala was the first woman to serve as a two-time Finance Minister in Nigeria between 2003–2006, 2011–2015 under President Olusegun Obasanjo and President Goodluck Jonathan respectively.

She was also the Minister of Foreign Affairs during former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s regime in 2006.

During her first term as Minister of Finance, under former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration, she spearheaded negotiations with the Paris Club that led to the wiping out of US$30 billion of Nigeria’s debt, including the outright cancellation of US$18 billion.

With a 25-year career at the World Bank in Washington DC as a development economist, rising to the No. 2 position of Managing Director, she had oversight responsibility for the World Bank’s $81 billion operational portfolio in Africa, South Asia, Europe, and Central Asia.

With the support of the World Bank and the IMF to the Federal Government, she helped build an electronic financial management platform which is the Government Integrated Financial Management and Information System (GIFMIS), including the Treasury Single Account (TSA) and the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS), helping to curtail corruption in the process.

As of December 31, 2014, the IPPIS platform had eliminated 62,893 ghost workers from the system and saved the government about $1.25 billion in the process.

Okonjo-Iweala was also instrumental in helping Nigeria obtain its first ever sovereign credit rating (of BB minus) from Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor’s in 2006.

In 2010, she was Chair of the IDA replenishment, the World Bank’s successful drive to raise $49.3 billion in grants and low-interest credit for the poorest countries in the world
Okonjo-Iweala also spearheaded several World Bank initiatives to assist low-income countries during the 2008–2009 food crises, and later during the financial crisis.

She also empowered women and youth with the Growing Girls and Women in Nigeria Programme (GWIN); a gender-responsive budgeting system and the highly acclaimed Youth Enterprise with Innovation programme (YouWIN) to support entrepreneurs which created thousands of jobs.

This programme has been evaluated by the World Bank as one of the most effective of its kind globally.

Okonjo-Iweala served on the Growth Commission (2006–2009), led by Nobel Prize winner Professor Michael Spence, and the United Nations’ Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda (2012–2013).

She also co-chaired the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation.
In 2012, she was a candidate for the President of the World Bank, running against Dartmouth College President Jim Yong Kim. If she had been elected, she would have become the organization’s first female president.

Okonjo-Iweala was also a member of the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity (2015–2016), chaired by Gordon Brown, and the Eminent Persons Group on Global Financial Governance, which was established by the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors (2017–2018).

Since 2014, she has been co-chairing the Global Commission for the Economy and Climate, with Nicholas Stern and Paul Polman.

In January 2016, she was appointed the Chair-elect of the Board of Gavi.
She is also one of the board of directors for Twitter.

Okonjo-Iweala is the founder of Nigeria’s first indigenous opinion-research organization, NOI-Polls.

She also founded the Centre for the Study of the Economies of Africa (C-SEA) which is a development research think tank based in Abuja and is a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Center for Global Development and the Brookings Institution.

Since 2019, Okonjo-Iweala has been part of UNESCO’s International Commission on the Futures of Education, chaired by Sahle-Work Zewde. Also since 2019, she has been serving on the High-Level Council on Leadership & Management for Development of the Aspen Management Partnership for Health (AMP Health).

In 2020, the International Monetary Fund’s Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva appointed her to an external advisory group to provide input on policy challenges. she was also appointed by the African Union (AU) as a special envoy to solicit international support to help the continent deal with the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In early 2021, Okonjo-Iweala was appointed as co-chair, alongside Tharman Shanmugaratnam and Lawrence Summers, of the High-Level Independent Panel (HLIP) on financing the global commons for pandemic preparedness and response, which had been established by the G20.

In June 2020, President Muhammadu Buhari nominated Okonjo-Iweala as the country’s candidate to be director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

She later advanced to the election’s final round, eventually competing with Yoo Myung-hee.
The WTO in its formal report said Okonjo-Iweala “clearly carried the largest support by Members in the final round and enjoyed broad support from Members from all levels of development and from all geographic regions and has done so throughout the process.”

On 5 February 2021, Yoo Myung-hee announced her withdrawal from the WTO race in “close consultation with the United States”.

In the light of this development, the Biden-Harris Administration was pleased to express its strong support for the candidacy of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the next Director-General of the WTO.

On February 15, 2021, Okonjo-Iweala was unanimously appointed as the next director-general.