Nigeria: Finance Minister's World Bank Chances Slim
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala IMF Chairman to be
What are the chances of Nigerian-born Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala becoming the next World Bank president? The answer: very slim.
Though South Africa and Angola have declared support for her candidacy, the three leading African nations (Nigeria, South Africa and Angola) present a spot on the World Bank board of directors. Other African countries share the remaining two slots for Africa.
About the time Okonjo-Iweala, currently Nigeria's minister of finance, was submitting her application to the World Bank yesterday, United States president Barack Obama was naming Dr Jim Yong Kim, a global health expert, as the US nominee for the top job. This automatically makes Dr Kim the frontrunner in the race.
The nomination of the Dartmouth College president, a doctor and former director of the HIV/AIDs department at the World Bank, is a total departure from the norm. The choice had always come from among top politicians or leaders in the business and financial sectors. Dr Kim has no business or financial background.
Traditionally, the United States selects one of its citizens for the World Bank presidency while Europe appoints the managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Recently, there was an understanding among the emerging economies that the top jobs at both the World Bank and IMF should be made more open and accessible to every qualified person. But, so far, that has remained in theory.
Not long ago, the major emerging economies criticised the decades-long gentleman's agreement giving the US control of the World Bank presidency and the EU, the leadership of the IMF. The Group of 20 Countries has called for a fairer, more transparent selection process for the top posts at the World Bank and IMF; the World Bank has indeed affirmed its commitment to a fairer, merit-based selection process.
In the final analysis, however, it is the board of directors of the bank that will decide who gets the job. The board is made up of 25 directors. The United States controls 16%, countries of the European Union (EU) control a total of 29% and Japan 9% of the bank. So, these three blocs control a total of 54% and five seats on the board. The rest of the world share 20 seats but share 46% of the total votes.
But the US, EU and Japan have always voted along the same line. Last year, the US supported the EU to get Christine Lagarde, then French minister of finance, to head the IMF. Europe will certainly return that favour to the US this time round. And, it is almost a given that Japan would vote for the United States.
So, most likely, on June 30, it is Dr Jim Yong Kim, the Korean-born American, that would take over from Robert B. Zoellick, another American, as the World Bank president.
President Obama chose an American who was born in South Korea, an emerging market. This would further break the ranks of the developing countries when it comes to voting. In an American election year with very hostile Republican Party competitors, it will be politically risky for President Obama to allow the World Bank top job to slip through America's fingers.
Not now that his political opponents have been insisting, even with incontrovertible proof to the contrary, that Obama was not born in the United States.
Among the Americans who had been considered for nomination for the top job were Hillary Clinton, who turned down the offer, and Larry Summers, the former US treasury secretary under President Bill Clinton and currently on Obama's National Economic Council. Summers is considered extremely unpopular especially among the developing countries.
Also once considered as a potential US nominee for the job was Indra Nooyi, the chairman and CEO of Pepsico. Nooyi is an Indian-born US citizen.
Even the nomination and support given to Nigeria's Okonjo-Iweala by South Africa, Nigeria's power competitor in Africa, is the culmination of high-wire politics within the continent. South Africa was certain that the United States would retain the top job, so it would not waste its energy in a struggle.
But South Africa covets Nigeria's support for the African Union (AU) chairmanship. Now that it (South Africa) has openly supported Nigeria in this struggle, it would expect Nigeria to support it in its AU chairmanship ambition. It is not very clear if Nigerian technocrats know exactly the kind of politics at play.
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