The Making Of A World Bank President
Even if she fails to emerge the president of the world’s most prestigious bank when the board members meet later this month to choose the successor of the outgoing president, Robert Zoellick, it is not because she does not have the qualification and experience. In fact, among the three candidates shortlisted for the job, she is the only one with vast knowledge of the workings of the institution with over 20 years experience. If on the other hand the lot falls on her, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, two-time Nigerian finance minister, will not only make history as the first person from developing nation to occupy the plum position in the 67 years history of the bank, but also be the first woman to lead the world’s most prestigious financial institution.
Leading western financial journals such as The Financial Times of London; The Economist and the New York Times were united in tipping Okonjo-Iweala for the job because, according to them, she is the most qualified amongst the contenders. She is also enjoying the support of South Africa, Angola and Nigeria, - her country of origin - the three frontline economic hubs of Africa. The African Union, AU, has equally endorsed her candidature. Dr. Bernard Verr, former chairman, board of directors of Afribank Nigeria Plc, said Dr. Okonjo-Iweala had every chance to win the World Bank presidency, as she had given 25 years to the institution. In an interview with this magazine, Dr. Verr said should America and the World Bank stand on its new guideline of meritocracy, Nigeria’s Okonjo-Iweala would win. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, in an interview, had also expressed the hope that if the World Bank’s 187 member nations would hold to their pledge for an open and merit-based process, she was confident that she could win the contest and become the next president of the World Bank. “This is the first time that it is happening, and if there is an open and transparent process, I stand a good chance. If there is no level playing field, then we will see what happens. Otherwise, I stand a very good chance; I have the credentials for this job, and I can only remain positive,” she said.
Nigeria’s president, Goodluck Jonathan is not leaving any stone unturned to ensure that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala emerges the World Bank’s new president. He has directed the Nigerian Ambassador to United States to rally support for her candidacy. “I am firmly convinced that Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s leadership will be beneficial, both to the World Bank and to its principal stakeholders. It is noteworthy that other developing countries, prominent individuals and organisations across the globe, including development experts, national and international media, the think tank and civil society groups, have been very supportive of her nomination,” Jonathan stated.
The worry of many is that meritocracy might not play a role in the choice of the new president. Apart from Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, two other candidates have been shortlisted for the job. They include Jim Yong Kim; a Korean-American medical doctor and anthropologist, and Dr. Jose Antonio Ocampo; Colombia’s former minister of finance. Kim is a nominee of the United States’ president, Barack Obama. He is seen as the most favoured for the job despite his inexperience. America, the major financier of the World Bank, has continued to produce the president of the Bank since its establishment in 1945.
America’s candidate, Dr. Kim, is believed to be the anointed person for the job because of America’s hegemony over the World Bank since its inception. President of the bank has always been the nominee of America’s President. A lecturer in the department of economics, University of Abuja, Eke Chukwuemeka, however, did not see any controversy likely to trail the eventual winner of the position. Chukwuemeka noted that “the US president has not made an incredibly brave decision” on its choice. Ayodeji Soboyede, public affairs analyst, was of the opinion that if the pretext of diplomacy and underground negotiations does not prevail, the contest may be like the Olympics bid which America lost to Brazil. “It seems to me that Okonjo-Iweala is bound to win. As it stands, China and a few other emerging nations are using opportunities like this to break the power of America in order to strike a balance of power,” Soboyede argued.
Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is happy that the emerging economies of the world are supporting her candidacy. “There are many emerging market countries that are very supportive of my candidacy and many of them feel that the World Bank is ready for someone, who understands the challenges of emerging economies and of developing countries,” she stated, and promised to “totally focus on expanding opportunities for growth and development using practical financial tools to create growth” if she emerges president of the bank. “Africa is excited about this nomination; they see it as something that is very significant for the continent because it has never happened before. This is the first time the position of a World Bank president will be contested and Africa is ready to pull together to show its support for my nomination,” she added.
Dr. Verr also believes that it is only a president from the developing economies that can fully understand the development issues, which is the gap the World Bank was established to fill in the developing countries.
This is the first time the bank is widening the scope of the choice of its president to include the developing nations. Before now, America had been producing the president of the bank just as Europe has continued to dominate its sister financial institution, the International Monetary Fund, IMF. Dr. Kim’s nomination could be seen as an after thought. His name was the last to be sent to the World Bank’s board. America’s explanation was that it might find it difficult to convince the Congress to vote money to finance bank if a candidate other than his nominee emerge as president. America contributes about 16 percent of the bank’s annual funding. A consensus among African experts said that America cannot always have its way. Although China, an emerging economy is not supporting American nominee, Japan, another developing economy has lent its support to Obama’s nominee.
As the date for the showdown draws nearer, the support for and against who should become World Bank’s president has intensified. A new leader for the poverty-fighting organisation is expected to be announced when the World Bank and its sister organisation, the International Monetary Fund, IMF, hold semi-annual meeting in Washington from April 20 to 22.
The promise made by the parties involved, America and the Board of Directors of the World Bank, to choose the next president by merit has triggered tremendous interest especially from among the emerging markets of the world. The media is not left out in this frenzy. Indeed, it is one election that has elicited a lot of interests in the recent time and perchance for a time to come.
The race appears to be between Dr. Okonjo-Iweala and Dr. Kim. The third candidate, Ocampo, who was nominated by Brazil, is not even enjoying the support of his home country, Colombia. Dr. Kim has launched his campaign visiting Tokyo, Seoul, New Delhi, Brasilia and Mexico City to scout for vote. For Dr. Kim to win, the US will need to lobby the support of some European countries, which together make up about 57 percent of the banks membership. Okonjo-Iweala is the strongest challenger to Dr. Kim’s ambition. Financial observers believe, however, that Iweala could win; though they said this would take a good deal of effort. Iweala have both foreign and local supporters.
Many people regard the World Bank as a tool of imperialism. The emergence of a non-American candidate would help dispel the notion. Baba Ibrahim, an economic analyst said he has “always considered the Breton Woods institutions as tools of imperialism that could never do anything but deceitful manipulations of global economies in favour of the imperial overlords. I do hope that appointing a black African as the president would help change this notion.”
There has been mounting pressure on Dr Ocampo to withdraw his candidacy so that the developing nations could present Dr. Okonjo-Iweala as a united front against America’s nominee.
Given her past experiences both as vice president and later managing director of the World Bank and the role she played as Nigeria’s finance minister, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is far the most qualified candidate to lead and reform the World Bank. Most international publications have placed her ahead of Kim and Ocampo. The New York Times for instance, while reacting to her candidacy, said as an “economist, diplomat and former World Bank managing director, she offers many conventional qualities of bank presidents.” The paper added that “she breaks the mould as a woman from an African country where she fought to reduce the country’s debt, gain greater access to international credit markets and battled corruption.”
In October 2005, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala led the Nigerian team to strike a deal with the Paris Club, a group of bilateral creditors, to cancel Nigeria’s huge external debt. She was Nigeria’s finance minister between 2003 and 2006. She was instrumental in helping Nigeria obtain its first ever sovereign credit rating of BB minus from Fitch and Standard & Poor’s.
Obama’s nomination of Kim has not been endorsed by the Wall Street. Kim’s nomination has been described by experts as a dark horse nomination and it took many power-brokers and government insiders by surprise. It is believed that the narrowness of his expertise limits him to health matters.
Okonjo-Iweala’s win would be immensely beneficial to Africa and the developing world at large. However, not many people have given Ngozi the benefit of doubt to make an impact in the race to lead the World Bank. In fact, there are those who have judged her nomination as laughable and pitiful from the moment it was announced.
The power bloc under the auspices of the G-20 and the United States of America, the single biggest contributor to the bank, hold the aces in choosing the president of the bank. The tenure of the current President Zoellick expires in June this year. The World Bank presidency is a five-year renewable tenure.