South African President and African Union chairperson Cyril Ramaphosa has thrown his support behind Nigeria’s Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in her bid to become the first African woman to head the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
In a statement issued on Thursday night, Ramaphosa said Okonjo-Iweala was highly distinguished African who had excelled in various public offices, in her native Nigeria, including responsibilities in the AU, and in numerous international assignments.
According to the biography posted on her personal website Okonjo-Iweala, who had two stints as Nigeria’s finance minister, is an economist and international development professional with over 30 years of experience working in Asia, Africa, Europe and Latin America.
She spent a 25-year career at the World Bank as a development economist, rising to the No. 2 position of Managing Director for operations.
She was the first female and black candidate to contest for the presidency of the World Bank Group in 2012.
Currently, Okonjo-Iweala Chairs the Board of Gavi, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation, which has since its creation in 2000 immunised 680-million children.
“At a time when international organisations need to be repurposed, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is the right person to reposition the WTO in order to be an effective instrument for facilitating a fair, just, equitable and rules-based trading system,” Ramaphosa said.
“I have no doubt that she has the credentials and capability to restore order in an otherwise turbulent multilateral trading system.”
He also urged AU member states of the African Union to rally behind Okonjo-Iweala, one of the last two people still in the running for the post, the other being South Korean trade minister Yoo Myung-hee, another woman.
This means for the first time in the history of the WTO, a female director-general will be appointed.
Ramaphosa said having an African as head of the WTO would assist in the full integration of the continent as an important player in the global multilateral trading system.
It is currently working on getting the African Continental Free Trade Area, the biggest free trade area in the world in terms of the number of participating countries, up and running.