John Campbell

Africa in Transition

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

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The Economist Endorses Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

by John Campbell
April 2, 2012

Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala speaks during a media briefing in Pretoria March 23, 2012. (Siphiwe Sibeko/Courtesy Reuters)


The Economist has strongly endorsed Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala for the presidency of the World Bank. The March 31st editorial argues that the American and European “carving up” for the leadership positions at the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund is outdated, and that the poor qualifications of President Obama’s nominee, Dr. Jim Yong Kim provides an opportunity to end it. It also calls on the Colombian candidate José Antonio Ocampo, a former finance minister, to withdraw “gracefully.”

In the United States, and probably many other places, The Economist is a must-read for policy makers. Its endorsement of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is significant.

The Economist reflects a growing consensus that the American and European monopoly on the leadership of the international financial institutions is outmoded. But, in an election year, I think the Obama administration will hang tight on keeping to the World Bank presidency. To do otherwise would hand the Republicans a readymade campaign issue, even if it is not one that is likely to resonate widely among the general public. As I have blogged before, I think the Obama administration will have the votes to prevail. But, if not, it will be a significant defeat for the Obama administration in the international arena.

The Economist’s editorial cites the conventional qualifications for the World Bank presidency: an economist with experience in finance and administration. It points to Okonjo-Iweala’s two stints as Nigeria’s finance minister, her leadership of the renegotiation of Nigeria’s Paris Club debt, and her time in a senior leadership position at the World Bank. She is very much a World Bank insider. On the other hand, President Obama’s nomination of Dr. Kim, a physician with a specialty in public health and a development professional not part of the inner circle of international finance, raises the possibility of significant change in a very conservative institution. It should also be noted that Dr. Kim is currently the president of Dartmouth College, an indication that he probably knows something about leading complex institutions.

Post a Comment 13 Comments

  • Posted by Rra Molete

    I agree with The Economist. Dr. Kim is a visionary and being the head of a major research university is not a bad background for the job (witness Peter McPherson at USAID). However, he has little connection to international finance or Africa. His work with Paul Farmer revolutionized ART administration and is evidence of his ability to develop elegant and sustainable solutions to complex problems. If the Obama had more political capital with the Africans, it might be able to prevail. As far as political ramifications, this will have no resonance outside of the Beltway.

  • Posted by Maduka

    Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s nomination has little meaning to most Nigerians. Her reputation within Nigeria is tied to the reputation of the Jonathan administration – a very risky proposition.

    Right now it isn’t looking very good.

    Her re-negotiation of Nigeria’s debt is history, it happened a couple of years ago. Today most Nigerians remember her role in the ill-advised subsidy removal road show and the fall out from the subsidy removal. (She gave a less than impressive performance during the last hearings on fuel subsidy removal).

    Inflation is high and a sachet of “pure water” – the major source of clean drinking water for Nigeria’s urban poor has doubled in size. It is more expensive to run generators and food prices have risen.

    We’ve had a long list of extremely well-educated people who failed to live up to the (unreasonably) high expectations set for them. There was Olu Falae with his degree from Yale, Kalu Idika Kalu with his PhD and IMF/World Bank experience and Shamisudeen Usman with his PhD from the London School of Economics.

    Finally, lost in all this is the realisation that the World Bank as an institution is waning in influence. The World Bank will soon be unable to compete against the Chinese as a lender to African nations and aid is much less important to the economic future of rapidly growing middle income countries like Nigeria than it was fifteen years ago.

  • Posted by Herman J. Cohen

    Please don’t take Ngozi away from Nigeria. She is just starting to be effective as Finance Minister. She is our last hope for financial and economic stability in Nigeria.

  • Posted by Ace

    NUTS! Not after the Happy New Year tax on the poorest Nigerians. Everywhere in the world, governments are trying not to tax their people. Oh No, not Nigeria. Obama is fighting congress to remove subsidy to oil companies, not Nigeria. I think Mrs Iweala needs to get the heck outta dodge and Nigeria and not bother coming back, even for a visit.

  • Posted by Godwin p.

    I wonder what one who could’nt handle a nation’s economy do with the world economy. Even though i pray that she gives way for nigeria!

  • Posted by Jesugade Ibitoye

    IS NOT ABOUT WHERE U COME FROM. From the three contestants available no other person fits the job like Ngozi. An ecomist, Finance expert and an insider on the workings and operations of the world bank. She is a round hole.

  • Posted by kola

    Iweala ls a great choice but l doubt lf she can win because of the american monopoly involved

  • Posted by Janet Bassey

    kudos to a great woman…she makes me proud of being a Nigerian.I hope to be like her one day…

  • Posted by Zubike

    The solicit dt votin shud be merit based and nt sentimental based, ther shud be absolute independence of candidacy and votin members shud be allowed to make they choice willingfully, Ngozi wishing u gudluck

  • Posted by Simeon Okebugwu

    Type your comment in here… In view. of reasons stated above I am in full support of Ngozi Okonjo Iwuala’s world bank presidency.

  • Posted by obatuga adunboyejo

    Type your comment in here…ngosi okonjo nweala she is fite for the job and letus give her our soport.

  • Posted by Per Kurowski

    As a former Executive Director of the World Bank, 2002-2004, I have supported Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala for the presidency of the World Bank from day one, because I remember her, in the context of a very risk-adverse organization, as a person more willing to discuss new ideas in delicate issues than most of her peers. And also, when she left WB in order to be the Finance Minister of Nigeria, I was much impressed by her gutsiness.

    This does of course not mean that any of the other two candidates, whom I do not really know well, would not be capable of doing that as well.

    But if it is going to be an election on merit it is also important to ascertain that the Executive Directors of the World Bank, and who as I see it are personally responsible for their decisions at the board are not allowed to hide behind the skirts of a “my government instructed me so”.

    For your information the articles of incorporation of the World Bank state that the Executive Director “shall be responsible for the conduct of the general operations of the Bank, and for this purpose, shall exercise all the powers delegated to them by the Board of Governors”.

  • Posted by John P. Causey, IV

    I don’t see how the World Bank continues to function without an American at the helm. It is, after all, funded mostly by the US taxpayer. The unwritten rule is that Europe selects the head of the IMF, and the US President the head of the World Bank. Funding and selecting the direction logically go hand-in-hand.

    Perhaps what is needed is a more fundamental overhaul of these financial/aid organizations; instead of lobbying for surface changes like the nationality of the World Bank President. In addition, as a good percentage of the bank’s loans go to Africa, at this point would there not be a conflict-of-interest in selecting AN African leader to head the bank?

    With that said, as the Economist article seems to suggest, selecting a Nigerian to head the World Bank would likely do more to improve Nigerians’ access to the US capital markets. This would be mutually beneficial, of course. Morgan Stanley predicts that Nigeria will overtake SA as the #1 economy on the continent by 2025.

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