Twice Nigeria’s finance minister and first woman foreign minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has been described as a trailblazer.
The 66-year-old made more history on Monday when she was appointed as the first African and woman to head the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Aside from her time in public office, the development economist also spent a quarter-century at the World Bank — rising to be managing director and running for the top role in 2012.
“I think she has delivered, whether in Nigeria or in other countries where she worked,” Idayat Hassan of the Centre for Democracy and Development research and advocacy group told AFP.
Born in 1954 in Ogwashi Ukwu, in Delta State, western Nigeria, her father is a traditional ruler. She spent much of her life in the United States, graduating from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard, where she sent her four children.
“She is not just liked in Nigeria, she is loved, because she is a symbol, and people are gunning for her because of what she represents for womanhood,” said Hassan.
– ‘Boldness, courage’ –
Okonjo-Iweala has also brushed off claims she lacks experience as a trade minister or negotiator.
“I’ve been doing that all my life, working on trade policy issues,” she said during a webinar organised by Chatham House in July.
“Most of all,” she said, the choice for director general should go beyond technical skills, “you need boldness, courage”.
She was recently named the African Union’s special envoy to mobilise international support for the continent’s efforts to address the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.
Okonjo-Iweala has warned that growing protectionism and nationalism have been spurred on by the crisis and insists barriers need to be lowered to help the world recover.
“One way to ensure the adequate supply and equitable distribution of vaccines is to remove some of the barriers created by intellectual property and technology transfer laws,” she wrote in April in Foreign Affairs magazine.