This month, on International Women’s Day, we were called upon to #choosetochallenge inequality and bias, based on gender and confront the status quo.
African women, young and old have been defying odds for years as far back as we can recall. Obstacles standing in the way of women achieving any kind of socio-economic, cultural or political success isn’t new, but as you know, we women; African women, still persevere.
As per American Progress, in the late 20th century, women made more rapid advances in the private sector than they did in the political world. The gender wage gap narrowed, sex segregation in most professions greatly declined, and the percentage of women climbing the management ranks steadily rose.
Evidence of this is the World Trade Organization electing you, as its first African Director-General in its 26 year history.
Ayoo Africa congratulates you! Your confirmation as WTO Director-General came with loads of joy and immeasurable hope for Africans on the continent and in the diaspora.
To many who know you, this election was well-deserved buttressed by your illustrious career as a revered economist and diplomat.
Your celebrated tenure at the World Bank as a transformative leader, for about two and a half decades, is only eclipsed by the notable reforms you brought about during your two terms as Finance Minister of Nigeria, under separate administrations.
Your accomplishments in the organizations you serve in today like GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, are well-documented and even more deserving of commendation.
Just as you were the first woman to serve as Nigeria’s Finance Minister, you are also the first woman to serve as the WTO Director-General, shattering the proverbial glass ceiling. Even more, you are the first African to ever hold this position since the WTO was created in 1995.
The expectations of the entire continent of Africa and its populations, particularly African women, couldn’t be more obvious.
The WTO which you now lead, sets and manages the fundamental principles and mechanisms that govern trade between countries, setting international rules for all its member states. Whilst these rules apply in principle, many countries are known to skirt them.
Unfortunately, the WTO has failed to avert the protectionist economic policies that many G20 nations continue to put in place.
These governments to a large extent significantly subvert the rules and then zealously protect their companies doing business in Africa. The outcome is major trade imbalances which disadvantage many African businesses.
To state it bluntly, the needs of Africa and most of the developing world continue to be far-fetched.
This fact is reinforced by the countless setbacks for consensus around the Doha Development Agenda which set out to prioritize African member states by purging trade barriers and instituting trustworthy fairness in global trade.
As long as small and poor countries remain without much say-so, market size and political weight will continue to make it impossible for these countries to have a tangible buy-in on trade negotiations. The issue surrounding agricultural subsidies and cotton subsidies is a glaring example of this.
We urge you to inspire WTO staff and to encourage member states to focus on creating an appealing and well-sanctioned trade environment with respect to present-day reality.
To make multilateral trade comprehensively fair and guarantee that the WTO’s rules are consistent and void of the numerous challenges that delude them.
Ayoo Africa implores you to address, these key priorities during your term:
– The untangling of Africa from economic slavery: Equitable commercial commitment in trade where Africa is considered a veritable economic partner, not a natural-resource-laden consumer of finished goods and aid packages;
– The allegations of continued human rights abuse of European companies on the continent, for example, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; and
– The WTO’s endorsement and active support of the African Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA).
We believe that these major concerns will help redirect the business-as-usual offhand attitude of member states and look ahead to what the future is calling for.
Remember that whatever action or inaction you undertake will affect the lives of a billion people on the African continent at a very critical time, notwithstanding the current COVID pandemic.
Africa has long needed a champion at the WTO and there is no time, and no one better suited to serve that purpose than you, the new Director-General.
We ask you to choose to challenge business as usual.
Ayoo Africa congratulations you once more, and may your tenure transform the standard for global trade between countries from one of taciturn opportunism and competitiveness, to one of genuine balanced cooperation.