Ismail Lagardien Columnist & essayist

In November an African woman is set to be appointed to head the World Trade Organization (WTO). My sense is that it will be either Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala or Kenya’s Amina Mohamed. The symbolism of this will be enormous. Since its creation in 1995, no African or woman has been secretary- general of the WTO. In institutional terms, the next secretary- general will have an insurmountable task.

Let me provide some deep background, then some matters of process, and then matters of representation and power relations. I may take some short cuts, but only for the sake of brevity. Briefly, the US initiated discussions on the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and provided the legal basis for trade negotiations for the next four or five decades, until the WTO’s creation in 1995. One key point to note is that there were only 23 “founding members”, SA and “Southern Rhodesia” being among them. This is what I would describe as the organic inequality that gave birth to the...

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