by Lekan Olanrewaju
In what will come as no shock to most, and will probably be heartbreaking news to the few who had gotten their hopes up about some Obama “Yes We Can!” -style revolution in the World Bank, US candidate Jim Yong Kim has been named President of the organisation, effectively beating out Nigerian (and “sole African”) candidate, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
The Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was nominated on Friday the 23rd of March by African countries Nigeria, South Africa and Angola to lead the global institution in June, at the end of the run of its current president Robert Zoellick. She had initially denied interest in the position, but after nominations were announced she, in typical fashion, rose to the occasion, eventually going on to “rattle”, as the Wall Street Journal put it, the World Bank.
She went up against Jim Yong Kim, a Korean-American health expert who was nominated by U.S. President Barack Obama, and former Colombian finance minister Jose Antonio Ocampo, who was nominated by Brazil. Ocampo would go on to step down, calling the race a “political-oriented exercise”
One of Okonjo-Iweala’s main selling points throughout her campaign was her experience in economics, together with her qualifications. She first worked as Finance Minister in Nigeria in 2003 at a time when the country was $35 billion in debt and she had been brought in to more or less “clean up the mess”. She succeeded in exposing phantom employees and removing them from the government payroll, firing errant officials, and unlinking the nation’s budget from the price of oil.
She is credited with spearheading the 2005 Paris Club deal to pay a portion of Nigeria’s external debt (US $12 billion) in return for an $18 billion debt write-off. Prior to this, Nigeria spent roughly US $1 billion every year on debt servicing, without making any significant progress in paying back the princial owed.
She joined the World Bank in 1982, and climbed through the ranks, moving between jobs such as an agricultural economist focusing on Africa; country director for Mongolia, Malaysia, and Cambodia; and deputy vice president for the Middle Eastern region. She had in 2007 been considered a replacement for erstwhile World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz. She ascended to the post of Managing Director of the World Bank in October 2007, before being reappointed Minister of Finance in 2011.
Throughout her 2012 World Bank presidency, she made known her intentions for job creation, as well as fighting poverty, even sharing tales of her childhood experiences.
She received tremendous support, with the African Union naming her “Africa’s sole candidate” as well as World Bank affiliates speaking out on her behalf, including 39 former members who wrote a letter declaring their support for her and praising her “deep experience in international and national issues of economic management”
Well aware of the fact that the position of World Bank president has always been held by the US candidate, she spoke on several occassions about the need for the selection process to be merit-based. She expressed her faith that the organisation would select her, stating that she not daunted by the general sentiments that it was a “US only gig”.
However, on April 16, the day the World Bank was to decide, she conceded that she did not stand a chance, saying: “You know this thing is not really being decided on merit. It is voting with political weight and shares, and therefore the United States will get it,”
She however said her running had made a difference, and the process would “never be the same again.”
“So we have won a big victory.” she said. “Who gets to run the World Bank. We have shown we can contest this thing and Africa can produce people capable of running the entire architecture,”