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Will the next WTO Director-General come from Africa?

Will the next WTO Director-General come from Africa?

Currently, Africa has a greater chance of emerging as the next WTO Director-General; Three candidates have been declared from Africa_ Abdelhamid Mamdouh of Egypt, who was a diplomat and once WTO Director of the Trade in Services Division;  Yonov Frederick Agah of Nigeria, once his country’s ambassador to WTO and Deputy Director-General and Eloi Laourou of Benin, who is currently Benin’s Ambassador to the WTO. Amina Mohamed of Kenya, who was recently Kenya’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade is expected to enter the race.

The present WTO Director-General, Mr. Roberto Azevedo, on the 14 May 2020 announced his desire to quit his post on the 31 August 2020 instead of 31 August 2021. Hence the race to succeed him has begun in earnest.

Members of WTO consider these  two issues below vital as far as the election process is concerned.

The first is the desired background of the potential successor and the second is which region should the next Director-General come from.


There appears to be a unanimous decision by members of WTO that potential successor must have a strong political background as opposed to a technical or diplomatic background.

Considering that the first WTO Director-General_Peter Sutherland, to the fifth Pascal Lamy of France held at least one politically related post.

The attempt of electing a career diplomat, Mr. Robert Azevedo to head the organization did not end well, caused by the lack of political skills which resulted in failed resolution of trade tensions between China and the United States. Hence, WTO members were sidelined. It is on this ground that the members want potential successor to have political skills.

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Potential successor should be able to consult with Ministers skillfully on issues even if they would not like them. It is important to note that this person who will be succeeding Roberto Azevedo must not necessarily be a trade expert or know intimately all relevant issues. But he /she should be knowledgable on trade policy and the broader issue being dealt with by the organization.

“Also, it’s evident from the past records that the performance of appointees is not dependent on whether there are from a developed or developing country”.

Therefore, there is a call for WTO to realize that Cooperative Action is mostly the only solution that will enable them to address effectively their prevailing challenges.


As at present, no agreement among WTO members on this issue. While some developed countries believe that it’s their turn, African countries insist that every continent has had its turn except theirs and that it is time to have an African head, especially considering that the first three GATT Director-Generals came from Europe (Eric Wyndham White of the United Kingdom, Olivier Long and Arthur Dunkel of Switzerland. Developed countries have had the leadership of the GATT/WTO for 62 years while developing countries have led it for only 10 years.

The fact that developing countries also constitute nearly three-quarters of WTO membership should not be ignored. If the view of the developed countries is taken to its logical conclusion, they would have more chances of heading the WTO than developing countries, as they constitute just over a quarter of the membership. The view that it is Africa’s turn to provide the next leader of the WTO has a lot of sympathy among several developing and developed countries, especially considering that the other two Bretton Woods institutions are headed by developed countries.

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Again, the opinion that Africa will emerge as the next Director-General of WTO is more neutral arbiter considering the intense rivalry between the United States and China. Africa having been marginalized in the multilateral trading system, no longer have a strong interest in reforming the organization to have a level playing ground so as to be able to compete.

Last year, Africa’s share in world trade was just 3%, which is lower than the share of some smaller Asian countries such as Singapore and Korea. While it would be easy for China to reject demands by a developed country Director-General, who would be seen as a proxy for the United States, it is more likely to cave in to demands by an African Director-General

It is considered fair, if Africa becomes the next Director-General as Asia and Latin America have already had their turn. The WTO is encouraged to appoint a well qualified African who meets the bench marks above and to avoid the fate of the GATT, which used to be called rich man’s club.

Likewise, there’s need to update with urgentcy the Constitution governing the WTO as to reflect changes in the global economy. The aim is to inspire confidence among the members and private sector without changing core attitudes of the WTO members. The region from which the Director-General comes from is irrelevant.

Femi Adesina, Ngozi Okojo Iwela, Kofi Annan, to mention a few, are Africans who have distinguished themselves leading international organizations. Thus, appointing a well-qualified African to head WTO will enable them to pursue the long-overdue reforms needed to make the organization fit for purpose in the 21st century.

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