John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Africa Unlikely to Win World Bank Presidency

by John Campbell
March 28, 2012

Dartmouth College President Jim Yong Kim (C) walks off stage with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner (L) after U.S. President Barack Obama (not pictured) named Kim as his nominee to be the next president of the World Bank, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, March 23, 2012. (Jonathan Ernst/Courtesy Reuters)


Nigeria, South Africa, and Angola are supporting the candidacy of Nigeria’s foreign minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, for the World Bank (WB) presidency. For that office, President Obama has nominated the president of Dartmouth and a medical doctor, Jim Yong Kim, who has a distinguished background in development — but not in business, finance or politics, as his predecessors have had.

Dating from the era of World War II, there has been a gentlemen’s agreement that the WB presidency is held by an American while the top spot at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) goes to a European. However, within the emerging economies — and even among some Americans and Europeans — there is strong sentiment for opening up the process to secure the most qualified candidate, regardless of nationality. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, who has held high office at the World Bank and is now serving for the second time as Nigeria’s finance minister, has such a strong background.

Nevertheless, Kim must be regarded as the favorite. The WB board of directors will choose through a system of weighted voting in which the United States has 16percent, the EU states altogether 29 percent, and the Japanese 9 percent. As the United States supported Christine Lagarde of France for the IMF top spot, the Europeans are highly likely to favor Kim. So, too, are the Japanese. That means Kim could anticipate 54 percent of the vote.

Under these circumstances, why did South Africa endorse a candidate from its rival Nigeria? A Nigerian journalist suggests, credibly in my view, that the South Africans calculated that Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala could not win. But, South African support for her might generate African sympathy for South Africa’s candidate for the position of Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Nkosanza Dlamini-Zuma. A former wife of South African president Jacob Zuma, she has had a distinguished career in post-apartheid South Africa and is regarded as highly competent. But, up to now, Nigeria has opposed her and supported the incumbent, Gabon’s Jean Ping. South African support for Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala could reduce African support for Nigeria’s opposition to the South African candidate.

Nevertheless, many in Africa are looking for an end in Western predominance in international institutions ranging from the World Bank to the UN Security Council. If Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s candidacy fails, with her manifestly high qualifications, it can only feed African resentment at Western domination of the international system.

Post a Comment 7 Comments

  • Posted by Ilyas

    Well, I think Mrs. Iwela doesn’t believe in any western power to favour the top job but God will do that. If its really the western powers are speaking truth and out of sentiments they should allow professionalism and equality to judge the throne instead of always becoming racist

  • Posted by Maduka

    The concept of a “gentleman’s agreement” rears its ugly head again!

    This comment is for you, Ambassador Campbell – you seem to imply here that the “gentleman’s agreement” between Western Europe and the US is not necessarily a good thing, yet you fail to apply that same logic to Nigeria (“Muslim North” and “Christian South” – your favourite phrases).

    The thing about “gentlemen’s agreements” is that they tend to block out very qualified candidates. What applies to the World Bank also applies to Nigeria.

    There are some of us in Nigeria who believe that competence, not ethnic origin or religion should be the primary determinant for higher office. I hope you reflect this thinking in further blog posts about Nigeria.

    Anyway, I digress…….

    It doesn’t really matter whether Dr. Okonjo-Iweala gets the World Bank presidency or not. The influence of the World Bank in Africa is waning and it is projected that the Chinese will be more important than the World Bank to the future of Africa. (There was a simulation by Wikistrat about that).

  • Posted by Channel801

    First, Nigeria’s Foreign Minister, then Finance Minister? awwwww

  • Posted by Dejene

    I think we have to end an era where politicians who are only good for themselves and are corrupt to lead developmental institutions like the World bank. Africa should nominate the right person for the post like one 1) who thinks continent wise 2) who has a track of positive change in the lives of the people in owns country or in his previous undertakings. Politicians are mostly good at securing their position or status at the expense of others. They are not good for others. In this regard, American choice is right and timely. The candidate has good track of changing the lives of people in his previous undertakings which I hope he will maintain. Among the reasons fro the current global financial crisis are nepotism, greed and corruption by the politicians who are egoistic with intention to develop their own personal cult. As African, we should not only take in to factor whether that person is from East, West, North or south Africa and group behind him. The shameful even that we saw in the recent African summit during the nomination of AU chairmanship has not been erased from our mind. This is an indication where some of the African leaders are shamelessly self-centered. As an individual i would like to say that we should look in to what this person has really contributed to the world in general, and Africal in particular. Okonjo has been already in the world bank, but her contribution to Africa and the world poor may not be different from what she did during her tenure, if there is any think that can be mentioned. Moreover, we should not be poletical minded when granting a support a person running developmental institutions. All the support mentioned (Nigeria, South Africa, and Angola) are only politically motivated and calculated.

  • Posted by Maduka

    @Dejene. Dr. Kim has all the qualifications to lead USAID or UNICEF, but the World Bank is supposed to be more than a healthcare provider (although it pretends to be one – a topic for another day).

    Dr. Okonjo-Iweala understands the challenges of developing nations first hand. She also understands the direction in which Africa is heading – there is still an Africa that is heavily dependent on aid, but there is another dynamic Africa that is itching to join the global economy.

    My fear is that Dr. Kim doesn’t fully appreciate that dichotomy, and as a result he may lean too heavily on social welfare programs and healthcare and thus limit the effectiveness of the World Bank.

    Finally, there is a very important debate about what the future role of the World Bank should be. Africa’s largest economies are moving towards middle income status, fifty years of aid and social welfare haven’t led to real economic growth or improvement in living standards. So there needs to be re-look of the concept of “development” or “development assistance”.

    This isn’t what medical doctors are best place to deal with. That is a job for economists and Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is a really good economist.

  • Posted by EMEGHA JOSEPH


  • Posted by lace

    I hope the based qualified person gets the job. In my opinion i doubt whether having WB president from the developing country will change Africa’s position. As for the country’s behind Nigeria’s candidate it is all politically calculated.

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