Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is a Nigerian-American economist, fair trade leader, environmental sustainability advocate, human welfare champion, sustainable finance maven and global development expert. Since March 2021, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has been serving as Director-General of the World Trade Organization.
Notably, she is the first woman and first African to lead the World Trade Organization as Director-General. She sits on boards of: Danone, Standard Chartered Bank, Twitter, MINDS: Mandela Institute for Development Studies, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, One Campaign, GAVI: Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, Rockefeller Foundation, R4D: Results for Development, ARC: African Risk Capacity and Earthshot Prize plus others.
Also, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala serves Brookings Institution as a non-resident distinguished fellow with the Africa Growth Initiative in their Global Economy and Development Program. She is a Commissioner Emeritus and Co-Chair of Global Commission on the Economy and Climate. At The World Bank, she had a 25-year career as a development economist; rising to become Managing Director for Operations from 2007 to 2011.
Commendably, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was the first Nigerian woman to serve two terms as Finance Minister of Nigeria; initially, under President Olusegun Obasanjo from 2003 to 2006; and secondly, under President Goodluck Jonathan from 2011 to 2015. Subsequently, from June to August 2006, she served as Minister for Foreign Affairs of Nigeria. In 2005, Euromoney named her Global Finance Minister of the Year.
NGOZI OKONJO-IWEALA: BACKGROUND
Okonjo-Iweala was educated at Queen’s School, Enugu; St. Anne’s School, Molete, Ibadan; and the International School Ibadan. She arrived in the US in 1973 as a teenager to study at Harvard University and graduated magna cum laude with an AB in Economics in 1976. In 1981, she earned her PhD in regional economics and development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with the thesis Credit policy, rural financial markets, and Nigeria’s agricultural development.
She received an international fellowship from the American Association of University Women (AAUW), which supported her doctoral studies.
NGOZI OKONJO-IWEALA: CAREER HIGHLIGHTS
Okonjo-Iweala had a 25-year career at the World Bank in Washington DC as a development economist and rose to the second position, managing director. As managing director, she had oversight responsibility for the World Bank’s $81 billion operational portfolio in Africa, South Asia, Europe, and Central Asia.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala spearheaded several World Bank initiatives to assist low-income countries during the 2008–2009 food crises and later during the financial crisis. In 2010, she was the chair person 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. During her time at the World Bank, she was also a member of the Commission on Effective Development Cooperation with Africa, which was set up by Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen and held meetings between April and October 2008.
Nigeria s Minister Of Foreign Affairs
Okonjo-Iweala served twice as Nigeria’s Finance Minister and also as Minister of Foreign Affairs. She was the first woman to hold both positions. During her first term as Finance Minister in the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo, 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.
In 2003, she led efforts to improve Nigeria’s macroeconomic management including the implementation of an oil-price based fiscal rule. Revenues accruing above a reference benchmark oil price were saved in a special account, the “Excess Crude Account,” which helped to reduce macroeconomic volatility.
She also introduced the practice of publishing in the newspapers, each state’s monthly financial allocation from the Federal Government of Nigeria. That action went a long way in increasing transparency in governance. With the support of the World Bank and the IMF to the Federal Government, she helped build an electronic financial management platform—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 at 31 December 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.
Following her first term as Minister of Finance, she served two months as Minister of Foreign Affairs in 2006. She returned to the World Bank as a Managing Director in December 2007.
In 2011, Okonjo-Iweala was re-appointed as Minister of Finance in Nigeria with the expanded portfolio of the Coordinating Minister for the Economy by President Goodluck Jonathan. Her legacy includes strengthening the country’s public financial systems and stimulating the housing sector with the establishment of the Mortgage Refinance Corporation (NMRC).
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 to support entrepreneurs, that created thousands of jobs. As part of Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, she received death threats and endured the kidnapping of her mother.
After leaving government, Okonjo-Iweala became 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 became the chair-elect of the Board of Gavi.
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), 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 also 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. Also in 2020, she was appointed by the African Union (AU) as special envoy to solicit international support to help the continent deal with the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The WTO in its formal report said that 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 race in “close consultation with the United States.”
According to a statement issued from the United States Trade Representative, “The United States takes note of today’s decision by the Republic of Korea’s Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee to withdraw her candidacy for Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO). The Biden-Harris Administration is pleased to express its strong support for the candidacy of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the next Director General of the WTO.” Okonjo-Iweala was unanimously appointed as the next Director-General on 15 February. She began her career as Director General of the WTO on 1 March 2021.
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 July 2021, she joined the Multilateral Leaders Task Force on COVID-19 Vaccines, Therapeutics, and Diagnostics for Developing Countries, co-chaired by Tedros Adhanom and David Malpass.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is married to Ikemba Iweala, a family medicine Physician from Umuahia, Abia State, Nigeria. They have four children, including author Uzodinma Iweala.
During her campaign to become the next Director-General of the WTO, it was revealed that Okonjo-Iweala became a US citizen in 2019 after spending several decades working and studying there.
Given the ongoing trade tensions between China and the US, analysts commented that the disclosure would be a contributing factor in shaping China’s attitude towards her.
By Oluwamayowa Akinyemi