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Nigerians Rejoice as New WTO Head Becomes First Woman and African to Lead Global Trade Body


A roadside vendor holds a newspaper announcing the appointment of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as WTO Secretary-General in Ibadan, southwest of Nigeria, Feb. 16, 2021.

Nigerians are celebrating the appointment of former finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the first woman, and first African director-general of the World Trade Organization.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was named director general of the World Trade Organization Monday after her only rival, South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-Hee, pulled out of the race.

Her appointment makes her the first African and first woman to head the global trade body. Since the announcement, Nigerians have been rejoicing. |

Two women ran across a street named after Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, in Wuye district in Abuja, Nigeria, Feb. 15, 2021.
Two women ran across a street named after Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, in Wuye district in Abuja, Nigeria, Feb. 15, 2021.

On social media, thousands of Nigerian women are celebrating by copying her style of dress, often characterized by a native “Ankara” print with a scarf to match.

Toochukwu Ohanu took part in the challenge named "Be like Ngozi."

"As an African woman, it puts me on my toes. I'm overjoyed, I feel like I can do anything. For an African woman to occupy that position, that's a huge deal and that's why it is particularly interesting for me to join the twitter challenge dressing like Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala," she said.

Incoming World Trade Organization President (WTO) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala speaks during an interview with Reuters in Potomac, Maryland, Feb. 15, 2021.
Incoming World Trade Organization President (WTO) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala speaks during an interview with Reuters in Potomac, Maryland, Feb. 15, 2021.

Okonjo-Iweala has promised to prioritize fair trade and access to COVID-19 vaccines when she takes office on March 1.

Nigerian economist Ken Ife says her appointment will mean better African representation on global trade issues.

"It's a big blessing for Africa and Nigeria in particular because we'll see how she'd help support the weaker countries have a voice. And also, some of the burning issues that are confronting us, we know that they'll be on the table," he said.

Economist Eze Onyekpere says one major challenge for the new WTO chief will be promoting liberal trade among countries that are trying to protect their COVID-19-hit economies.

"She will be tasked with bringing everybody back to the table to show that trade without all those hinderances and protections benefits everybody," he said.

Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria's former finance minister, joined the race to head the WTO along with many others after former leader Roberto Azevêdo stepped down in August.

Her victory was slowed when former U.S. president Donald Trump refused to back her candidacy, despite huge support she had from other members, including China.

Experts say Okonjo-Iweala’s appointment could boost the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement, which took effect last month.

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