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WTO, IFC, Unesco… three Africans at the helm of world institutions – Jeune Afrique

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Makhtar Diop, Lazare Eloundou Assomo… They are at the head of the World Trade Organization, the International Finance Corporation and the UNESCO World Heritage Center. Places up to the challenges of the continent.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a glass ceiling breaker in the WTO

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the first African patron of the WTO.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the first African patron of the WTO. © ERIC BARADAT / AFP

Both the first woman and the first African to become Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, 67, took over the head of the institution last February, after one long campaign during which she was able to unite the support, especially on the continent. “Africa will be able to be proud to see one of its daughters capable of doing the job”, she slipped, in September 2020, in a long interview she had given to Young Africa.

Named as one of the “most influential women” of 2021 by the Financial Times, she “broke all the glass ceilings by the extent of her skills, her absolute integrity and her good humor”, writes Christine Lagarde, now patron of the European Central Bank.

Upon her arrival at the head of the WTO, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala also undertook to feminize the general management of the institution, where she established a strict gender parity. “This is the first time in the history of our organization that half of the CEOs are women. This underlines my commitment to selecting talented leaders for our organization while achieving a gender balance in the highest positions, ”she said.

On her desk in Geneva, where she took up residence, three hot files were left behind by Brazilian Roberto Azêvedo, its predecessor: the question of the intellectual property of vaccines, the negotiations on subsidies to fishermen and, a particularly complex project, the putting back on track of a multilateralism largely undermined by the economic war between China and the United States. United.

From April, Nigerian urges African countries to agree to pool their forces and resources in order to create their own vaccines. At the same time, it is working to convince the rich countries to drop ballast on the issue of the lifting of patents.

“In the long term, especially if we have to live with this virus [le Covid-19] for several years, we need to have a global vaccine production base that is more geographically diverse, she argued last May. The fact that Africa has less than 0.2% of global production capacity will not contribute to supply resilience. But nearly ten months after having started this fight, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala can only note that the negotiations are “blocked” on this point.

Makhtar Diop, the “right choice” at IFC

Senegalese Makhtar Diop is the first sub-Saharan leader at the helm of IFC, a subsidiary of the World Bank group dedicated to the private sector.

Senegalese Makhtar Diop is the first sub-Saharan leader at the helm of IFC, a subsidiary of the World Bank group dedicated to the private sector. © Bruno Levy for JA

Right choice, right time “(” The right choice at the right time “). The congratulatory message sent by Rwandan Donald Kaberuka, former president of the African Development Bank, to Makhtar Diop, when his appointment at the head of the International Finance Corporation (IFC, a subsidiary of the World Bank which intervenes in the private sector ) had the merit of conciseness. But it summed up the mindset of a large part of the African financial nomenklatura.

The first African to take the reins of the organization, the 60-year-old Senegalese economist took over from Frenchman Philippe Le Houérou on March 1, aftera particularly difficult selection process. No less than a hundred candidates flocked to the gate, including some heavyweights, Cameroonian economist Vera Songwe to the Ivorian minister Thierry tanoh, both former IFC, through the Franco-Ivorian Tidjane Thiam or the former Togolese Prime Minister Gilbert houngbo.

Former Senegalese Minister of Finance (2000-2011), Makhtar Diop was the first French-speaking African to be appointed Vice-President of the World Bank in charge of Africa. In 2014, he launched into the race to take over the management of the African Development Bank, before finally stepping down, leaving a boulevard to Nigerian Akinwumi Adesina.

At the head of the IFC, Makhtar Diop has an emergency: “Do everything to revive the economic machine, in particular in Africa, the continent most affected by the crisis [du Covid-19] “. In the interview that the Senegalese gave to Young Africa last July, the head of the IFC detailed what he calls his “strategy 3.0”, consisting not of focusing on financially viable operations, but of going “well beyond”, by pushing the international private sector “To invest where it does not exist”. The goal ? “To create new markets”.

Another project on which Makhtar Diop intends to work during his mandate, the promotion of “green” investments. “Trying to create economic opportunities without simultaneously fighting climate change is like trying to paddle a boat without an oar. It’s possible. But I don’t think you are going very far ”, he insisted again in a interview given to Financial Times, last December 17th.

Lazare Eloundou Assomo, the protection of world heritage

Lazare Eloundou Assomo, the first African to head the Unesco World Heritage Center.

Lazare Eloundou Assomo, the first African to head the Unesco World Heritage Center. © DR / Unesco

The end of the year 2021 will have been marked by an avalanche of good news from Unesco headquarters in Paris. The inscription in the intangible heritage of humanity of Senegalese tieboudiene, Malian m’bolon and the rumba of the two Congos have been hailed as a source of pride on the continent.

Another announcement, in early December, had less echo with the general public. It nonetheless has an equally strong symbolic value: the arrival of Cameroonian Lazare Eloundou Assomo, 53, as director of the World Heritage Center of the UN institution. He is the first African to have been appointed to this strategic post for the preservation and promotion of exceptional sites on the continent.

Trained in architecture in France, in Clermont-Ferrand then in Grenoble, he began his career as an associate researcher at the International Center for Earth Construction of the Grenoble School of Architecture, working to preserve traditional habitat. mousgoum, in northern Cameroon. His career led him to work in Eritrea, Benin – on the restoration of the royal palaces of Abomey – or in Mali, where he participated in the reconstruction project of Tombouctou mausoleums destroyed by jihadists.

At the head of the World Heritage Center, this enthusiast who claims to have Nelson Mandela as a model, intends to give pride of place to a continent too long forgotten in this area. “Africa is the cradle of humanity. It has a lot of cultural and natural sites that are important, insisted Lazare Elououndo Assomo, questioned by the Guardian, December 20. But some categories of sites in Africa are not necessarily the same type as those found in other regions. “

Mobilizing our efforts to safeguard World Heritage sites on the continent must be a priority

In this fight, if the preservation of architectural sites is one of his priorities, there is another that the Cameroonian intends to place at the top of his agenda: the preservation of exceptional natural sites, while a race against time is committed to environmental issues. “Africa is today at the forefront of the effects of climate change. Mobilizing our efforts to safeguard World Heritage sites on the continent must be a priority. “

The coming year will also mark the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the World Heritage Convention. “The opportunity for a major retrospective but also for a collective reflection on the best ways to make our approach prosper for the next fifty years”, declared Lazare Elououndo Assomo.


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