Next Deputy General of the WTO: Can Africa do it?

Next Deputy General of the WTO: Can Africa do it?

Phumza Dyani – Founder: Pan African Network for Investment and Development (PANfID) World Business Angels Forum (WBAF) – International Partner

The PAN African Network for Investment and Development, recently hosted a webinar discussion session on the turning point and imminent appointment of the Deputy General (DG) of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The rhetorical question, which Africa scholars, economists and policy makers were responding to during the webinar, was what can Africa do to bring this one home?

To kick-start the debate, Dr Kim Lamont Mbawuli shared that Africa has never enjoyed a seat on the table throughout the lifespan of the WTO and this is indeed a crucial moment for Africa. During her address, she pointed out the period African’s find themselves in and stressed that African’s need to envision a future of their continent as a rich tapestry that truly respects the challenge that exists. She added that there is a need to commit to unlocking the potential and that great leadership is crucial for this stage with moral courage to advance the African people.

Whilst there is excitement about the prospects this can have for Africa on the appointment of a first African Deputy General of the WTO, the speakers also shared concerns on the matters for priority. It is very important to understand that this will be an uphill, as Africa will be fighting for its visibility in world trade.

We must be cognisant of the history, where Africa in all this time, has simply been a provider of natural resources and raw materials for the world to produce goods that in turn are sold to Africans at prices that they can’t even afford. This in turn is the reason why Africa has not been able to industrialise, upgrade its economies, create employment and improve the standard and quality of life for its people. The fact that Africa has three candidates that were presented to the WTO is a concern and is reflective of the fact that Africa is not united and does not speak as a collective.

It needs to be clear what is possibly at play and the alliances that have been formed. We need to be aware of the bilateral trade being formulated between the United States (US) and Kenya, giving indications of which major players may be behind which vote. We need to be sure that African interests are not diluted and Africa’s interests are protected and prioritised. In the same token, countries that do not necessarily have US at heart, may vote for alternative countries. Africa needs to be very strategic in how it applies itself and know where its power lies. It is no secret that Africa is starting on a back foot and needs to do all possible to amass the power of the collective.

What is apparent is that this is only but one seat and the successful candidate will rely heavily on what Africans either individually or through governments will do to support the DG. Africans need to stand and support whatever efforts the DG appointee will be making for Africa. It is very important for countries and individuals to deliberately collaborate and support these otherwise the appointment may be futile. The saddest moment would be the WTO, given all the major challenges it is facing, collapses under the leadership of Africa. What is important to know is that this is a platform for political maneuvering of governments and for specific interests furthermore to identify these interests is of paramount importance. Africa will need to orchestrate the necessary force to access opportunities as a united front thereby promoting sustainable growth in Africa.  This will be an opportunity for Africa to assert itself and its interests by creating the necessary strategic pathways and platforms for access to inter – African trade as well as global trade. The approach is a multi-realism approach to assist in the facilitation of trade in Africa for all. Equally, Africa will need to deal with its domestic issues of leadership and corruption and the collective is responsible for the success of this appointee.

Looking at the historic players in the WTO, Africa’s emergence is not necessarily for everyone’s interest as the world has gotten accustomed to Africa being purely a natural resources provider to the world, but the time has come for Africa to take back its control to navigate a path where the rising of the sun provides tangible outcomes for African people’s resources. The African people need to take back their power through industrialisation processes. Trade must be mutual and beneficial to Africa and its people. Africa needs to make a standpoint on how it will trade with the World. Africa owns minerals and should have a say on how the world procures from it. The message has to be unanimous, that products need to leave the shores of Africa having been developed. The world may not be ready to see Africa as a significant player of trade. It needs to be very clear that this is not going to be an easy role, but a significant role which will require assertiveness in pushing positions that are beneficial for Africa.

Africa needs fair trade and many reforms need to be made to make the trade fair. 

For Africa to realise its goals, there needs to be clarity on what Africa wants and needs from the world and which positions Africa wishes to progress. Africa needs to be specific on the areas of interest as well as intentional on how to participate. Africa needs to decide what the African narrative will be and what role each country within the continent will play. Secondly, Africa needs to capitalise on research and technological advances to leapfrog the trade space. Africa needs to also recognise the power of a collective and use the power of a 1.5 billion market to mobilise power. Africa needs to recognise the power of a collective in developing a powerful voice, including the diaspora, we must ask ourselves as a citizen of this continent what we are doing for the betterment and furtherance of the continent and its people.

AGOA is an example of an opportunity that has been in existence for 20 years and Africa enabling 6,000 products from sub-Sahara, with zero% tariffs with no quotas. The biggest challenge is these were handled as a political engagement but did not infiltrate through to business. In AFCFTA, this should be different, business should be ready to unlock this opportunity. Business should develop relationships in order to enable trade. Africa needs to wake up and build itself. We need to drive for balanced trade, ensure that no goods leave Africa unfinished. Industrialisation is at the centre of it.

It is particularly important to recognise the significance of a woman appointee to the role and to use that dividend to the development of the continent. What is important is for Africa to focus on Africa trade and then develop outwards.


Honourable Toyin Umesiri  – CEO: Nazaru LLC, Honourable Buchi George Esq. – President: Globe Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Honourable Louis Yaw Afful – Group Executive Director – AFCFTA Policy Network, Dr. Cleopas Sanangura – PANFID Trade and Investment, Honourable Rose Ronoh – International Trade.

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