The first female and African to head World Trade Organisation (WTO), 66-year-old Nigerian economist Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has over four decades of expertise in development and finance. Her four-year term at WTO began on March 1, 2021. As a person who holds dual citizenship with the United States, she is also the first American to hold this role.
The 164 members of WTO unanimously selected Iweala, who is popular for her reform programmes that stabilised Nigeria’s economy. She was the Finance Minister of Nigeria for two terms – first from 2003-2006 and then from 2011 to 2015. She also holds the record for being the first woman to hold this position in her country. As the Finance Minister, she played a key role in stabilising Nigeria’s economy. Under her aegis, the economy, the largest in Africa, grew an average of 6% (per annum) over three years.
Born in the Delta State of Nigeria, Iweala reached the US in 1973 to study at Harvard. In 1981, she received her PhD in regional economics and development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Since then, she has served in various capacities, including the Managing Director position of World Bank where she supervised $181 billion-worth operations.
Iweala, who joined WTO during the COVID-19 pandemic period, has vowed to focus on the consequences of the pandemic, especially in the economic and healthcare sectors. Her priority will be the global distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines.
She is married to Ikemba Iweala, a physician. The couple has four children.