Women in power — the World Trade Organization's Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

Director General of the World Trade Organization Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

Starting a new job is always daunting. For Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who just weeks ago started a new stint as director general at the World Trade Organization, the timing could not be more trying: she is taking over the world's largest global trade body amid once-in-a-generation public health and economic crises that have emboldened protectionist inclinations around the world.

Who is Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, and how has her worldview shaped her politics and policymaking?


Nigerian trailblazer. "Investing in women is smart economics, and investing in girls, catching them upstream, is even smarter economics."

As Nigeria's first female finance minister (2003-2006 and 2011-2015) under presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan, Okonjo-Iweala oversaw sweeping financial reforms that helped stabilize the country's volatile economy. Indeed, her leadership was crucial in ensuring $18 billion in debt forgiveness, helping Nigeria secure its first-ever sovereign debt rating. She also pioneered a program that culled "ghost workers" from the civil service's payroll, saving around 163 billion naira ($398 million) over two years.

Okonjo-Iweala also started the privatization of state sectors like power, though that process has since proven to exacerbate problems, resulting in spotty power supply and price increases for the country of 200 million people. Additionally, though Okonjo-Iweala tackled corruption by making states report their accounts, failed attempts to diversify the country's economy, a stated aim of Okonjo-Iweala and the Jonathan government, has left Nigeria, Africa's largest oil producer, vulnerable to the shocks of global oil markets.

Central to her economic outlook is the belief that the political and economic fruition of Nigeria — and that of other African countries — is contingent on better integration of women into all areas of political and economic life. Though many Nigerian women have become influential entrepreneurs, she notes, lack of education opportunities for women and girls in the country's north have impeded development and growth (a crisis exacerbated by the deteriorating security situation in northern Nigeria over the past decade.)

It's worth noting that Okonjo-Iweala paid a personal price for her reforms and crackdown on corruption in the oil industry: In 2012, her 82-year old mother was kidnapped by bandits demanding the finance minister's resignation — and cash. Okonjo-Iweala refused to resign and her mother was eventually released safely (though details remain unclear).

African representation. "The low-income countries in Africa and elsewhere are some of the most rapidly growing economies in the world. These countries ought to be given more of a voice."

In Nigerian politics, as well as during her 25 years at the World Bank (she rose to managing director), and now at the WTO, Okonjo-Iweala has always emphasized that African nations, as well as other emerging markets, are some of the fastest-growing economies in the world. (Before oil prices fell sharply in 2016, Nigeria's economy was growing steadily at 6.3 percent.) Pointing to the fact that many frontier economies in Africa and Asia were the engines of the world's economic revival in the aftermath of the global financial crisis in 2009, Okonjo-Iweala says that African nations should be given more voice in global forums where important international decisions are made.

It's precisely this outlook that Okonjo-Iweala — who until recently was also chair of the GAVI board which aims to boost vaccine access in the developing world — plans to bring to her tenure at the WTO. In recent months, Okonjo-Iweala has lobbied against "vaccine nationalism," and she's advocated for using WTO intellectual property rules to expand vaccine development and manufacturing in developing countries. She has pointed to licensing deals like the one struck with India's Serum Institute that allows it to produce AstraZeneca's vaccine as a model — a view shared by many leaders, including South Africa's President Cyril Ramphosa who recently said that rich countries were practicing "vaccine apartheid" by blocking emerging markets from manufacturing vaccines on their home turf.

The importance of symbolism. Many media reports have focused on Okonjo-Iweala's bonafides as the first African and first woman to head the WTO after almost seven decades (the WTO emerged from the former General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade). That's a reductive way of looking at Okonjo-Iweala's accomplishments, but her appointment as WTO chief at this tumultuous moment in its history is indeed an historic breakthrough for African women, who see their own social and professional prospects boosted by her accomplishments. As one Nigerian academic recently said, "[Her] achievement is not just a day's work. It's a kind of investment that she has nurtured for a long time."

Early employment can set a young person on a trajectory for success, providing both a paycheck and a stepping-stone for improving academic performance.

Bank of America is committed to investing in youth employment, funding $160 million since 2018 to connect youth and young adults to jobs and mentoring.

The minutiae of supply chains makes for boring dinner table talk, but it's increasingly becoming a hot topic of conversation now that packages are taking much longer to arrive in the consumer-oriented US, while prices of goods soar.

With the issue unlikely to be resolved anytime soon, right-wing media have dubbed President Biden the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, conjuring images of sad Christmas trees surrounded by distraught children whose holiday gifts are stuck somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.

It hasn't been a good run for Uncle Joe in recent months. What issues are tripping him up?

More Show less

Three years ago, Facebook changed its algorithms to mitigate online rage and misinformation. But it only made Facebook worse by boosting toxic engagement, says Nick Thompson, The Atlantic CEO & former WIRED editor-in-chief. Thompson believes Facebook simply got in over its head, rather than becoming intentionally "evil" like, say, Big Tobacco with cigarettes. "I think they just created something they couldn't control. And I think they didn't grasp what was happening until too late." Watch his interview with Ian Bremmer on the latest episode of GZERO World.

From overall health and wellness to representation in the global workforce, women and girls have faced serious setbacks over the past 18+ months. They also hold the key to more robust and inclusive growth in the months and years ahead: McKinsey & Company estimates that centering recovery efforts on women could contribute $13 trillion to global GDP by 2030.

On October 28th at 12pm ET, as part of our "Measuring What Matters" series, GZERO Media and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will look beyond traditional indicators of economic recovery to examine COVID-19's impact on girls and women, specifically in the areas of health and employment.

More Show less

This year, American kids who've asked Santa for L.O.L. Surprise! dolls, Nerf blasters, or classic Legos may be disappointed. The delivery of these and other in-demand toys could be delayed due to pandemic-related supply chain disruptions that are still hitting US businesses and consumers hard. Container vessels loaded with precious cargo are waiting days to enter busy US ports, while within the country truck drivers are working flat out to meet soaring demand for goods of all kinds. Products are getting wildly expensive or arriving late. Here's a snapshot of the problem, showing longer delivery times, skyrocketing freight and shipping costs, and trucker employment.

Bolsonaro accused of crimes against humanity: A long-running Senate investigation in Brazil has found that by downplaying the severity of COVID, dithering on vaccines, and promoting quack cures, President Jair Bolsonaro directly caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. An earlier version of the report went so far as to recommend charges of homicide and genocide as well, but that was pulled back in the final copy to a mere charge of "crimes against humanity", according to the New York Times. The 1,200-page report alleges Bolsonaro's policies led directly to the deaths of at least half of the 600,000 Brazilians who have succumbed to the virus. It's a bombshell charge, but it's unlikely to land Bolsonaro in the dock — for that to happen he'd have to be formally accused by the justice minister, an ally whom he appointed, and the lower house of parliament, which his supporters control. Still, as the deeply unpopular Bolsonaro limps towards next year's presidential election, a rap of this kind isn't going to help.

More Show less

11,412: Irmgard Furchner, a 92-year-old former typist at a Nazi concentration camp in Germany, is facing trial for contributing to the murder of 11,412 people there. Furchner tried to escape German authorities in late September by sneaking out of her nursing home, but was arrested hours later and slapped with an electronic wrist tag.

More Show less

If you had to guess which current world leader has made the most trips to Africa, who would you say? China's Xi Jinping? Nope, hardly — he's been there just four times. France's Emmanuel Macron? Pas de tout.

The answer may surprise you: it's Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who's been to the continent more times than the leader(s) of any other non-African state. Just this week he notched his 28th visit, with stops in Angola, Nigeria, and Togo. Sure, being in power for two decades creates a lot of opportunities for exotic travel, but even Russia's Vladimir Putin isn't close: he's been to Africa just five times, all to visit South Africa or Egypt.

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal