The African Union has said the replacement by Nigeria of a candidate it fielded for AU endorsement for the position of director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO) was invalid, after Egypt, which has a rival candidate, requested the bloc to look at the matter.
The African Union in February shortlisted three candidates from Egypt, Nigeria and Benin, of which one would be endorsed for the race to head the WTO.
But after Nigeria withdrew its nominee Yunov Frederick Agah, who previously served as deputy director-general of the WTO, and replaced him with former finance minister Ngosi Okonjo-Iweale, Egypt asked the AU to offer a legal opinion on whether the candidacy conforms to the AU Executive Council rules.
In a five-page report sent to the Egyptian embassy in Addis Abba which Ahram Online received a copy of, the union’s Office of the Legal Counsel said Nigeria’s withdrawal of the first candidate and replacing him with another was not in line with the bloc's nomination rules.
Nigeria withdrew its candidate and nominated the other on 4 June, well past the deadline of 30 November 2019, the union said. It informed the bloc about the candidacy in a note verbale, while rules stipulate that the AU should acknowledge receipt containing the date and the stamp of submission.
The candidates were already shortlisted in February and their names were submitted the Executive Council for the endorsement of a single nominee, it added in its Monday letter.
“Candidatures shall be submitted to the [AU] commission at least two months prior the sessions of the Executive Council, which shall consider them.”
Candidates can only be accepted after the deadlines in case no other candidates have been submitted for a position, the submission has been closed, or if there are more vacancies for Africans than submissions received, according to the union's rules.
“It is a recognised principle of international law that a sovereign state shall have the right to withdraw, substitute and replace a candidate for a position. However, that right does not grant the state the right to change the existing rules,” the letter said.
Currently, four candidates are running to head the WTO: Abdel Hamid Mamdouh, a lawyer and a trade negotiator from Egypt, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala from Nigeria, Jesús Seade Kuri from Mexico and Tudor Ulianovschi from Moldova, its website shows.
Nigeria submitted its candidate Ngosi Okonjo-Iweale to the WTO on 9 June 2020, the same day Egypt fielded its own nominee
Current Director-General Roberto Azevêdo will end his term on 31 August 2020.
The director-general of the WTO is appointed for a four-year term, and is eligible for reappointment. The appointment process starts nine months ahead of the expiry of the current director-general’s term.
In March, Egypt’s Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly vowed to make every effort to back Mamdouh for the position.
A veteran trade adept, Mamdouh is hailed for his commercial diplomacy work and negotiations with the international institutions. He was a former longtime director of WTO’s trade in services division.