The Trio Vying To Emerge As The First African World Trade Organization (WTO) DG

by Duke Magazine

The World Trade Organization is the only global international body saddled with the responsibility of enacting rules of trade between countries. At its heart are the WTO agreements, negotiated and signed by the bulk of the world’s trading nations and ratified in their parliaments.

The goal is to ensure that trade flows as smoothly, predictably and freely as possible and following the announcement by the current director-general, Ricardo Azevedo, that he would leave the organization on August 31, the scramble to replace him has begun.

Eight candidates are in contest to emerge as the overseer of the trade body of the United Nations, particularly at this crucial time when the organization is languishing in identity crisis. 

The contenders would make 15-minute presentations to the 164 member states’ representatives at WTO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, before facing a 75-minute grilling over their plans for the global trade body.

Starting in September there would be a series of eliminations based on consensus as reported by AL Jazeera, thereby paving the way for the winner to assume the position of the organization’s new director-general.

Here, Duke International Magazine is taking a closer look at the three (3) Africans slogging it out to become the next director-general of the WTO. 

Egyptian Hamid Mamdouh

Hamid Mamdouh

Hamid Mamdouh is an erstwhile Egyptian diplomat with a 35-year cognate experience as an international trade expert. He also had experience with the WTO’s predecessor, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).

For Mamdouh who is also a lawyer, if he gets the job his first priority would be taking a look at the institution itself.

“I am running because I truly believe in the system,” Mamdouh, the Egyptian candidate for the job, told Ahram Online. “I believe in the values that the system stands for, the values of non-discrimination, rules-based trading relations and the strategic importance of trade itself as an engine for trade and economic development in general and especially for the development of countries.”

Nigerian Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was a two-time minister of finance in Nigeria. She previously served as a Managing Director of the World Bank where she had oversight responsibility for the World Bank’s operational portfolio in Africa, South Asia, Europe, and Central Asia. 

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala championed several World Bank initiatives to assist low-income countries during both the food and later financial crisis. She has chaired the replenishment of over $40 billion for the International Development Association (IDA), the grant, and the soft credit arm of the World Bank.

Her achievements as Finance Minister garnered international recognition for improving Nigeria’s financial stability and fostering greater fiscal transparency to combat corruption. In October 2005, she led the Nigerian team that negotiated the cancellation of 60% of Nigeria’s external debt ($18 billion) with the Paris Club. 

The alumnus of Harvard University has a doctorate in regional economics and development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is the recipient of multiple awards, including Honorary Doctorates from Trinity College, Dublin, Brown University, and Amherst College, among others. She is the recipient of Time magazine’s European Hero of the Year Award, 2004, for her work on economic reform in Nigeria among many other recognitions.

Kenyan Amina Mohamed

Amina Mohamed

Amina Mohamed is Kenya’s former WTO General Council chair. She has had a distinguished diplomatic career for over three decades since 1986. She rose through the ranks to become Ambassador/Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission to the Republic of Kenya at Geneva in 2000. 

As the Permanent Representative, she represented Kenya in the UN system, and the WTO among other international organizations. Her strong interpersonal skills in negotiations, developed during her career in the multilateral fora, enabled her to effectively articulate Kenya’s interests in the WTO. She participated in the drafting and interpretation of International Trade Treaties.

She was also instrumental in restructuring, reforming and rationalizing Kenya’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Missions abroad. She chaired the team that drafted Kenya’s foreign trade policy focusing on economic and commercial diplomacy.

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