Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s rise to becoming WTO’s first female Director-General.

noi photo e1477269984599 Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala's rise to becoming WTO's first female Director-General.

“Every country that you go to, usually the degree of progress can never be separated from the woman. If you in a country that’s progressive, the woman is progressive.” – Malcolm X

Not many appointed for the progress of Nigeria as we’ve seen present and yesteryear have handled being in close proximity with the countries finance very well. Do not get me wrong here, I’m not saying this to throw shade on any appointed administration (in as much as I want to) but I’m here to exult a woman who was most recently rewarded for her immense achievements in the finance sector and contributions towards being a beam of hope for women, Nigeria and Africa.

This is no other than the 7th Director-General of the World Trade Organisation Dr. Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo- Iweala.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala: Education and Rise

noi photo e1477269984599 Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala's rise to becoming WTO's first female Director-General.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala's rise to becoming WTO's first female Director-General. 5

Historically, women have always had it harder than men in the world. Having to constantly prove and scale different hurdles set before them; like patriarchy (a never-ending battle), rights to vote all the way to being seen as equals to men so as to be recognized and get better jobs and amenities. It becomes a compound struggle when you are a black woman in “a man’s world” in the words of James Brown.

A brief lesson in history is necessary so you’d get a general sense of understanding of how hard and deserving Ngozi Okonji- Iweala is to be where she is today. Born into the Royal Family of Obahai and daughter to the King of Ogwashi-Ukwu.

Her father, Professor Chukuka Okonjo understood the necessity of quality education sent her to Harvard University in 1973 to study Economics after finishing her basic education at Queen’s School, Enugu, St. Anne’s School, Molete, Ibadan, and International School Ibadan, Nigeria respectively.

Graduating with Harvard’s highest academic distinction the magna cum laude in 1976 I can imagine was no small feat but it was the dawn of greater things to come for the young Nigerian economist. With an exceptional thesis titled Credit policy, rural financial markets, and Nigeria’s agricultural development got a fellowship from the American Association of University Women and her Ph.D. in regional economics and development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1981.

She began her 25-year ascension up the World Bank ladder as a development economist which inevitably paid off when she became the Managing Director of operations from 2007-2011. Chosen under two different Nigerian presidential administrations as Finance Minister of Nigeria she served twice. One first from 2003-2006 under ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo (OBJ) and the latter being in 2011-2015 under ex-president Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.

Not being a stranger to becoming the first woman to… she became the country’s first female finance minister, the first woman to hold that office position twice, and the only finance minister to serve under different presidents.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s Activities.

Before I delve into this, I’d like to reminisce about the time when I first heard the name Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. It was such a tongue twister of a name and remember just saying Ngozi. She had just become the Finance Minister under OBJ’s administration and I was too young to comprehend politics let alone that of Nigeria.

Whenever I saw her it was there to seen by the world that was a geletying and ankara-wearing genius. Fast-forward years later and I’m writing about her accomplishments and I’ve come to appreciate how much of a treasure she is it good to know that the world sees her in that light.

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala a Nigerian-American economist who has over 30 years of experience as a global finance expert and an international development professional under her Ankara head-tie. Famous for her work across different continents like Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Europe.

She is Chair of the Board of Gavi, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation. Since its inception in 2000, this alliance is responsible for immunizing 680 million children globally and has save over ten million lives. With sits on the Boards of Standard Chartered and Twitter and a Chair of the Board to NGO’s like African Risk Capacity, the aforementioned Gavi, Nelson Mandela Institution, and African University of Science and Technology you’d wonder if she has the time to stand up.

In 2012 her name was all over the news when she became the first female and black candidate contest for the presidency of the World Bank Group which is the highest development finance post in the world. She garnering support from Africa and other major developing countries.

Her work at the World Bank as the Managing Director was one to highlight. Placed with the administrative control of the World bank’s $81 billion operational portfolios in 4 four continents namely; Africa, Europe, Central, and South Asia.

During the 2008-2009 food crises and later the financial crises, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala pioneered different initiatives while at the World Bank that assisted low-income countries. She was also in the driver’s seat when the World Bank raised $49.3 billion worth of grants and low-interest credit for some of the poorest countries in the world back in 2010.

Speaking on accomplishments that are close to home. While Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was the minister of Finance in Nigeria, she was able to convince the Paris Club of Creditors into wiping out $30 billion of Nigeria’s debt (gbese country) as well as scraping off $18 billion.

Returning for her second term in the same role under a new government, she implemented the GIFMS (Government Integrated Financial Management System), the TSA (Treasury Single Accounts), and the IPPMS (Integrated Personnel and Payroll Management System) while she was at it, she spearheaded reforms that improved transparency and protected institutions against corruption.

More than six paragraphs in and I haven’t brushed the surface of all that Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has accomplished over four decades so let’s put a pin in it and we’ll come back to it.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s Family

Despite her achievements, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala still believed family is the cornerstone of the society and her son Uchechi Iweala’s marriage to the granddaughter of the late literary icon and Prof. Chinua Achebe. It was an event that many in attendance would not be forgetting anytime soon.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala's rise to becoming WTO's first female Director-General. 6

The husband to the newly appointed director-general of the World Health Organisation Mr. Ikemba Iweala is from Umuahia the capital of the state of origin as his wife. He spent his early school years in Nigeria and his university years studying medicine at the University of Ibadan before completing his training in General Surgery/Trauma and Neurosurgery from the Manchester Royal Infirmary.

The Iweala family is one of six members which includes, herself, her husband, and four other children.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s Accomplishments

For a woman that has achieved alot in her years of working in finance you’d expect her to get some recognition for all her work right well, you guessed correctly and boy does she have a lot of them.

In 2004 she received the TIME Magazine’s European Heroes Award, named Finance Minister of the Year in 2014 (Africa Investor Magazine), Finance Minister of the Year for Africa and the Middle East ( THE BANKER 2004), EUROMONEY’s 2005 Global Finance Minister of the Year, Finance Minister of the Year for Africa and the Middle East for Emerging Markets Magazine in 2005, Minister of the Year for THISDAY Newspaper in 2004 and 2005.

You can’t separate Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala from accomplishment because of the work she does behind the scenes toward the development in some of the poorest countries in the world. Personally she’s stands amongst some of the most influential women in finance and the world at large.

With that said, In 2019 she was listed as one of Transparency International’s 8 Female Anti-Corruption Fighters Who Inspire, chosen as one of the 50 Greatest World Leaders by Fortune, 2015, Top 100 Most Influential People in the World (TIME, 2014), Top 100 Global Thinkers for Foreign Policy in 2011 and 2012.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala's rise to becoming WTO's first female Director-General. 7

She was among the Top 3 Most Powerful Woman In Africa by Forbes in 2012, the Top 10 Most Powerful Women in the World for Forbes in 2011,2012,2013 and 2014, the Top 10 Most Influential Women in World (Forbes, 2011), the top 150 Women in the world for Newsweek in 2011, the Top 100 Women in the World for The UK Guardian, 2011 and the Top 1000 most inspiring people in the World Delivering for Girls and Woman by Women Deliver in 2011.

On the 15th of February, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala became the first woman and the first woman to become the Director-General of the World Trade Organization.

In terms of publications, she as put the pen to the paper on a couple of occasions with books and several articles like; The Debt Trap in Nigeria: Towards a Sustainable Debt Strategy (Africa World Press), Her co-authored with Tijan Sallah titled Chinua Achebe: Teacher of Light (Africa World Press) and Fighting Corruption is Dangerous: The Story Behind the Headlines (MIT Press, 2012) to name a few.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s Networth

There hasn’t been any news as to how much Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is really worth but as someone who has spent over four decades in the financial sector, as well as her new position one could expect a fat cheque to her name. I’d like to think that the amount of money coming in would be the least of her concerns seen as she’s dedicated her life to the cause.

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