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Okonjo-Iweala: My Emergence Will Open Doors For Women

Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

Nigeria’s former Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has said her emergence as the director-general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), will open doors of opportunities for women all over the world to attain such position in the future.

Okonjo-Iweala, during an interview in Washington, expressed joy over her being picked for the WTO leadership position.

She said being the first woman and the first African to be the WTO DG, she would work hard so that by the time she would leave office, her good work would pave the way for other women to succeed.

According to her, after she left as the finance minister women started having opportunities to occupy foremost positions, adding that she will want such to be replicated at the WTO.

Okonjo-Iweala said she would address the concerns of big and small member countries, while thanking Nigerians for their support and prayers.

She said: “I am amazed and I feel very proud and humble because many delegations see this as a historic occasion and moment where members have elected the first woman and the first African but on top of that, there is a third point they are making and that is, they have elected someone they feel has the knowledge and experience and competence to deliver.

“So, I tell people I am very proud to be African; l am proud for Nigeria and the continent and also proud for women. But the bottom line is the capability to do the job and to deliver so that, after me, there will be other women, other Africans, and that is the whole point.”

She stated that in her recent book with a former Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard, she wrote about women and leadership, stressing the need for women to be given leadership positions in global organisations.

Given instances of her role as finance minister in Nigeria, she said she focused on delivering and working round the clock.
According to her, she recognised that if she could do a good job, people will no longer have inhibitions about giving women the job, adding that it was a big objective for her and it worked.

She said: “Since I had the job as finance minister, there have been three other women who have been nominated. So, it had become almost the norm to put a woman as the finance minister and that is the impact I wanted to make.

“Similarly, for the WTO, this is a very important economic multilateral. In the 73 years of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which turned into the WTO, there has not been any woman.

“So, with this opening, I hope if I do a good job, which I would very much focus on doing, so that women will have the door of opportunities open, and Africans will also have the door of opportunities open.”

She assured the world that she would serve all WTO members and deliver results that would benefit not only Africa but other continents because the WTO is a multilateral organisation and she has to serve everybody.

On COVID-19, Okonjo-Iweala said the pandemic remained a global problem as no one country alone can solve it.

She explained: “So, unless we come together and work together, we will not win. A country that is protectionist with respect to vaccines or is practicing vaccine nationalism would not win because variance will come from elsewhere.

“So, we need to work to ensure that all countries get access. Poor countries must get access to vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics as quickly as possible so that everybody can solve the problem together. It is a similar problem with climate change – no one country can solve it alone.”

Expressing her love for Africa, she said everybody knew that she loved being African and Nigerian.

“I love Nigeria so much, and when I step into my country, I feel so good and at home.

“So, I am very proud, because I was raised to be a Nigerian and African. It means a lot to me and also a burden in a way because I have got to do well,” she added.

Okonjo-Iweala said it had become necessary to work hard to ensure the challenges were solved for every member of the WTO, while also bringing the value to Africa.

She stated that with the current agreement reached at the African Continental Free Trade zone, she would ensure that the WTO helped to attract benefits for the continent.

She promised to help develop the capacities of the least developed countries, the poorest countries in the world that have the particular challenge of accessing the WTO.


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