Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
By Tokunbo Adedoja
The globally respected newspaper on business and economy, the Financial Times of London, has endorsed Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala for the World Bank presidency.
It published an editorial on Tuesday arguing that the coordinating minister of the economy and minister of finance should get the job.
While recognising that the US candidate Jim Yong Kim “could be a good choice” because of his background in health and his managerial experience at the World Health Organisation, the FT states that “the Bank needs more than this”.
“Its new leader should have a command of macroeconomics, the respect of leaders of both the funding and the funded countries, and the management skills to implement his or her vision. These requirements make Ms Okonjo-Iweala the best person for the role,” the newspaper said.
The editorial also praises her “real-world experience of policy-making in one of the most challenging developing countries”, and her “unique knowledge” of the World Bank gained from serving as a managing director under Robert Zoellick, although it admits that “one risk could be the temptation not to challenge the status quo”.
“Having an African woman at the helm of the world’s leading development institution would send a strong signal both to developing and developed countries. … In this less than ideal world, Mr Kim’s appointment seems inevitable. But if the Bank’s shareholders wanted the best president, they would opt for Ms Okonjo-Iweala,” FT said.
Meanwhile, Nigeria has flagged off campaign in United States for the candidacy of Okonjo-Iweala.
Okonjo-Iweala, who was nominated for the World Bank topmost seat by Angola, Nigeria and South Africa, and endorsed by the African Union (AU) as the continent's sole candidate, will slug it out with US nominee and President of Dartmouth College, Kim, and Colombian national, Jose Antonio Ocampo, a professor at Columbia University who was nominated by Brazil.
Addressing the African Group of Ambassadors at the Africare House in Washington DC yesterday, Nigerian Ambassador to US, Prof. Adebowale Adefuye, urged his colleagues not only to rally round Okonjo-Iweala but to also reach out to other countries so that she could emerge as the next president of the World Bank.
Adefuye was also expected to make a case for Okonjo-Iweala's candidacy last night in Washington DC at a tribute session in honour of outgoing World Bank Vice-President for the Africa Region, Obiageli Ezekwesili.
The Nigerian envoy will also be addressing the Washington Business Group as guest speaker today where he would also seize the opportunity to canvass support for Okonjo-Iweala.
THISDAY also gathered that the Nigerian envoy would be meeting with envoys from key developing countries as part of Nigeria's strategy to put Okonjo-Iweala in good stead for the World Bank's topmost seat.
At the African Group of Ambassadors' meeting yesterday, Adefuye read a statement from the AU which noted the unanimous endorsement of Okonjo-Iweala by acclamation during the 1st plenary session of the 5th joint meeting of the AU conference of African ministers of economy and finance and ECA conference of ministers of finance, planning and economic development on March 26.
Highlighting her strong points, Adefuye said among the three nominees, Okonjo-Iweala appeared to be the most qualified and competent to occupy the seat based on her sterling track record.
He cited Okonjo-Iweala's sufficient familiarity with the workings of the World Bank having served as the institution's vice-president and immediate past managing director.
The Nigerian envoy also told the gathering that Okonjo-Iweala had demonstrated competence in tackling issues confronting Africa and developing economies, citing as example a deal she struck with the Paris Club - a group of bilateral creditors - to pay $12 billion of Nigeria's external debt in return for an $18 billion debt write-off, when she first served as Nigeria's finance minister.
Adefuye also harped on her strong academic credentials having attended some of the best schools around and bagged a doctorate degree in Regional Economics.
Her main challenger, Kim, a Korean-American, is a professor of Medicine and Social Medicine, while Ocampo, the third nominee, is a professor of Professional Practice in International and Public Affairs.
Noting that the race would be a tough one since the seat had always been an exclusive preserve of US since 1944, Adefuye said it was high time the world gave Africa and developing economies a sense of ownership and involvement in the affairs of the World Bank and the Breton Woods institution.
Appealing to logic, Adefuye likened the choice between Okonjo-Iweala and the two other nominees to asking air passengers to choose who should fly their plane between a regular pilot that had logged several hours flying aircraft and a professor of aviation that had not flown an aircraft before.
“The choice is clear,” the Nigerian envoy said, adding that he believed demonstrated competence and experience would be preferred above other variables.
US President Barack Obama had last Friday announced the nomination of Kim, who is now seen as Okonjo-Iweala's main challenger.
But unlike Okonjo-Iweala, he does not have a track record of being in the employ of the World Bank.
Okonjo-Iweala had served as Special Assistant to World Bank Senior Vice-President, Operations between 1989 and 1991. She also served as Director of Institutional Change and Strategy at the World Bank between 1995 and 1997.
She was World Bank Country Director for Malaysia, Mongolia, Laos and Cambodia between 1997 and 2000, before becoming the bank's Deputy Vice-President, Middle East Region, a position she held between 2000 and 2003.
Interestingly, the bank, a 187-member countries' institution, has 25 executive directors. US, France, Germany, Japan and United Kingdom - who are the five largest shareholders - appoint five executive directors, while China, Russian Federation and Saudi Arabia each elect its own executive director, with other executive directors elected by the other member countries.
Also, an appointment of the bank's president requires an 85-per-cent super-majority of the votes of the board, and by implication, US with 15.85 per cent voting power (the highest voting power), could single-handedly block the emergence of any nominee.
Not only that, key US allies like Japan, Germany, United Kingdom, France, Saudi Arabia and Italy have 6.84 per cent, 4 per cent, 3.74 per cent, 3.75 per cent, 2.77 per cent and 2.64 per cent voting powers respectively.
Though countries like China and Russia have 4.42 per cent and 2.77 per cent voting powers respectively, other US allies like South Korea, Mexico and Greece had their voting powers significantly increased in 2010, while those of some nations, including Nigeria were reduced.