Our Golden Girl


Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Finance Minister of Niger...

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Finance Minister of Nigeria, 2003-2006; Managing Director of the World Bank, December 2007-present of May 2010), at the 2004 Spring Meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank Group. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ordinarily, the process of electing the World Bank president is as ‘democratic’ as that of electing the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) National Chairman: it’s always a family affair! In PDP, the president anoints and the party delegates endorse. At the World Bank, America nominates, the rest of the world ratifies. To date, there have been 11 World Bank presidents (all Americans) and none has had to face elections. That is, however, about to change this year with the US nominee, Mr. Jim Yong Kim, facing stiff challenge from Mr. Jose Antonio Ocampo of Colombia and our own Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
“You are complicating matters for (President Barrack) Obama in an election year”, was my opening shot as Okonjo-Iweala and I exchanged greetings last Friday. “How am I doing that?” she retorted, laughing. But for someone who had spent more than two decades at the World Bank, our Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Finance Minister must know that the Bretton Woods institution is going through an unusual season that may also become the most defining period in its history.
For a bank whose primary mandate is to assist developing countries in such fields as education, health, agriculture, rural development, etc., it is ironical that its leadership would always be occupied by candidates of the wealthiest nation on earth. The World Bank president, as practically everybody now knows, is chosen through a system of weighted voting in which the United States has 16 per cent and the European Union states altogether 29 per cent. Japan ranks second after the United States in financial contributions to the World Bank and has the second-biggest voting rights of 9. US, Europe and Japan thus take 54 percent of the votes while the rest of the world is left with the remaining 46 votes.
Given the rub-my-back-I-rub-yours that exists between US and its European allies who normally produce the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), it goes without saying that 45 percent of the votes is already guaranteed for Kim. And President Obama more or less sealed the deal last Sunday in Tokyo when the Japanese Finance Minister, Jun Azumi, in a joint press conference with the visiting Kim, expressed support for the US candidate. That secures additional 9 votes for Obama’s nominee.
So, for all practical purposes, the election is already tilted in favour of Kim who may yet secure a landslide if the US gets many of the Asian and Middle East countries on its side, but there are already cracks on the wall. And for that reason, nothing can be foreclosed. Last week, leaders of the emerging economies under the acronym BRICS (Russia, Brazil, China, India and South Africa) called to question the weighted voting system that gave Europe, the US and Japan 54 per cent of the votes in the selection of the World Bank president.
In a statement called New Delhi Declaration, the BRICS leaders were insistent that the current international financial order serves only narrow interests and that unless critical changes were made, they would form a new institution. “The World Bank’s next leader must commit to transforming the organisation into a multilateral institution that truly reflects the vision of all its members, including the governance structure that reflects current economic and political reality,” the statement said. Yet when stripped of all pretensions, what is driving the current anger by many of the emerging economies is the injustice of having a candidate with the credentials of our own Okonjo-Iweala who ordinarily should be the front runner but is not, on account of the voting structure.
There is indeed an almost global consensus that Okonjo-Iweala is the best candidate for the job. From Financial Times to the Economist and New York Times, the Western media do not doubt her qualifications and have even endorsed her in one way or the other: The only thing that stands against her is that she is not American. As Nigerians, that is something to be proud of yet it also underscores the paradox of our nation. One of our greatest strengths today is in our human resource endowment, the talents we have in all fields of human endeavour–talents we have been unable to harness and maximize for the development of our nation.
Interestingly, the aspiration of Okonjo-Iweala has also engendered the kind of continental solidarity (around a Nigerian interest) that we have not seen for a long while. Presidents Jacob Zuma of South Africa and Allassaine Quattara of Cote d’Ivoire have led the charge. Even the Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who initially had another candidate in mind, is now rallying the continent to stand behind Okonjo-Iweala. He said in Addis Ababa last week that her candidacy for the World Bank top job indicates that there is a wind of change in what he described as “the citadel of the bankrupt neo-liberal ideology.”
All factors considered, there can be no doubt that Okonjo-Iweala would represent a catalyst for change on the continent were she to get the job. “An African presiding at the World Bank knows the problem confronting the continent and is therefore in the best position to design workable solutions that will take into account the socio-cultural environment within which the ideas would be applied, using existing benchmarks. We know where the shoe pinches,” she told me last Friday.
Whatever happens in the next two weeks, Okonjo-Iweala should be as proud as she has made us as a nation. She has brought positive recognition to our country while on account of her challenge, the World Bank will definitely not be the same again, regardless of who becomes its next president.
Rankya Dede Mutawalli
Alhaji Kashim Ibrahim Imam was last Saturday turbaned by the Shehu of Borno as the Mutawali of Borno. It is an honour well deserved. I am aware that the word ‘detribalised’ has been so misused and abused that it hardly means anything again in our country today. But in our dear egbon Kashim you find a Nigerian who is at home everywhere in the country, and does not relate with people on the basis of their ethnicity or religion. Oye a m’ori o!
If Okonjo-Iweala Were a US Citizen…
By Odein Ajumogobia
The unprecedented contest for the Presidency of the World Bank between Nigeria’s Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Colombia’s Dr Jose Antonio Ocampo and, Prof Jim Yong Kim of the United States of America, represents both a serious opportunity and a significant challenge for the future of multilateralism in the world. This is because the President of the World Bank has a pivotal influence on the choices and focus of the Bank’s economic intervention in developing nations.
Mrs Okonjo- Iweala’s candidacy, championed by an almost unanimous chorus of support by African leaders, and endorsed by the influential FT and the renowned Economist, must be seen against the backdrop of her intimate knowledge and understanding of both the workings of the institution and the current development challenges that it faces. As she herself recently acknowledged, she is undeniably the only one of the three nominees, without a fairly steep learning curve, based on her record as a person whose professional career over the past two decades, has almost exclusively been concerned with helping to implement the Bank’s policies and programmes around the world.
Undoubtedly, the other two nominees have the requisite credentials and experience to justify their consideration. Kim, the respected Korean- born President of the Dartmouth college’s background and globally acknowledged work with broad public healthcare issues and HIV/ AIDS – admittedly an increasingly important part of the Bank’s existing development mandate, make him a formidable choice. The equally admired former finance Minister of Columbia, Dr Ocampo’s management of Columbia’s economy has also received much international acclaim. Of the three candidates in contention however, Mrs Okonjo-Iweala clearly stands out as being pre eminently suitable to lead the institution at this time.
Further, Okonjo-Iweala brings to bear the additional attribute of gender that cannot be ignored. A woman at the helm of affairs at the World Bank would itself be a powerful global symbol of empowerment for women. With degrees from Harvard and MIT, Okonjo-Iweala spent the better part of the next two decades at the World Bank, culminating in her appointment as the first female Managing Director of the institution in 2007. This was after a four year hiatus during which she served with distinction as Nigeria’s Minister of Finance, as well as a brief stint as Nigeria’s Foreign Affairs Minister – the first woman to occupy both offices. Okonjo-Iweala reprised her former role as Finance Minister of Nigeria, with additional responsibility as Coordinating Minister of the Economy since August 2011.
But of course, there is the history of the Bretton Woods institutions. Since its inception in 1944, the President of the World Bank has been a U.S citizen. Hence the seamless succession of James Wolfensohn (1995- 2005);Paul Wolwofitz (2005-2007) by Robert Zoellick five years ago. Ms. Christine Lagarde’s election followed a similar outmoded and increasingly controversial convention at the IMF, of having a European at the helm, when she succeeded to the Managing Directorship of the sister organisation, last year. Happily in her case, apart from her own broad experience, impressive personal profile and gender, there were no internationally respected candidates from any other regions, competing for the post.
It seems, that it is essentially this historical convention that stands between Okonjo-Iweala and the top World Bank job – a matter of citizenship – rather than a transparent competitive process that chooses the person with the right knowledge, experience, skills and ability to do the job. Okonjo-Iweala herself understated this issue, putting it delicately, when she said that her election as World Bank President would be ‘a challenge’ if the United States and its European allies pitched their tent with historical antecedents. Unfortunately, such a vote ignores the global shift in the balance of power, with emerging economies contributing significantly to much needed global growth.
No doubt, a significant element of public opinion, both within and outside the United States, would also readily endorse the status duo and would expect the US President to exercise his undoubted prerogative to throw the overwhelming power and prestige of his office behind the candidacy of Kim, regardless. Such support for the US candidate, would be seen as a matter of American pride and strategic vision of sustained and not diminished global influence. I would argue to the contrary; that President Obama’s leadership in the last three and half years, is already showing that his strengthening and deepening of broader global alliances, a greater reliance on dialogue and persuasion based on mutual respect and the strategic accommodation of other interests, rather than on the United States’ indisputable authority, influence and leverage, has already made the United States more, rather than less powerful and respected in global affairs.
If Okonjo-Iweala had in the course of her 8 years at Harvard and MIT and 25- year career in development at the World Bank in Washington, elected to acquire US citizenship, the prolific commentary generated by her candidacy would probably have been redundant. The irony however lies in the fact that the unique and invaluable experience of being responsible for one of the most complex developing nation economies in the world, derives from her citizenship of Nigeria, and not the United States.
The developing world will therefore truly benefit from having Okonjo-Iweala at the helm of the World Bank at this time: A respected professional who knows the inner workings of the institution; one who is already familiar with the key people inside and outside the institution based on a long and distinguished career at the Bank; as a much admired and respected development economist and as Nigeria’s Finance Minister and Coordinating Minister of the economy.
President Obama captured our collective imagination with his vision for ‘change that we can believe in’, especially in the way America relates with the rest of the world. The election of Okonjo-Iweala as the 12th President of the World Bank will be seen as a powerful beacon of transformational change for good. The critical selection process of a new President for the World Bank must therefore be permitted to be entirely merit driven. It should be able to withstand objective scrutiny and be completely defensible, transparent and fair to members of the community to be served by the selected nominee; in this case that constituency is the entire community of developing nations.
That surely is the spirit of a truly democratic culture.
Adeniyi is the Former Special Adviser to President Yar’Adua on Communication

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One Comment on “Our Golden Girl”

  1. Garba Usman
    April 14, 2012 at 12:09 pm #

    This may interest you too.

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