Aside from the ongoing political game about who becomes the 9th president of the African Development Bank (AfDB), the selection of who will lead the World Trade Organisation (WTO) as the director-general is another highwire international politics and diplomatic calculations, Federal Republic of Nigeria is currently engaging in.
As the WTO top job selection procedures as described in document WT/L/509 begin, deft diplomatic games are beginning to play out as to who will eventually emerge in during the event scheduled to take place in Geneva, Switzerland in 2021.
The World Trade Organisation is the sole global international agency dealing with the rules of trade between nations through its agreements. These agreements are binding on all members having been negotiated and signed by the majority of them and also ratified in their parliaments.
Conventionally, the norm for selecting the director-general has been rotational between Developed Nations and Developing Nations, though this is yet to do justice to many of the global organisation’s members. The outgoing Director-General is Mr Roberto Azevêdo from Brazil, a country regarded as developing nation which means the next occupier ordinarily should be selected from the Developed Nations.
The Geneva 2021 is a peculiar one and this is because the conventional norm of rotating the director general’s position between Developed Nations and Developing Nations is no more going to happen. The continent of Africa and the region of Middle East have put their feet down in protests that they have never been Director-General of WTO since its inception as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in 1947, thereby opening the contest to nations of Africa, nations of the region of Middle East.
Based on the old conventional rotation, the United Kingdom has come up to represent the Developed Nations by nominating her former European trade commissioner and negotiator who also led the negotiations during the WTO Doha Round – Centre For Strategic International Studies, Lord Peter Mandelson. But relying on the fresh reprieve, some nations in Africa and the Middle East region also have nominated candidates for the job.
The Republic of Benin is having the candidacy of her ambassador and permanent representative to the United Nations and other organisations in Geneva, including the WTO, Ambassador Eloi Laourou.
A Nigerian with fantastic trade experience, Ambassador Yonov Agar, currently serving as Deputy Director-General of the WTO, also joined the race and Egypt is also pushing for her trade negotiator and member of the WTO Secretariat, Hamid Mamdouh.
Kenya is also in the race courtesy her highly-rated civil servant of international long reputation in public and foreign service some formerly in the United Nations and the WTO, Dr. Amina Mohamed.
As the game continues, the Federal Republic of Nigeria took the Developed Nations unawares in a masterful Diplo-political astuteness by replacing Ambassador Yonov Agah with the nomination of one of her global icons, one of Africa’s global citizens and one of the renowned global towers, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, thereby dwarfing the profiles of other contestants and shocking the Developed Nations who are already seeing a victory for Peter Mandelson in the contest.
With the coming of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the contest is now tactically a direct contest between Africa represented by Nigeria and the Developed Nations represented by the United Kingdom, with one presenting strong nominee based on revolution based on equity and the other, forwarding a nominee based on obsolete convention for the coveted position.
Since the break of the new skilful political nomination of Okonjo-Iweala, though silent oppositions have been mounting, some pro-developed nations and others unidentified but Egypt has openly opposed and written to the WTO’s Ministerial Committee on Candidatures to reject Nigeria’s nomination citing nomination after close of November 2019 deadline.
While it is pertinent to state clearly that the selection process will formally close with nominations accepted until 24:00 hours of 8th July, 2020, it is also possible to state that Egypt, being a nation in both Africa and the transcontinental region, Middle East, could possibly be seeing the candidacy of Okonjo-Iweala as a threat to the region comprising the West of Asia and Turkey and thereby trying to play the spoiler game to favour the Developed Nations represented by the United Kingdom’s candidacy of Lord Peter Mandelson.
While I commend the action of the President Buhari-led Federal Republic of Nigeria, I also plead with all her highly qualified diplomatic hands, especially the Chief of Staff to the President and global diplomatic pillar, Prof Agboola Gambari, not to relent in galvanizing Africa and the Middle East region as a block behind Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the continent and the region inch closer to attaining the historical feat that has eluded them since 1947.
By Akinloye Oyeniyi
Legislative Expert and Public Affairs Analyst.