Nigeria’s former Finance and Foreign Affairs Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has taken American citizenship, more than 40 years after she studied in the United States.
The move by the 1976 Harvard graduate of Economics might not be unconnected to her ambition of becoming the next director-general of the World Trade Organisation under a nomination from Nigeria while also holding US citizenship.
According to a report on Wednesday by Bloomberg News, Okonjo-Iweala obtained American citizenship in 2019 after spending most of her career at the World Bank and living in the Washington suburbs.
It’s not uncommon for international civil servants who spend long stretches working abroad to take a second citizenship, especially when their families have been living overseas with them, the report quoted a spokeswoman for Okonjo-Iweala as saying.
Former WTO DG Roberto Azevedo officially stepped down on Monday, and eight candidates are vying for the position including Okonjo-Iweala.
Other candidates are Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh (Egypt), Amina Mohamed (Kenya), Jesús Kuri (Mexico), Tudor Ulianovschi (Moldova), Yoo Myung-hee (Korea), Mohammad Al-Tuwaijri (Saudi Arabia), and Liam Fox (UK).
Newsmen had earlier reported that the eight candidates in July presented themselves to the 164 States that comprise the WTO. But the four deputy DGs remain in office pending when a decision is made on the next director-general.
“WTO needs leadership and it needs someone able to bring a bundle of qualities – political ability and ability to reach decision-makers. International contacts. I have that managerial capability from my long years in a multilateral organisation like the World Bank. The ability to forge consensus, to negotiate. I have an established reputation as a strong reformer both at the World Bank and also in my country. I’ve even written a book about it,” Okonjo-Iweala had said at the meeting in Geneva, Switzerland.
The former World Bank director has a resumé full of qualifications and there is no citizenship requirement for the job. Yet, the revelation of her dual status could be an advantage for her as she seeks to become the first African and first woman to occupy the seat since the establishment of the trade organisation in 1995.
The WTO finds itself caught in the middle of rising tensions between Washington and Beijing.
The United States, which has threatened to leave the WTO, has blocked the organisation’s dispute settlement appeal system since December and wanted China moved up from the developing economies category.
The US-China trade war started in 2018 when US President Donald Trump began setting tariffs and other trade barriers on China with the goal of forcing it to make changes to what the US described as “unfair trade practices”.
The trade war has negatively affected both economies and has paralysed some vital activities within the WTO.
The US has been a WTO member since 1995 while China joined in 2001.
But Okonjo-Iweala believes she is up to the task of harmonising the interest of the two countries.
Okonjo-Iweala, who is Chair of the Board of Gavi and also sits on the Board of Twitter, said she can be the peacemaker who can push the US and China to find common ground in the WTO.
“The US and China are the two largest economies in the world. I know that they both believe in trade. Both China and the US have an interest in seeing the WTO go on. But they want people to listen, they want someone who can listen carefully to what their issues are, what is it they want to see improved in the WTO,” she had explained.
Also, political economist and management expert, Pat Utomi, said the Trump administration represents a strong affluence regarding international trade and any candidate it supports has a chance of clinching the golden ticket.
“To be very frank, I don’t think our foreign policy has been doing much lately. But one strength regarding this assignment is that the Geoffrey Onyeama Foreign Ministry has been enormously supportive of the US position on things and the Americans are comfortable with him.
“So, if Geoffrey works strongly on the US psychology, they may actually throw in their weight. I don’t know if there is something against Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in that regard but she has been Washington-based for a long time. She’s lived in the US; let’s be honest, she is half-American. Will that make Washington be more comfortable with her? The mind of the Trump administration is a very peculiar one,” Utomi said.
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