Nigeria’s Okonjo-Iweala and Kenya’s Amina Mohamed make WTO final five

Pressure grows on Africa to back a unified candidate to claim the highest position in global trade.


Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria and Amina Mohamed of Kenya have reached the final five candidates for the leadership of the World Trade Organization, putting more pressure on Africa to back a unified candidate to claim the highest position in global trade.

While African members will be buoyed by the progression of Okonjo-Iweala, a former World Bank managing director and Nigerian finance minister, and Mohamed, a former chairwoman of the WTO’s general council, Egyptian Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh failed to gain enough support to reach the next round. Mamdouh served as a former director of the trade in services and investment division of the WTO.

The two African candidates, who will now compete to unify the continent’s vote, will face off against Yoo Myung-hee of South Korea, Mohammad Maziad Al-Tuwaijri of Saudi Arabia and Liam Fox of the United Kingdom.

The second phase will run until 6 October. Member states will express two preferences with an eye to bringing the number of candidates from five to two. There is intended to be three stages of consultations, with the winner taking office in November.

The new director-general, who will replace incumbent Roberto Azevêdo, will take charge in an era of high global trade tensions, including an ongoing trade war between the US and China, the world’s two largest economies. It is hoped that an African candidate can help to mediate that dispute and put African trade concerns at the heart of the international agenda.

“Africa has some painful choices to make both in terms of its own unity and, in the long run, for its future in international trade. Should an African DG be selected, they would be symbolic of African unity and, subsequently, well-positioned to cajole Africa on internal issues,” wrote JP Singh, professor of international commerce and policy at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University in August for African Business magazine.

“Africa also has to undertake another internal reckoning toward a reform agenda in the long-run…To grow, Africa needs to graduate toward non-preferential trade access, and compete on the strength of its exports. African exports have remained depressed and stuck in preferential access.”

In an interview with African Business magazine last week, Kenya’s Mohamed said she would be well-placed to resolve multilateral trade tensions. She is credited with helping to abolish export subsidies for agricultural exports in a critical WTO deal. 

In an interview with the Guardian last week, Ojonko-Iweala argued her own suitability for the post.

“I have a very strong trade background. Trade is not a siloed discipline. Trade is part of development, something I have been working at my whole life. It’s true I am not a WTO insider but that’s a good thing. We need someone who knows trade but brings a fresh pair of eyes…Of all the challengers for the job I have the right combination of skills.”

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