The appointment of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala saw the relicts of institutional tradition, privilege, and monopoly tumble under the watch of the world. Taking over the helms of power in an organization that had been served only by non-African white males, Ngozi Okonjo Iweala from Nigeria became the first woman from Africa to hold the post of Director-General of the WTO.
Past director generals have been from Ireland, Italy, Brazil, France, Ireland, Thailand, and the New Zealand. Initially, the United States had reservations about supporting her for the post with former president DonaldTrump being skeptical. Such skepticism was difficult to reconcile with reality given the vast amount of expertise that she exuded showing by far that she was competent for the job. A Harvard degree holder, a former economist at the World Bank, and having played a crucial role in Nigeria's debt relief that saw its obligations cut by somewhat 30 billion USD, she by far had it all from the beginning.
Whilst most member states of the EU supported Dr. Ngozi, it was former President Donald Trump's preference to the South Koreas minister of Trade Yoo Myung that created a deadlock revealing the United States' deep influence and privilege biases in the institution. Dr. Ngozi has been calling for equal access to vaccines through granting waivers provided under the TRIPS agreement to allow developing countries access to covid-19 vaccines.
The USA that was at the forefront of the race to develop covid-19 vaccines could have felt its interests threatened by a candidate that had proposed to push for vaccine equality, a move that would have broken the western monopoly in the drug industry. In any way, given the strategic alliance between the USA and South Korea backing date to the Korean War, one would be not surprised at the stance that the USA took. Its privileged monopoly would be better maintained with a minister from a country whom it supplies with military support and protection. The adage “one cannot feed the hand that feeds it” would have been vindicated.
In the face of all evidence pointing out to the competence of Dr. Ngozi, it raises questions whether the US can see past its strategic partnerships if it is in the best interest of the WTO. The revelation reignites questions regarding the western attitude of impunity and privilege especially as the USA has effectively blocked new appointees to the appellate body of the organization leaving it without teeth to enforce its laws.
The absence of new appointees means trade violations by the big nations go untouched whilst developing nations are punished with embargos and sanctions for the same thus confirming the inequality in the organization. Put differently, the selection process becomes a tool to continuously maintain the western privilege whilst shutting developing nations out of the key processes of decision making.
The insatiable appetite in maintaining a high degree of control over the leadership of the WTO is better served through appointments of candidates from nations the west has strategic partnerships with making it quite clear that the body serves as a mere mouthpiece of western will.
The selection deadlock only thawed after Yoo Myung withdrew her candidacy on the 5th of February leaving Dr. Ngozi alone in the race. It was only after Joe Biden's ascendancy to the helms of power that the US waived its objections and threw its support to her candidacy.
Dr. Ngozi served as a minister of foreign affairs and finance, a tenure that saw massive changes to both portfolios. Her ascendancy to becoming the director-general of WTO is groundbreaking and historic. She truly is a breaker of tradition and deep-rooted western bias.