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Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala makes history as first woman head of World Trade Organization3 min read

February 10, 2021 3 min read


Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala makes history as first woman head of World Trade Organization3 min read

Reading Time: 3 minutes

This 66-year-old is making history, and how. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala from Nigeria is the first woman and first person from Africa to hold the position of the world’s top trade official — the head of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Since the WTO’s founding in 1995, six men have held this position!

Owliver’s Obscure Facts

The World Trade Organization is an intergovernmental organisation that is concerned with the regulation of international trade between nations. It is based in Geneva, Switzerland.

However, her journey here wasn’t a simple one, she had to survive the difficult world of politics in Nigeria, poverty and staying away from her family to rise to the top. A former two-time minister of finance in Nigeria, and a recently confirmed US citizen, Okonjo-Iweala spent 25 years as a development economist at the World Bank

Here are some interesting facts about this tough lady.

  • Born on June 13, 1954 in Ogwashi-Ukwu, Nigeria, her father Professor Chukwuka Okonjo was the Obi (King) from the Obahai Royal Family of Ogwashi-Ukwu.
  • She lived with her grandmother until the age of nine as her parents were studying abroad. She had the told BBC, “They (her parents) were gone for almost a decade before I really saw them and knew them. I did everything a village girl would do, fetch water, go to the farm with my grandmother, all the chores, I saw what poverty meant, to be poor at first hand.”
  • In 1973, she arrived in the US as a teenager to study at Harvard University, graduating with distinction in Economics in 1976. She earned her PhD in regional economics and development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She received an International Fellowship from the American Association of University Women that supported her doctoral studies.
  • She was a developmental economist in World Bank for 25 years. Ngozi rose to the No. 2 position of Managing Director of Operations. As MD, she successfully led several initiatives to assist low-income countries. She lead an initiative which negotiated to write-off debt worth 18 billion US dollars in 2005 for Nigeria.
  • Okonjo-Iweala served twice as Nigeria’s Finance Minister and also as Minister of Foreign Affairs. She was the first female to hold the positions.

Women tend to be more honest, more straightforward, more focused on the job, and bring less ego to it. I don’t know if it’s a feminine instinct but running an economy is sometimes akin to running a household

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and her husband Dr Ikemba Iweala
  • During her ministry, she imposed reforms to fight corruption in the fuel sector. This led to the kidnapping of her mother, Kamene Okonjo, a medical doctor and retired professor of sociology. The kidnapper demanded her resignation and ransom, but she refused to give in to their demands. Her mother was then released within five days.
  • She founded the Center for the Study of Economies of Africa, a development research think tank based in Nigeria.
  • Ngozi is married to Dr Ikemba Iweala, a neurosurgeon. They have four children.

Sources:, BBC News,,

Pictures: WTO, Reuters, Twitter