By Ugorji Okechukwu Ugorji,
In the Preface to his book, “Progression: United States Policy towards Africa since 1789” (Sungai Books, 2013), Professor Festus Ugboaja Ohaegbulam states that US policy towards Africa and individuals from Africa “was and continues to be affected, depending on upon the incumbent administration, by a strong element of political realism, the political and economic interests of America’s European allies, the influence of neoconservatives and other ideologues, and economic self-interest.” In light of this, there was very little that was surprising to those who understand President Donald Trump’s latter-day conservatism that the US came out preferring South Korea’s Yoo Myung-Hee over the overwhelming global choice of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala for the position of Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
In June 2020 President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria shook up the global search for the next Director General of the WTO by announcing an intellectual and bureaucrat juggernaut on the world stage, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, as the West African nation’s nominee for the WTO head honcho job. If successful, Okonjo-Iweala would succeed Brazil’s Roberto Alzevedo as Director General of the world’s top trade institution and become the first woman ever to hold the position. For a president that had hitherto been seen by some observers as partial to his ethnic region for key positions in Nigeria, Buhari’s choice of Okonjo-Iweala was seen as one of the signs of a new thrust in Nigeria’s presidency after the arrival of another colossus, Professor Ibrahim Agboola Gambari as the president’s Chief of Staff. Nigeria, with Okonjo-Iweala’s nomination, had put forward one of its brightest and most credible public servants – she had served as a Finance Minister, Foreign Minister, and Coordinating Minister for the economy. Nigeria’s former nominee, Yonov Frederick Agah (from Benue State), himself a bright intellectual with WTO credentials, was replaced with Okonjo-Iweala (Delta State by birth and Abia State by marriage) at the last minute, a chess move that scrambled the board in Africa and globally.
Educated at Harvard and MIT, with board positions in some global companies such Twitter, and with intimidating political heft, Okonjo-Iweala’s star was so bright that the deck in Africa (where countries like Egypt, Kenya, Benin and others had their own candidates to present) was quickly cleared in favor of the Nigerian nominee. The powerful European block, which had also looked to have one of its own as the next DG of the WTO, eventually backed Okonjo-Iweala. The nominee’s exceptional credentials, and Gambari’s extensive diplomatic relationships and goodwill around the world, combined to push her to the finishing line in the selection process, with only South Korea’s Myung-Hee left to contend with. One way or the other, the WTO would get its first woman DG (unless the current process is scraped altogether).
Last Wednesday the WTO in what appeared to be a global consensus recommended Okonjo-Iweala as the next WTO DG. Trump, who had described the WTO as “horrible” and claimed the international body was biased towards China, bucked and announced a continuing support for Myung-Hee. For an administration that pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord, had withdrawn from the US-Iran Deal, and had suggested that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was no longer necessary, the isolation of the US in its opposition to Okonjo-Iweala, while shocking, was not that surprising.
With no consensus at the WTO before the US election scheduled for November 3, 2020 the WTO has scheduled another meeting on the subject of the selection of its next boss for November 9, 2020, six days after the US presidential election. It is possible that the Buhari/Gambari/Okonjo-Iweala team, in collaboration with the rest of the world, might yet convince the Trump administration that it has nothing realistically to fear from an Okonjo-Iweala leadership of the WTO. If that effort fails, the outcome of the US election may well determine what the WTO does on November 9, 2020 and thereafter.
The writer, Dr. Ugorji O. Ugorji, is the Global Coordinator of www.GoBigNigeria.com.
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