International Appointments and Egypto-US Political Magouilles: the Cases of AfDB and the WTO


By Bola A. Akinterinwa

International relations is largely a conflict system at whatever level it is considered. Even when States claim to have shared views and interests, the modality for the protection of such shared interests still differs. For example, the conflict of interest is clearly manifested in the quest for international appointments. Grosso modo, the diplomatic tradition is for a country seeking to present its candidate to do a note verbale, introducing its candidate, with an attached curriculum vitae of the candidate and sending it to the diplomatic missions accredited to it, with particular emphasis on ‘request for support’ of the State to which the note verbale is sent.

In this regard, it is important to also note that factors of regionalisation and rotation are other important dynamics in the nomination processes of international appointments. In addition, at the level of the global community, the principles of fairness and justice, on the basis of the rule of sovereign equality, necessarily requires the need to also adopt the rules of inclusiveness and rotation.

In this regard, the African continent is divided into five regions as per the 1991 Abuja Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community, whereas the United Nations considers the whole of Africa as a region. When it is the turn of Africa to be given the opportunity of presenting a candidate for a vacant international position, Africa is always considered holistically. But how does Africa, through the instrumentality of the African Union, elect a candidate for the position? This is where the factor of regionalism comes into play. African Union’s policy on the matter is rotation among the five regions. If there is vacancy and West Africa is given the opportunity to provide the candidate, the next opportunity will be given to another region.

And more interestingly, at the level of each region also, the relevant regional organisation often makes efforts to have a common candidate who will be presented to the African Union as the candidate of the whole region, and not as the candidate of the country presenting the candidate. The advert placed by Ambassador Raychelle Omano, the Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kenya, on Kenya’s ‘Pivotal Role in the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): A Boon to the United Nations Security Council,’ and published in The Nation newspaper of Friday, June 12, 2020, page 26, provides a good illustration of the foregoing point.

As noted by Ambassador Omamo, ‘on 17th June 2020, the United Nations will be electing 15 states from its 193 Members to take up the Non-Permanent seats at the United Nations Security Council for the period 2021-2022. Kenya will be on the ballot vying for the Single Seat available for Africa, having been endorsed by the African Union in August, 2019 as the African Union Candidate for the position.

It is the joy of being Africa’s consensual plenipotentiary that the Kenyan Foreign Ministry has been prompted to place an advert in Nigeria, to inform Nigerians about Kenya’s intention to pursue a 10-point agenda on SDGs by ‘Consensus Building Capabilities,’ demonstrating ‘objectivity and trustworthiness,’ and remaining ‘consistent,’ in the Kenyan tradition. This is how Kenya expects to contribute to Africa’s development re-strategy in multilateral diplomacy.

Although there are few cases where a candidate in a region of Africa is adopted as Africa’s common candidate and one of the countries in the region still felt aggrieved and went to the African Union to protest by fielding its own candidate, such cases are exception to the rule.

Election Processes of AfDB and WTO
In explaining and understanding the election processes of the AfDB and the WTO, it is important to note in all cases that when a candidate is adopted at the regional level and the candidate is not only presented to the African Union, but he or she is also accepted, the candidature of the candidate automatically becomes that of the whole continent. The main rationale for this procedure is to prevent Africa’s votes from being divided. In the foreign policy tradition of the African Union, the people of Africa must always speak with one voice. However, the problem has always been at the level of evolvement of unanimity of purpose at the regional level. Opposition to regional candidates can arise at the continental level, but such opposition is generally avoided for reasons of possible, future reciprocal treatment. Africa’s problem, it is believed, should be addressed by Africans and African leaders should adopt a common defence whenever Africa’s interests are internationally threatened.

This is precisely what often obtains in the attitudinal disposition of the African Union towards the appointment of chief executives of the various international organisations when it is Africa’s turn to fill an international vacancy. The cases of the re-election of Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the nomination of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala for possible election as Director General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) are retained for special exegesis in this column.

To begin with, the notion of appointment can be ambiguous: it can mean an arrangement to meet, in which case, it is synonymous with a rendez-vous, consultation, date, commitment, etc. It can also mean furniture or fittings as in saying a royal palace is gothic in its appointments. Another meaning, which is relevant to us here, is the act of assigning a position or job to an individual. In other words, we are concerned with the election processes of appointing chief executives of the AfDB and the WTO.

True, the modality for the appointment of Chief Executives of international organisations cannot but be a critical dynamic for understanding the political intrigues that often characterise international relations. This dynamic should always be understood in context, though often ignored, in understanding the struggle for power and influence, and particularly in the quest to protect the national interest.

In the struggle, efforts are always made to outsmart one another. Victory is always reserved for whoever is able to come up with the better or best diplomatic finesse in terms of strategy of how to defeat the arguments of other competitors, how to take advantage of the weaknesses of the arguments of others and how to ensure self-preservation, even if it is to the detriment of survival of other states.

As regards the AfDB, the regulation on the appointment of or succession to the Office of the President of the Bank is traceable to Article 36 of the Agreement that created the AfDB. The Article prescribed the conditions thus: the candidate must be a national of a regional Member State and must be ‘a person of the highest competence in matters pertaining to the activities, management and administration of the Bank. It should be noted here that membership of AfDB is of two categories: regional and non-regional. Regional members are basically the 54 constitutive Member States of the African Union. The non-regional Member States are investors from other regions of the world: Europe, Asia, and America. In all, they are 27 members.

Another prescription for candidates for the presidency of the AfDB is that their candidatures must be deposited by the Governor for the regional Member State of which the candidate is national with the Secretary General of the Bank, for transmittal to the Steering Committee of the Board of Governors, which comprises the various Ministers of Finance of the Member States. The Finance Ministers are referred to as Governors in the Bank. The candidate presents a letter of introduction, fills a Nomination Form and submits a detailed curriculum vitae with the Form. More important, every candidature must be supported by, at least one other Governor (Article 3 of the Rules).

Thereafter, a list of all candidates is established and transmitted to the Steering Committee for eligibility verification before sending to all the members of the Board of Governors. In the context of the 2020 re-election of Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina, the list was to be transmitted to the Board on 21 February, 2020.

Apart from the conditions required of candidates, the rules of procedure governing election also provides that election must be held during the Board’s Annual General Meeting closest to the end of the term of office of the serving president.

What should be particularly noted in the election rules is provided in Article 4 on Statement of Voting Power. The article stipulates that ‘the voting power of each member country, which shall be used in the computation of votes, shall be determined by the Board of Directors as at close of business on the last working day in the month immediately preceding the month during which the election of the President shall be held. Only payments actually received by the Bank on account of subscriptions shall be taken into account in determining the voting powers.’ Additionally, ‘the status of the voting powers referred to in the immediately preceding paragraph shall be circulated to Governors as early as possible upon the completion of registration for attendance at the Assembly at which the elections shall be held.’

The import of the foregoing is to underscore the point that voting at the AfDB is governed by the principle of ‘weighted voting’ in which majority vote is determined by how much a Member State has in the bank as at the time of voting. On record, Nigeria has 9.5% of the equity share-holding of the Bank, which is the highest. The United States occupies the second position with 6.5%; Egypt the third position with 5.5%; Japan and South Africa the fourth and fifth positions with 5.4% and 4.9% respectively. Algeria (4.1%), Germany (4.0%), Canada (3.8), and Ivory Coast (3.7%), France (3.6%) occupied the fifth to the tenth positions as indicated. It is noteworthy from the foregoing that only five countries are among the first ten biggest shareholders.

As regards the election rules of the WTO, the regulations guiding the appointment of the Director General of the WTO are contained in Document WT/L/509 on the Procedures for the Appointment of Directors-General. The document was adopted on December 10, 2002 by the General Council. As explained on 20 May 2020 by the General Council Chair, David Walker of New Zealand, the appointment process for the next Director General would officially begin on June 8, 2020, while the closing date for nominations would be July 8, 2020, after which Mr. Walker will be required to establish a consolidated list of nominations and forward it to all WTO members. Candidates are thereafter invited to meet with members at a special General Council meeting and present their views and agenda of possible development of the organisation.

Unlike the AfDB, but like the World Health Organisation, the tradition of one vote per every Member State on the basis of the rule of sovereign equality, is what obtains at the WTO. The United States has never felt comfortable with this rule. It has only been tolerating it. In the AfDB, where the United States is the second biggest shareholder, it is finding it increasingly difficult to play the piper and also dictate the tunes. Egypt, which is on record to have been always at logger head with Nigeria on the leadership of Africa, is not comfortable with Nigeria’s new candidate for the WTO Director-General’s position. The foregoing is the background to what we have called the Egyptian and American political magouille above.

Egyptian and US political magouille
‘Magouille’ is a French word meaning fraud. Talking about political fraud is also raising intellectual fraud in essence and not necessarily in terms of financial impropriety, money-laundering, embezzlement, looting, etc. Political magouille is basically the use of intellectual skills to create a situation of misinformation in order to confuse, or seek attention and misdirect. That is precisely what the United States has done in the case of the AfDB by requesting for a fresh investigation into the allegations levied against the incumbent President of the AfDB. The position and strategy of Egypt in also raising objection to the nomination of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala by the Government of Nigeria for possible election into the office of the Director-General of the WTO is also to misinform.

At the level of the AfDB, it should be said that the contest for the presidency of the Bank and for the office of the Director-General of the WTO is stricto-sensu, indirectly between the United States and Nigeria, and indeed, not between Nigeria and other countries in Africa, whose nominees are contesting. For instance, Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina is the only and consensual candidate standing for re-election. This means that, in the absence of the United States’ quest for and insistence on a fresh investigation, he should be automatically re-elected unopposed. Besides, even though he is Africa’s candidate, he still remains a Nigerian by ius sanguinis.

Thus the United States is the only country that is openly known to be militating against his re-election and the main reason cannot be far-fetched: the AfDB is owned by Africa. It was founded on 10 September, 1964 and headquartered in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. It has three main entities: the AfDB, the African Development Fund, and the Nigerian Trust Fund. As noted above, there are two categories of membership: the regional members all of which are from Africa and which accounts for 60% of the total shares of 4,374,000. The non-regional members account for the rest, 40%.

On the basis of whistle blowing, Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina was accused of unethical conduct, private gain, being an impediment to efficiency, adoption of preferential treatment, involvement in political activities, employing his brother-in-law as the bank’s Director of Agriculture, etc. On May 5, 2020 the Takuji Yano-led Ethics Committee, which duly investigated all the sixteen main allegations, cleared Dr. Adesina of all the allegations, which the United States contested. If the Ethics Committee had condemned or indicted Dr. Akinwunmi, would the United States have rejected the report of the committee? Surely not!
Not satisfied with the report, the United States wrote a letter to Ms. Niale Kaba, Chairman of the Board of Directors, kicking against the clearance report. The letter is nothing more than a French magouille.

And without whiff of doubt, the opposition of the United States to the report of the Ethics Committee is more political than economic. In this regard, Donald Trump is not to be blamed, but all African leaders. The problem at stake is not election or re-election but the place of non-regional equity participation to which President Shehu Shagari of Nigeria was vehemently opposed in 1981, but which other African leaders felt very comfortable with. African leaders find it always difficult to pay their assessed dues in the various organisations their countries belong to. In fact, Africa’s development partners are responsible to the tune of more than 70% for the funding of Africa’s development projects, why would the non-regional members not seek to control the AfDB?

And true enough, like in Nigeria where people who insist on honesty of purpose, who believe in the promotion of dint of hard work, who fight tooth and nail societal indiscipline, who are not only preaching the sermon of the need for patriotism, but also want a Nigeria that will be truly united and free from all toga of irrationalities and self-destruction, are unnecessarily punished, just for seeking the goodness of Nigeria, it is simply because the United States did not expect Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina to have performed beautifully well that he is not only seen as a major threat to the protection of the national interest of the United States, but why it has also become a desideratum to levy allegations against him in the spirit of ‘America First’ and ‘Making America Great again’ policies of Donald Trump.

First, Dr. Adesina’s High 5-point Agenda for the Bank may be good for Africa, but it does not allow for US influence and intervention controls. The 5-point development agenda is on access to electricity; food security; access to finance via the private sector; improved transportation; and access to water and sanitation. What will be the legitimate basis for any foreign intervention if the continent of Africa is freed from the scourge and shackles of poverty? Without iota of gainsaying, the enhancement of rice production in Africa under Dr. Adesina, cannot be in the interest of the United States. The promotion of rice production puts the United States in the field of competition.

And perhaps more interestingly, the AfDB has become another World Bank in an African fashion. The AfDB is at par with the World Bank in terms of public accountability and good management. In fact, four of the five rating agencies in the United States has been rating the AfDB very high, scoring ‘A’ in many places. This development cannot but be a threat to the US-dominated World Bank. Most unfortunately, however, the United States under Donald Trump, has engaged in self-effacing activities, self-eroding influence in international relations. If the US withdraws its shares from the AfDB, what prevents China from taking advantage of it?

The US strategy of magouille has failed because there will not be any fresh investigation into the allegations but into the report of the Ethics Committee in order to improve on both the policy of whistle-blowing and how best to contain future occurrences of impropriety if any. And true enough, Donald Trump’s magouille is quite special and it is musically captured in Barbra Streisand new official Lyric Video, entitled ‘Don’t Lie To Me,’ which she dedicated to Donald Trump.

Finally, on Egypt’s style of magouille, it cannot but also fail for obvious reasons. Egypt filed its objection to the nomination of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on Friday, 5 June, 2020 on grounds that Nigeria had withdrawn her already approved candidate, Ambassador Yonov Frederick Agah. In its note verbale no. 081/2020-AU, addressed to the Permanent Missions of the WTO Member States, Egypt explained that three candidates, representing Benin Republic, Egypt and Nigeria, had already obtained the endorsement of the Executive Council to contest for the position (vide Decision Ex.CL/December 1090 (XXXVI of February 2020). Consequently, Egypt wants ‘Abdulhameed Mamdough of Arab Republic of Egypt and Eloi Laourou of the Republic of Benin,’ to be considered as the only two eligible endorsed African candidates left in the race, following the withdrawal of Nigeria’s candidate. Initially there were five contestants. Amina Mohammed, a Kenyan international civil servant and Peter Mandelson from the United Kingdom and three others had left, thus leaving Egypt, Benin, and Nigeria in the race.

If history is anything to learn from, Egypt’s foreign policy of always undermining Nigeria’s foreign policy interests dates back to the time of disregard for Nigeria in the making of the Camp David agreement in settlement of the misunderstanding between Egypt and Israel over the Palestinian question. More irritating is Egypt’s role and what she said about Nigeria in the context of the Ezulwini Consensus. And today, Egypt still wants to exercise its own sovereign right, while contesting that of Nigeria. It is most unfortunate, because Council’s decision Ex.CL/December 1090(XXXVI) of February 2020 did not prohibit withdrawal or replacement of a candidate. Secondly, the period for nomination of candidates began on Monday, June 8, 2020. The closing date is July 8, 2020. The General Council Chair, David Walker, made it clear on May 20, 2020 that processing would begin on July 8, 2020. The initial endorsement of three African candidates has not, and cannot, therefore prevent a review of candidatures. If it can, there would not have been any need for waiting until July 8, 2020 for nominations to close. Unfortunately for Egypt, Okonjo-Iweala’s candidature is not only stronger, not to say strongest of all, but has also been accepted and listed in Geneva, and therefore has put an end to the quest for an understanding with Benin on a common candidate.