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Is the World Bank like a Nigerian political party?

By Tonnie Iredia

The process of selecting the next President of the World Bank has reached its final stage as three nominated candidates are being interviewed in Washington DC, from tomorrow, Monday April 09, 2012.  The candidates are Nigeria’s Finance Minister, Dr Ngozi Okonjo- Iweala; Jose Antonio Ocampo, former finance minister of Colombia and currently a professor at Columbia University in New York and Dr. Jim Yong Kim, a South Korea-born, naturalised American who is the current President of Dartmouth College, New Hampshire.

Analysts believe that the contest is a straight fight between Iweala and Yong Kim as Ocampo may get no support from his country which is more interested in the headship of the International Labour Organization (ILO).

Of the other two candidates, Okonjo-Iweala is without being immodest more suited for the job.   She attended America’s two most famous Ivy League universities -Harvard University where she graduated in flying colours, with a Bachelor’s degree before earning a doctorate in Regional Economics and Development from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In addition, Iweala has more than 20 years of distinguished working experience with the World Bank itself making her essentially a round peg in a round hole.

Interestingly, there are many reasons why she may not clinch the post. First, there is a convention of the World Bank which since its formation reserves the post for the nominee of the American President. Indeed, the past ten presidents of the bank have all been Americans.

This time, President Obama has expectedly nominated not Ngozi Iweala but an American-Dr Yong Kim. In other words, the post of the World Bank President is based on zoning- a principle for which our ruling party- the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has unequalled expertise.

Nigeria's Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

Third, there is the issue of a lopsided playing field as the selection of the delegates is reminiscent of the perverse nature of democratic practice in our clime. The World Bank has 25 voters known as the Board of Directors that are to decide who becomes President of the Bank. The United States controls 16 per cent of the votes; the European Union (EU) controls 29 per cent while Japan has control over 9 per cent making a total of 54 per cent of total votes for the three groups.

This leaves the rest of the world with only 46 per cent of the votes. Each time this feature of gerrymandering is put in place for selecting the World Bank President, the EU, America and Japan are always in league to ensure that the American choice sails through.  It is therefore unrealistic to expect Iweala in spite of her visible competence to get any vote from the three musketeers.

The World Bank Directors not being members of the Action Congress of Nigeria who can be made to vote against their own Presidential candidate will be hard to maneuver. In fact to look forward to the Directors of the bank as men of integrity who would embrace merit is another hurdle probably as difficult as when Nigerians looked forward to their Ministers to declare our then ailing President incapacitated.

Fourth, Dr Yong Kim is likely to get some votes from the remaining 46 per cent because votes from Asia, his birthplace may go to him. He should also expect some votes from Africa- a continent that can hardly be united on any issue. Already, Rwanda has declared support for the American nominee with its President quoted as saying that Jim Kim was “a true friend of Africa and well known for his decade of work to support us in developing an efficient health system in Rwanda”.  Fifth; the Nigerian campaign for the post was as usual ineffectual. To start with, Ngozi’s candidature was not a Nigerian proposal.

South Africa and Angola were reportedly the initiators. It is true however that some Nigerians and indeed the House of Representatives unanimously endorsed the candidature of Okonjo-Iweala but there is nothing to suggest that the World Bank Directors even heard what our legislators said let alone to influence their voting patterns. To get the post of President of the World Bank is a major scheme- the campaign f or it cannot begin a few weeks to the selection process.

Our diplomatic outreach would have proactively started some two years back. The point must therefore be made that if Iweala miraculously gets the job, it has no bearing with the Nigerian campaign for it; rather it would be due to sheer personal luck and destiny. This is because all we did was to employ the usual Nigerian posture of not preparing for an event as we do in world cup soccer competitions only to fervently pray for the god of soccer to shine on us.

Of course, it would have been easier to plead with President Obama to support our candidate before he made his own nomination. But then, all hope is not lost as the United States may have a change of heart following international opinion that her unending iron fist hold on the Presidency of the World Bank is unbecoming of the progressive ideas that she would want the word to associate her with.

There is also the growing concern that America ought to embrace merit rather than prescriptive criteria for such an important post. In other words, it is bad enough that the candidate has to be an American at all cost, it is worse if President Obama is unable to put forward a fitting nominee that is internationally perceived to merit the post or is Obama trying to apply a principle like that of our federal character which enthrones mediocrity? His nominee, Jim Yong who is currently the President of Dartmouth College has been a Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

An expert in tuberculosis (TB), Jim has conducted wide-ranging research into effective but inexpensive strategies for treating the disease. These credentials no doubt would command international respect if Jim was nominated to head the World Health Organization (WHO).

The former Columbian Minister of finance Jose Ocampo who is himself one of the contestants probably had this in mind when he told the financial Times that “I think in terms of development expertise, it is quite clear to everyone that the finance minister of Nigeria and myself stand above the US candidate, who has very narrow expertise in development. He is an excellent physician, nobody denies that, but we’re talking about a development institution.”

It is also instructive that a group of former World Bank officials had to formally write an open letter backing Nigeria’s Iweala for the post.  The group made up of 35 former economists and managers of the bank imagined that Iweala would get the job if the selection was based on merit.

Now will she get it?  Well If she does, no problems; but if not, we know the Americans are too advanced in technology to be trusted not to have carried out synthetic rigging.  For this reason, the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) should stand in as our election watch dog. Good luck to Ngozi our sister.


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