Ngozi Okonjoa-Iweala and the WTO don’t fit


Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is likely to become the next head of the World Trade Organization. While many have claimed that this is an important step for representation, it will in fact mark a step backwards for oppressed minorities globally, as Okonjo-Iweala will only serve as the human face of the barbarism of the World Trade Organization, covering for its economic warfare waged against the global Southern hemisphere. To further expand on this point, it will be necessary to both review the track record of the World Trade Organization as an institution, as well as Okonjo-Iweala’s past tenure in politics.

The World Trade Organization, alongside the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, serves as a global neoliberal institution designed to push free market policies on developing nations. While the IMF and World Bank often focus on lending money to developing countries on stipulation that they implement neoliberal reforms to the detriment of their citizenry, the World Trade Organization imposes free trade on these same countries. While developed countries often had protectionist measures in place while still developing – which allowed their economies to reach their current state – developing countries today are not afforded that luxury as developed countries would like to open the markets of less-developed nations so that foreign capital can have access to investment opportunities. However, developing nations are not granted an opening of the markets of developed nations for their own exports, leading to an unfair and imbalanced system of global trade. Thus, the World Trade Organization serves to further the interests of multinational corporations based in the global Northern Hemisphere.

It should also be noted that Okonjo-Iweala has worked at the World Bank for decades, which as noted above has coerced many developing nations into adopting “structural adjustment” programs, which mainly entails the cutting of social services, privatization and fewer taxes and regulations. Before that, Okonjo-Iweala served under two Nigerian administrations, as both finance minister and foreign minister, first under Olusegun Obasanjo, and then under Goodluck Jonathan. Both presidents were of the “People’s Democratic Party,” a center-right party in Nigeria.Under her first tenure in 2003, Okonjo-Iweala was instrumental in ensuring that Nigeria paid off billions of dollars of illegitimate debt to foreign creditors that were accrued under military dictatorships, rather than spending the money on public services that would benefit the Nigerian population. During her second tenure, Okonjo-Iweala was again instrumental in the removal of fuel subsidies in 2012, which caused transportation costs to double and was incredibly detrimental to people who relied on fuel subsidies to keep costs of living down. This incredibly unpopular decision led to the Occupy Nigeria movement, which was accompanied by nationwide strikes.

The truth is that Nigeria has the highest GDP of any African country and is emerging as an economic powerhouse on the world stage. Even after the end of the reign of military dictatorships and the formal transition to “democratic” governance, Nigeria has been led by corrupt regimes for decades, taking advantage of Nigeria’s vast oil reserves and mineral resources to enrich themselves and their administrations rather than to provide for the people of the country. This emerging comprador class within the coordinates of the new neocolonial system are not to be lauded, and serve merely to enrich foreign capital (alongside themselves).

Okonjo-Iweala is merely another member of this elite class of extractors, and neither race, gender or any other identity trait can help us determine someone’s class position, or more importantly, what side they are on in the class war. Every society is split among the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, and Nigeria is no exception. Our true allies are the proletariat of the global South, not the colonial administrators and comprador class of which Okonjo-Iweala is a member.  A focus on identity can only serve to obscure this reality.