World Bank presidency race: Bravo Okonjo-Iweala
By Chuks N. Nwagbara
Friday April 27, 2012

The announcement of Jim Yong Kim of the US as the new President of the World Bank by the executive board on April 16, 2012 brought the keen contest of who heads the Bank as its 12th President to an end. Barring any unforeseen turn of events the Korean-American appointee, Dr. Jim Yong Kim, will lead the Bank from July 2012 – June 2017.

The chances of the first non-US nominee clinching the top post of President of the World Bank brightened considerably in the week leading up to the selection following the withdrawal of Prof. Jose Antonio Ocampo of Colombia from the race. By that development, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former Managing Director of the World Bank and currently Nigeria’s Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of Finance became the sole candidate from the bloc of emerging markets countries and developing nations in the race.

This scenario followed on the heels of a flurry of coordinated consultations and decisions amongst the emerging markets power houses such as Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa with other major developing nations of the bloc in the past few years. This grouping had long decried the patently inequitable tradition of the filling the preeminent positions in the two Bretton Woods institutions by a US – Western European cabal. So, last year they pressed for and obtained the commitment of all 187- member nations to open up the geographical space and democratize the process for filling the top positions in the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Hence, the bloc in consonance with the emerging realities and re-calibration of the global economic equation, resolved early on to find and sponsor strong candidates to challenge for the position of World Bank president on the basis of defined objective criteria and yardstick. And, after combing the length and breadth of the globe, they zeroed in on two very capable and adequately credentialed candidates in Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Jose Antonio Ocampo, former Colombian Finance and Agriculture Minister, and UN Under-secretary General.

These two candidates, who emerged from this rigorous global search, were selected because they have the credentials to meet and surpass the specified qualifications for the position by the entire member nations. When Ocampo withdrew from the race, discerning observers around the world felt that Okonjo-Iweala’s candidacy stood at the cusp of an historic paradigm shift.

Her appointment was to herald a number of firsts: the first president of the bank from Africa, the first from the developing world, the first from the World Bank’s bureaucracy, and the first female. And, her appointment could never have been a mere tokenism as her ringing endorsement by the African Union Commission aptly restated her generally acknowledged experience and expertise to lead the Bank. In its endorsement statement, the AU had highlighted her superb credentials regarding her “technical experience coupled to her unassailable records as a development specialist inside and outside the bank in Europe, Asia and Africa …”

.Obviously, the credentials of the American pick for the post, Dr. Jim Yong Kim, a Korean-American President of Dartmouth College in the US and former World Health Organization (WHO) was no match for Okonjo-Iweala’s. Indeed, analysts had observed that going by the outlined qualifying credentials for the post; Dr. Kim, but for the US nomination, would not have made anybody’s shortlist for the job while Okonjo-Iweala would have topped almost everybody’s.

That is in addition to the fact that Okonjo-Iweala does not merely understand theoretical aspects of the sociology of poverty and development economics or the technocratic management of intervention in poverty alleviation and development, but actually grew up in the midst of grinding poverty in a developing country.

Again, going by the America’s own criteria and the World Bank’s guidelines for the selection of its president, which the US and its partners updated only last year; and which stipulated that the ideal candidate for the World Bank post “should have run a big organization and possess extensive diplomatic and multilateral experience”; the US and her allies should have cast their votes for Okonjo-Iweala. By her antecedents as No. 2 in the World Bank and two-time responsibilities in Nigeria as Minister with multiple portfolios which cover finance, development and tackling of corruption; Okonjo-Iweala has much better credentials than the American nominee, Jim Yong Kim.

However, in the battle for the World Bank head, the US and her European allies and Japan that control 54% of the voting rights shamelessly deployed them to thwart the aspirations of the rest of the world. This clearly showed that the US and her allies were not willing and ready to uphold their internationalist commitments and support meritocracy which they have always claimed to be at the core of their national credos.

The future will prove that they are on the wrong side of the tide of history. Allowing the obviously superior candidacy of Okonjo-Iweala to sail through was the one step which these Western nations needed to take in order to re-engineer the World Bank’s legitimacy and relevance in the eyes of the poorest countries of the world. Now, these countries may begin to see the World Bank as ‘their bank’ and begin to look towards alternative sources of development finance such as private markets and China, thereby spelling doom for the future of the Bank, and leading to a waning of Western influence around the world.

Okonjo-Iweala has proved to be not just a competent technocrat and manager of men and resources but has earned respect and plaudits as an admirable diplomat and catalyst of global development. She alone had outlined a compelling vision to re-invent the Bank and reinforce its relevance in the present rapidly changing world. The whole world knows that the whole process was neither democratic nor merit-based despite the claims of the US President, Barack Obama, in hailing Dr. Kim a few hours after his announcement.

In a swift riposte the South African Finance Minister, Pravin Gordhan, urged a “look beyond the verbiage of democracy and the claims to democratic process and ask whether in substantive terms the institution has met the democratic test”? Of course, the answer is no. And, in her concession statement Okonjo-Iweala lucidly alluded as much when she said that “with regard to the process, it is clear that we need to make it more open, transparent and merit-based. We need to make sure that we do not contribute to a democratic deficit in global governance”

After the initial disappointment and indignation of their dashed hopes following the Bank board’s announcement of Dr. Kim as the new president, many Nigerians have decided to look on things with braver eyes and optimism. They feel that the world’s loss should be Nigeria’s gain. In the words of Engr. John Ezeoma, managing director of Rohi Nig. Ltd., a firm of chartered engineers; “Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has intimidating credentials which should have earned her the job had she the right (read American) passport. We are so proud of her. Indeed, it’s bravo because she put up a very brave effort and led the developing to challenge an unjust order”.

But, now that things have turned out this way, Nigerian with one accord are calling on our Coordinating Minister of the economy and Minister of Finance to focus all her energies, passion, proficiency, commitment expertise, and experience on rolling back poverty at home and transforming our nation’s economy into a world beater. Yes, we can!

Nwagbara is a visiting member of The Sun Editorial Board.

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