African viewpoint: Banking on change?

 
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in March 2012 Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala could make history on two counts

In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, writer Sola Odunfa considers whether the US has the stomach for change on the global financial front.

In the next few weeks a new president will be announced for World Bank in Washington DC.

Ordinarily this should not be something that excites anybody outside the inner recesses of governments.

But this time it does - because it offers an opportunity for historic changes.

Firstly, it gives the possibility of having the first non-American as president in the history of the institution.

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We are not asking the US not to compete, we are just asking for a level playing field where candidates can be evaluated on their merits”

End Quote Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

And that possibility is strong, considering that the most outstanding candidate, technically, for the position is an African.

Secondly, that candidate is a woman - Nigeria's Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former vice-president of the bank.

She is jointly nominated by Angola, South Africa and Nigeria and sponsored by the African Union (AU).

The two other candidates are Jose Antonio Ocampo, Colombia's former finance minister and university professor - nominated by Brazil; and Jim Yong Kim, a doctor and leading UN health official - nominated by US President Barack Obama.

The presidency of World Bank has been exclusive to the United States since it was founded in 1944 - and has never been held by a woman.

Although the office is filled by election, the process is weighted in favour of the major economic powers, just as free, fair and democratic elections in many African countries are programmed to favour particular parties or ethnic groups.

Swallowing the medicine

Uncle Sam, being the largest contributor to the bank's funds, has about 16% of all votes in its hat.

Added to those of its traditional European allies, the votes give its candidate an unassailable advantage.

US President Barack Obama (R) introduces Dartmouth College President Jim Yong Kim (C) as his nominee to be the next president of the World Bank, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington on 23 March 2012 US President Barack Obama favours Jim Yong Kim (C) for the World Bank position

Whenever the coast is stormy US officials dip into their diplomatic hat and wave a warning to everyone that if the American candidate loses there will be no guarantee that the US Congress will continue to fund the bank.

But after having produced the bank's first 11 successive presidents, America is now under increased pressure to support the election of the 12th from a developing nation.

This time other countries are hoping that they can persuade the US to subtly allow the selection to be based on merit, arguing it would be in America's own interest to have a better-performing bank - and, in exchange, secure future political support in other areas.

Proponents of this idea say such a change has the potential of making the bank more responsive to its founding objectives.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi says even the acceptance of the candidature of Africa's Ms Okonjo-Iweala is "clear evidence that the bank is prepared to embrace a paradigm change from perceptions that have not been of benefit to the global economy".

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There is a tradition amongst the Hausa of northern Nigeria that when you offer them a drug for an ailment they ask if you have administered it on yourself”

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And the lady herself says "we are not asking the US not to compete, we are just asking for a level playing field where candidates can be evaluated on their merits".

The two other candidates are not without merit.

Dr Kim, a former director in the HIV department at the World Health Organization, delivered life-saving anti-retroviral drugs to three million people in poor countries within three years.

Professor Ocampo's stint as Colombia's finance minister was highly regarded.

However, neither has Ms Okonjo-Iweala's international economic exposure - and she is the only woman.

There is a tradition amongst the Hausa of northern Nigeria that when you offer them a drug for an ailment they ask if you have administered it on yourself.

That way they determine your knowledge of their ailment, the drug's potency and its side effects.

Of the three candidates, Ms Okonjo-Iweala has been a participant at some level in the formulation of World Bank policies, an executor of those policies in a debtor country and a victim of the side effects.

If you would like to comment on Sola Odunfa's latest column, please use the form below.

 

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  • rate this
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    Comment number 43.

    The entire human race is maturing faster than ever though we may not be aware that these changes are the beginning of better future. To think of appointing the world bank president by merit not by nationality is a great sign of positive future.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 42.

    I should think first she resign from the corrupt association before deciding to honor other positions. You can't be between cold and hot water at same time.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 41.

    @polcirkel
    Check this out..
    ''seven Israelis suspected of scamming tens of millions of dollars from U.S. pensioners in a so-called "Nigerian scam" can be extradited to the United States to face trial there, the Jerusalem District Court ruled on Wednesday''. Read your News my friend...check the latest news from....haaretz.com

  • rate this
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    Comment number 40.

    no. 39 Playmapart alleges that majority of scam emails actually came from Israel.

    Proved by who - Hamas and Hezbollah?
    Source and reliability please, otherwise its just a load of guff.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 39.

    @ProudZim You may also ask, what are the British, Indian and Chinese doing in Zimbabwe. If there is so rule of law in Zimbabwe, how come, the white farmers were attacked and their farms taken forcefully, without going to court..All victims of fraud or scam, were either greedy or an accomplice of the crimes. Besides, It was recently proved that majority of scam emails actually came from Israel.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 38.

    Win or lose, the woman has given all well meaning Africans reason to be proud! A fellow African once asked me,' where do Nigerians get their self confidence from?' May we continue to confound our detractors. For every scamster Nigerian, there are 200 or more honest, hardworking, God fearing Nigerians. Should she not get this job, the World Bank's loss could be 9ja's gain. Viva Africa!

  • rate this
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    Comment number 37.

    @MrJHChase/Bello/Playmapart Nobody hates Nigerians, it just happens that the majority we come across tend to be into fraud and try to cheat the systems wherever, that is where the problem is. and there is rule of law in Zimbabwe, ask the Nigerians there who have tried comiting corruption like they do in Nigeria. and what are they doing in a country with no r.of.l like Zimbabwe??????

  • rate this
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    Comment number 36.

    It is unfortunate that we (Nigerians) have suddenly realised the importance of merit. What happened when we had similar opportunity in April 2011 - sentiment. Yes, Mrs Okonjo-Iweala is eminently qualified to head the Word Bank but can we give her like, same opportunity back home. Shame to a nation of hipocrites.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 35.

    The debate has been abt the nationalities of WB presidential aspirants & not on the impact of WB itself. For starters, WB & IMF were set up to keep financial tab on poor nations. Check how much of WB & IMF loans end up in the pockets of Multinationals from the West. A large part of the rest ends in Swiss accounts owned by corrupt rulers. WB presidents are incapable of changing this trend. Simple

  • rate this
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    Comment number 34.

    I am totally in the dark as to what Ms Ngozi Okonjo-Iwaela's mission will be in the World Bank. As I recall, she is currently Nigeria's Finance minister and her performance has fallen way short of being stellar. What contribution has she made so far in Nigeria? I believe she needs to stay put in Nigeria and help the Country through this economic downturn.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 33.

    I never realised that Nigerians are hated this much especially by fellow Africans. I could have understood it if the likes of ProudZim are from a country where there is rule of law and a regard for human rights. Zimbabwe is clearly not such a country.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 32.

    Please let us be frank and sincere to ourselves! If she is contesting based on her performance as Nigerian Finance minister than is doomed to loose it, but, if she is contesting based on her performance as former vise president of world bank, than, she has to run back to America, which she used to ride to that position. This is the simplest fact, but I know it will be bitter for some.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 31.

    How is she the most outstanding candidate, technically? She is very qualified and so are the two other nominees.

    If the position is contested (which will be a bad precedent), Kim, the American nominee will win. He can count on the support of North America, Europe and Asia.

    Considering Kim's track record managing the WHO's AIDS/HIV program, he is a brilliant choice.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 30.

    @ProudZim, you've failed to read the hundreds of needless foul comments [read all the comments] used to denounce Nigerians at the end of the article. Now, what has those hating comments got to do with the story; nothing? That's my point. Ah! Why don't you reread my last comment (last sentence) or go back and view the article and comments again before you open your trap?

  • rate this
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    Comment number 29.

    Bello you do not understand what that article is about. That article is about Zimbabwe enforcing its immigration laws like any other country. We cannot allow Nigerians (or) other countries nationals getting into marriages of convince and committing crimes in our country the law takes its course, and in Zimbabwe there is no 2 ways on that.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 28.

    @Bello: If I were you, I would not even blink a second over comments from 5th African eleven country like Zimbabwe, Is Jose Antonio Ocampo not from Colombia, where criminality and hard drugs are more prominent? Nigeria in Africa is like Britain in Europe. Many European countries hate Britain with a passion, because of her worldwide influence in Finance, economy and politics, despite her size.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 27.

    @Kingsley O, I agree that Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s candidacy for the World Bank president should NOT be viewed negatively because she's Nigerian. However, the 'Nigeria haters' are real. Check out the news link and see how just one of the dozens of African countries despise Nigeria; read all the comments, too.
    http://www.newzimbabwe.com/news-7462-Nigerians+protest+over+mistreatment/news.aspx

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 26.

    @Desiderius Erasmus:It is not enough to continue to refer to africans as corrupt, without making reference to the continent(s) that colonised, plundered resources and dehumanised africans for more than 300 years. The same continent(s) are still aiding and abetting Corruption from africa by actively participating, keeping the stolen money and also supplying arms to rebels to cause instability.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 25.

    Does the opinion of all the haters matter? I dont think so. Mrs Okonjo Iwuala was endorsed by respected world tabloids, including the FT of London, the economist, the NY Times and 39 former vice presidents of world Bank. She is the 87th most powerful woman in the world. she had already made her mark in the world stage, World Bank presidency or not. The haters can continue to have a field day.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 24.

    @Kingsley O. You do need not stress yourself much about the Nigerian haters. Nigerians have always been the achitect of the country's failure. The world press never focussed on Nigerian corruption index, until when Abacha called the world press conference and launched the war against corruption. In the 60s, the American never went to the moon, but they blew their trumpet and lied to everyone.

 

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