By Dumisani Sigogo

The Pan African Business Forum (PABF) has declared its support for Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the widely respected former Nigerian Finance Minister as Director-General and Chief Executive of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Dr Ladislas Agbesi, the Beninoise and Ghanaian President of PABF, commended Okonjo-Iweala’s nomination among other candidates by respective governments for the position of WTO Director-General as Robert Azevedo, the current Chief Executive will be stepping down on 31August 2020, one year ahead of schedule.

“PABF declares support for the candidature of Okonjo-Iweala, who was also former Managing Director of the World Bank in charge of Africa, South and Central Asia as well as parts of Europe,” Agbesi said.

The forum’s lobbying significantly contributed to the appointment of former South African presidential candidate, Nkosazana Zuma, as Chief Executive of the African Union and PABF’s backing will prove useful to her cause because the grouping of public and private sector officials is very influential in the continent.

The forum believes Okonjo-Iweala is the perfect option for the top job at the multilateral organisation that regulates global international trade because of her accomplishments at the World Bank and in Nigeria which also earned her intense respect globally.

“Nevertheless, the forum is fully convinced that she is the best option for a job that itself will be an extremely tough one. This is amid global supply chain disruptions instigated by COVID-19 pandemic and trade tensions between the U.S., China, Western Europe, BREXIT, which are encouraging retreat from multilateralism in trade, by several countries,’’ he said.

Okonjo-Iweala had been a leading candidate for the job of managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF)and for that Agbesi said, she had an advantage over any citizen from a developing country.

“This is a unique opportunity now unfolding, to win the trust and confidence of all its members around the world. The big, rich economies that are currently embroiled in trade disputes with each other need someone, who they see as a neutral arbitrator.

“The smaller, relatively poor economies need someone, who they can trust, not to simply support the interests of the rich ones at their expense, which has been their thinking up till now,’’ Agbesi told the media.

Oscar Ughoh, the forum’s vice president and media entrepreneur said that the ex-World Bank official’s educational background, negotiating skills, work experience and track record of accomplishment confirm her suitability for the job.

Okonjo-Iweala is one of eight candidates in the race to succeed Robert Azevedo, who is stepping down this month, Other candidates contesting with Okonjo-Iweala are Dr Jesus Seade Kuri (Mexico), Me Abdel-Hamid Mamduoh (Egypt), Mr Tudor Ulianovschi (Moldova) and Ms Yoo Myung-hee (Republic of Korea).

Also in the race are Ms Amina Mohamed (Kenya), Mr Mohammad Maziad Al-Tuwaijri (Kingdom of South Arabia) and Dr Liam Fox (United Kingdom).

Named by Forbes magazine in 2006 as one of 100 most powerful women in the world and perceived as skilled in diplomacy but lacking trade experience than the other contenders, the Nigerian candidate says the WTO should ensure that coronavirus vaccines and medical supplies are traded and allocated fairly.

The Washington based, former Nigerian finance minister vows that, should she become the next boss of the Geneva-based club of 164 members, she would stop the rot at the WTO, reform and the organization. She said the pandemic should be “used as an opportunity to put down markers to solve a problem that the world is confronting right now”.

“How do we get these vaccines in a way that poorer countries are not standing behind, but that they can be accessed based on some allocation criteria, but that also speaks to trade and the rules? Because at the end of the day, moving vaccines is also trading them,” said Okonjo-Iweala.

A development economist by training and current chair of the board of vaccine alliance group Gavi, Okonjo-Iweala’s candidacy has also received political and diplomatic support from Ambassador Emmanuel Obiako, an experienced diplomats and ex-Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard.

Her well-articulated and thoroughly researched 32-page manifesto, prioritizes extensively the importance of trade, building trusts especially with developing countries, and the need for strong institutional reforms in WTO to meet 21st-century demands.

The high-profile Okonjo-Iweala who is always dressed in her African native attire and uses her native Igbo proverbs faces stiff competition from the vastly experienced Kenyan candidate Amina Mohamed, regarded as a trade insider.

As Nigeria’s Minister for Finance, she implemented reforms in the payroll management, pensions, banking and insurance, and at the WTO she will be faced with overseeing areas of operations from developing countries, trade policies, small and vulnerable economies, trade negotiations and institutional reforms especially in dispute management and resolutions amongst member states.

She arrived in the US in 1973 as a teenager to study at Harvard University, where she graduated magna cum laude with an AB in Economics three years later. She earned her Ph.D in regional economics and development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and received an International Fellowship from the American Association of University Women (AAUW), that supported her doctoral studies

She sits on the Boards of Standard Chartered Bank, Twitter and the African Risk Capacity and spent a 25-year career at the World Bank as a development economist.