World Bank’s Presidency; Whence the Contest? By Issa Aremu



After the American Dr Jim Yong Kim has emerged as the new President of the World Bank Group, the interest of yours truly remains as usual; academic! Anybody from the outer space, (certainly not this our planet,) reading the statement of the finance Minister Ngozi Iweala ostensibly congratulating the American Dr Jim Yong Kim “on his emergence as President of the World Bank Group” would readily salute her for some spirit of sportsmanship in a contest she seems to have lost out. But was there a really contest in the first place? Was there a “battle” for the post of the President of International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), otherwise known as the World Bank as we have been made to believe?

The truth of the matter is that there was never a contest, no less a contestant from Africa for the post of the presidency of the World Bank. I have not read where the AU passed a resolution on the need for Africa to contest for the Presidency of the World Bank. In Nigeria, at no time was there a resolution of either of the House or the Senate or of the Federal Executive Council for a “battle” for the post of the presidency of the World Bank. So where is the source of all the hype for a contest for which there was no contestant in the first place?

Of course there was an open “battle” not long ago for Mrs Okonjo-Iweala to return from the same World Bank to take up an expanded position as Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance. The then World Bank President Robert Zoellick had said in a statement that; “Her desire to serve her country is truly a big loss for the World Bank but a major gain for Nigeria as it works to craft its economic way forward,”. What then suddenly happened to Ngozi’s celebrated “desire
to serve”
her country
when  so soon, she was in for a “battle”” to return to Washington?  Will her return not be a “ big loss” to Nigeria and a “major gain” for World Bank? Is anybody doing the transaction costs for Nigeria? Whence then the patriotism in this global endeavour? President Jonathan was so up-beat while belatedly swearing in Minister Ngozi. He claimed that foreign Heads of state patted him at the back for getting the former World Bank chieftain to his cabinet.

Undoubtedly there were multiple “nominees” for a “selection process” (note; not election process!) that featured Jim Yong Kim of United States of America, José Antonio Ocampo of Columbia and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria. Even at that José Antonio Ocampo of Columbia withdrew from the selection process With regard to the “selection process” Mrs Iweala demanded for more openness. The assumption here is that the selection process of the World Bank is already open which of course we all know remains closed. Students of internal democracy in corporate organizations would hold that by pretending to participate in a well-known closed selection process, Minister Ngozi has willy-nilly legitimized a clearly undemocratic process. Joseph E. Stiglitz who enthusiastically campaigned for Minster Ngozi knew it was as exercise in futility; there is “a cabal” that runs international financial institutions, who scandalously alternate the top jobs between Europe and America in IMF and World Bank respectively. Not few hold that her admonition for others not to “contribute to a democratic deficit in global governance” is actually meant for her who seemed to have given flawed process some legitimacy through media hype for a non-existent contest. But can we talk of any victory at all not to talk of important “victories” from a contest that never took place in the first instance?

It is debatable whether we have actually shown “what is possible” in terms of the future of the World Bank. Minister Ngozi had always been a compliant not a rebel “insider” (with her favoured neo-liberalism) in the World Bank unlike “rebel insiders” like Professor Joseph Stilglitz who had long campaigned for the reform of both the policies and the international financial institutions for which his appointment was terminated as a chief Economist. Mrs Ngozi unnecessarily also makes fetish of “a merit-based challenge”. It is precisely the claim for so-called meritocracy as distinct from democracy that makes a closed shop selection process attractive to the big-players in the Bank, who arrogantly define merit in their own terms! If we are for democratized World Bank please lets insist on that and refuse the wrong temptation of pitching democracy against meritocracy. Are we then saying that the new World Bank President lacks the necessary qualifications for merit for the new job? There is a consensus that people are both the means and ends of development.

The pedigree of Dr. Jim Yong Kim shows that he had more dealings with people than the other nominees. “Dr. Kim is a co-founder of Partners in Health (PIH) and a former director of the Department of HIV/AIDS at the World Health Organization (WHO). Before assuming the Dartmouth presidency, Dr. Kim held professorships at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health. He also served as chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School, chief of the Division of Global Health Equity at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and director of the François Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at the Harvard School of Public Health. He was elected in 2004 to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences—one of the highest honors in the fields of health and medicine—for his professional achievements and commitment to service. He has published widely over the past two decades, authoring or co-authoring articles for leading academic and scientific journals, including the New England Journal of Medicine, Lancet, and Science.” What better merit do we need for a global Development Bank? The narrative should remain focused on the process but above all on the policy thrust of the Bank that came into existence even when many African countries were under colonial rule.

ISSA AREMU ([email protected])

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