Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala: the first woman and first African to head the WTO
Next Monday, the General Council of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) will meet virtually to nominate Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the next Director-General. After her last opponent, South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee, withdrew her candidacy for the post last Friday, the Office of the US Trade Representative announced that the US will no longer stand in the way of a consensus decision in choosing Okonjo-Iweala as the new head of the WTO. Previously, the several bodies including the African Union, the European Union, China and Japan had already pledged their support for the 66-year-old. However, the approval of all 164 member states is needed to fill the post. For many years, Okonjo-Iweala, who holds both US and Nigerian citizenship held the positions Minister of Finance, Minister of Economy and Minister of Foreign Affairs in Nigeria, as well as Managing Director of the World Bank. She has also been on chair of the board of the Gavi vaccination alliance since 2015. Now she will be the first woman and first African to head the WTO. Okonjo-Iweala is seen as a major boost for the African continent, which is expected to further the continent’s integration into global trade after the enactment of the African Free Trade Area (AfCTA) in January. The new head of the WTO has enjoyed the name “Okonjo Wahala” – “Okonjo the Troublemaker” – since her second term as Nigeria’s finance minister, during which she particularly championed anti-corruption and reform programmes to make government more transparent. In her new position as head of the WTO, she must now demonstrate her political skills so that she is able to give the ailing organisation (which has experienced difficulties in negotiating any significant multi-territorial agreements for some time in the face of increasingly protectionist trade policies of member states) new weight in shaping world trade. Apart from the economic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic and the fair distribution of vaccines, the biggest challenges include the settlement of the US-Chinese trade dispute.
34th AU Summit – Moussa Faki re-elected as head of the AU Commission
Last weekend, in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, the 34th African Union (AU) Summit was held mainly by video conference. Among the few guests present in Mandela Hall at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa included the President of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) Félix Tshisekedi, Egypt’s President Abdelfattah al-Sisi and the Chair of the AU Commission Moussa Faki. The latter was re-elected as head of the AU Commission at the summit with 51 out of 55 votes. Although the re-election did not come as much of a surprise, it is nevertheless historic: not only did he achieve the best election result ever for an AU Commission chair, it was also the first election after the implementation of the organisation’s reforms initiated under Paul Kagame’s 2018 AU chairmanship. These include reducing the eight AU Commissioner posts to six. In addition, the chairpersons of the AU Commission may not be of the same gender. Therefore, the former president of the Central Bank of Rwanda, Dr Monique Nsanzabagwana, was elected vice-chair of the commission. Meanwhile, the 2021 AU chairmanship was assumed by DRC President Tshisekedi. He named climate change, the fight against sexual violence, the promotion of the African Free Trade Area and the acceleration of his country’s Grand Inga Hydropower Project, which is to become a central pan-African energy source, as key issues on the AU‘s 2021 agenda. Dealing with a number of current conflicts, such as the armed conflicts in the Tigray region of Ethiopia and the Central African Republic, the attacks by fundamentalist terrorist militias in the Sahel and northern Mozambique, and the three-country dispute over the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) are also high on the AU’s list of priorities. In addition, the Coronavirus was a central theme of the summit. The African heads of state and governments sharply criticised the rich industrialised countries, which are accused of hoarding and pre-ordering vaccines to the detriment of poorer countries.
In other news
While Europe is eagerly awaiting the final date of the European Championship, the sixth edition of the African Nations Championship (CHAN) has just taken place. Since 2009, the tournament has been held in annual rotation with the African Nations Cup, but was postponed in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. To prevent the virus from spreading during the championship, the host country Cameroon had greatly tightened security measures and reduced stadium capacity, but numerous fans were still able to watch the matches live. In the final last Sunday, Morocco defeated their opponents Mali 2-0 to become the first team to defend the title.