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UN Group congratulates Okonjo-Iweala on WTO job

takes great exception to the use of offensive, sexist, racist and derogatory language by Swiss-based newspapers regarding Okonjo-Iweala's appointment

Congratulatory letter from the United Nations Senior African Group (UNSAG) to Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director-General of the World Trade Organization

The United Nations Senior African Group (UNSAG) congratulates Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, for her history-making appointment as Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a graduate in Economics from Harvard University and a holder of a Ph.D. in Regional Economics and Development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), is a renowned economist and international development expert.

She brings to the WTO a wealth of knowledge and experience from serving 25 years with the World Bank, rising to become a Managing Director, and from serving two terms as Nigerian Finance Minister.

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is a thought leader who has led many global initiatives such as the Global Commission for the Economy and Climate and the Global Vaccine Alliance Board.

A highly sought-after leader, Dr Okonjo-Iweala has been a member of numerous global public and private sector bodies – the Growth Commission, the Eminent Persons Group on Global Financial Governance established by the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors, the board of Twitter, the B-Team and Rockefeller Foundation Trustees board, to name a few.

The UN Senior African Group wishes to take this opportunity to warmly congratulate Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on her well-deserved appointment as Director-General of the World Trade Organization.

In this celebratory moment for the world, when the first woman and the first African leads WTO, UNSAG takes great exception to the use of derogatory language by Swiss-based newspapers (Luzerner Zeitung, Aargauer Zeitung and St. Galler Tagblatt) regarding the appointment of Director-General Dr Okonjo-Iweala.

We find the language used offensive, sexist and racist in a world where both public and private sector leadership is dominated by aging Caucasian men, who are revered for the experience and skills they bring and have never been characterized by their lineage and offspring.

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is an outstanding professional. She is also proud to be a grandmother.

However, her family background is irrelevant to the position she has ascended to.

In this case, the derogatory terms have been unsuccessfully used to diminish her stature.

The Executive Director of UN Women, Dr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, and the Executive Director of UNAIDS, Winnie Byanyima, as co-chairs of the United Nations Senior Africans Group thus described:

“This disrespect as one of many forms of harassment women leaders continue to face.

“There is no place in the world today for harassment of this kind as well as physical and sexual abuse of women. It must end now.”

The UN Senior African Group wishes the new Director-General of the World Trade Organization, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, success in her new role which is critical for global recovery from the economic, social and health crises brought on by the coronavirus.


On behalf of The Co-Chairs of the UNSAG and the following UNSAG members:

  • Phumzile MLAMBO-NGCUKA, Executive Director of UN Women
  • Winnie BYANYIMA, Executive Director of UNAIDS
  • Kadaria AHMED, Communications
  • Zainab BANGURA, Director-General of the United Nations Office at Nairobi
  • Mohamed Ibn CHAMBAS, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for West Africa and the Sahel and head of UNOWAS
  • Pamela COKE-HAMILTON, Executive Director International Trade Centre
  • Abdoulaye Mar DIEYE, Special Coordinator for development in the Sahel
  • Cristina DUARTE, Special Adviser on Africa to United Nations Secretary-General
  • Ahunna EZIAKONWA, Assistant Administrator, Director, UNDP Regional Bureau for Africa
  • Mbaranga GASARABWE, Deputy Special Representative MINUSMA
  • Natalia KANEM, Executive Director of UNFPA
  • Joyce MSUYA, Deputy Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme
  • Parfait ONANGA-ANYANGA, Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa
  • Pramila PATTEN, UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict
  • Vera SONGWE, Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa
  • Ibrahim THIAW, Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification
  • Alice WAIRIMU NDERITU, UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide

About the United Nations Senior African Group (UNSAG):

All signatories listed below are senior UN officials who hold the rank of Under Secretary-General.

They signed this Op Ed in their personal capacity:

The United Nations Senior African Group (UNSAG) is an informal mobilizing forum for Senior United Nations Officials and Ambassadors from Africa.

UNSAG provides a convening platform for thought leadership and action and seeks to amplify the voice and agency of Africans to implement strategies addressing, issues of common concern between the United Nations and Africa.

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