The Business Section
Nigeria tries the unthinkable by challenging the American nominee for the Presidency of the World Bank a position traditionally held by the economic superpower which also happens to be the Bank's major shareholder.
Although Nigeria's and indeed most countries nominee failed to win, the unsuccessful challenge has raised questions about the selection process for the top job of the World Bank. Adepoju Bello reports.




It's no longer news that Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala Nigeria's Finance Minister and Coordinating Minister for the economy lost the coveted World Bank presidency job. What may, perhaps, be on the lips of many is how an eminently qualified candidate with the backing of the world, governments and leading economists alike, lost a post that was tailor-made for her. The answer is quite simple: international politics. The leadership of the bank and its sister financial institution, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), for 60 years, has been held by the Americans and Europeans respectively based on an unwritten rule of mutual reciprocity. But Okonjo-Iweala's fight to be named president not only questioned the paddy-paddy arrangement but also threatened it.

The first time America knew it had a battle on its hand with its nominee was when a letter written by a group of former World Bank top officials endorsing Dr Okonjo-Iweala against the American nominee, Korean-born, Dartmouth College president and global health expert, Jim Yong Kim, hit the international press. Three candidates including Colombian Jose Antonio Ocampo were aiming to succeed American Robert Zoellick whose five-year term was about to expire. Another group of economists had thrown their support behind Ocampo, a former Colombian finance minister. The 35 co-authors of the letter that endorsed Okonjo-Iweala had insisted that the next president of the Bank be chosen on merit rather than the existing arrangement whereby a nominee by America, irrespective of capacity, is shoed-in.

This was the first time in the history of the bank that a post traditionally reserved for an American nominee was challenged. Although Ocampo later withdrew his candidature to support Okonjo-Iweala, the stakes against the Nigerian finance minister were stalked high from the very beginning. For one the U.S, Europe and Japan collectively have 54 percent of the votes. The U.S has 16 percent, Japan the second after the U.S in terms of financial contributions has nine percent with Europe having a collectively 29 percent. It was assumed that Europe will support the American nominee because of the support given to its own nominee for the IMF position currently occupied by French woman Christine Lagarde. It was also assumed too that the Kim's Asian background will make Japan will throw its weight behind Kim. This was exactly what happened.

Even among Okonjo-Iweala's supporters cracks were evident. The influential Brics countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) which many had hoped would support Okonjo-Iweala's candidature as one bloc did not. All the countries except South Africa supported the American nominee. Aside that 2012 is an election year in the U.S and President Barak Obama would not want the Republican Party presidential candidate, Mitt Rommel, to have another round of ammunition to fire at him by saying he let a confirmed American job go to an outsider. Okonjo-Iweala herself alluded to the fact that the stakes against her were weighty. She told reporters in Abuja that "You know this thing is not really decided on merit. It is voting with political weight and shares and therefore the United States will get it".

Okonjo-Iweala's name was proposed by President Jonathan Goodluck and supported by Angola and South Africa and many developing countries in Africa. Indeed she was seen as Africa's candidate of choice as most African countries supported her. Ethiopia's Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, despite having another candidate, threw his support behind Okonjo-Iweala just as President Boni Yayi of Benin Republic, President Alassane Ouattara of Cote d'iVoire, and President Jacob Zuma of South Africa did. Chair of the African Union, Mr Jean Ping, also supported Okonjo-Iweala for the presidency. Aside the political support, various international economists including the international press supported Okonjo-Iweala. Despite Okonjo-Iweala's credentials and support drawn from across board, many believe she's not the right person for the job. A former managing director of the bank, Okonjo-Iweala has spent all her working life with the bank with brief spells as Nigeria's finance and later foreign affairs minister. Presently she is on her second tour as Nigeria's finance minister. Kim on the other hand has vast experiencewith the developing world World Bank's main concern - especially in the area of public health. He is co-founder of Partners in Health (PIH) and a former director of the Department of HIV/AIDS at the World Health Organization (WHO).



 
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