John Campbell

Africa in Transition

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

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Africa and the World Bank Presidency

by John Campbell
April 27, 2012

Nigeria's Minister of Finance Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala attends an economic conference in the capital Abuja October 20, 2011. (Afolabi Sotunde/Courtesy Reuters)


Many Africans were proud that the continent fielded a highly qualified candidate for the World Bank presidency, Nigerian finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. By the time the vote took place, serious African observers recognized that the American candidate would win. But, there was also satisfaction that the three sub-Saharan heavyweights – Nigeria, South Africa, and Angola – had come together to nominate and support her.

Much African media seems to have taken it as a given that she was more qualified than the Jim Kim, the American nominee, and that he won only because of American heavy-handedness and because of the practice within the international financial institutions that the U.S. selects the World Bank president and the Europeans choose the head of the International Monetary Fund. This reality many African observers see as fundamentally unfair and unjust.

I have heard South Africans, especially, express the view that there are parallels between the IFI presidential arrangements and the permanent membership of the UN Security Council: both are outmoded, and if they are not adjusted to fit “the new economic realities” – principally “the emergence of a multipolar world,” they risk becoming irrelevant.

There is a touch of irony in the Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala candidacy. The World Bank is not popular among many Nigerians, and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is not personally popular because she is seen as implementing its policies. Yet, her candidacy made her a heroine, at least for the moment.

Post a Comment 3 Comments

  • Posted by Maduka

    The West had its moment with Africa in the 1980’s and 1990’s. It was the only game in town then, and Africa was in deep trouble.

    What happened? Africa was handed over to the IMF/World Bank while the West faced more pressing and promising opportunities in Eastern Europe / Asia. The IMF/World Bank made a mess of Africa through their economic quackery.

    The job of these two institutions since then has been to correct and cover the mistakes of the eighties and nineties.

    Nobody from the World Bank was ever going to be popular with Nigerians – especially somebody associated with the most clueless and vision-less administration Nigeria has been saddled with since independence.

    A lot of the talk about Okonjo-Iweala and the World Bank was just white noise to the majority of Nigerians, we just don’t care either way.

  • Posted by femi

    It seems quite interesting that the color of one’s passport can guarantee employment at the very top in a big body as the world bank.
    Or does merit apply in only some cases and not in others
    All the same Africa should be justifiably proud for exposing this for all to see

  • Posted by John P. Causey, IV


    I wouldn’t say its the color of the passport, so much as the country footing the bill wanting influence in the Bank’s direction. Seems like a reasonable request, I’m sure you’d agree.

    In the current state affairs, if a non-US citizen is at the helm, interest in the Bank’s activities will wane in the US. It will receive less funding, and the US would be less likely to support World Bank initiatives so forcefully. This is what has made the World Bank tic.

    Making the World Bank a truly international body would also require diversity not only in the country of origin of its members, but also diversity in who fills the coffers each year. I think we’d agree that the Bank needs help in both areas.

    The day the US loses control of the Bank, my hunch is that will serve as a convenient excuse for the US to take a back seat vis-a-vis support for the Bank’s programmes, and lighten the responsibility to fill the account each year. There’s an old adage: be careful what you wish for, you might just get it.

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