Africa's World Bank hopes dashed as Okonjo-Iweala loses

By Karen Allen
BBC News, Johannesburg

Image source, AFP

African nations have had their hopes dashed with the selection of Jim Yong Kim to head the World Bank, side-stepping the chance to put an African woman with 20 years' financial experience into the top job.

Much of Africa had supported the Nigerian Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, for the role.

But the decision has not come as a surprise, even for Ms Okonjo-Iweala.

"You know this thing is not really being decided on merit," she said before the announcement.

Dr Kim, an American public health professor, was the candidate favoured by the US, which has dominated the World Bank for more than half a century, despite the fact that Mrs Okonjo-Iweala cut her teeth as managing director of the World Bank in 2007 and has a formidable track record as an economist.

But the choice had been more than a test of two candidates' development credentials, the finance minister of Africa's biggest economy argued.

Speaking a few hours before the announcement, South African Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said the vote was a test of the World Bank's democratic credentials.

He stopped short of calling the decision a stitch-up but said he had "serious concerns" about the organisation's transparency.

The South African finance minister had cautioned against decisions made in "smoke-filled rooms" - a reference to the political carve-ups of the past - but said that poorer countries should have a greater say in shaping policy.

Glacial reforms

After all, sub-Saharan Africa is the focus of more than 500 World Bank initiatives and policy prescriptions, and decisions made in Washington have an enormous impact on this region.

Mr Gordhan had urged the World Bank to "look beyond the verbiage of democracy" and effectively put its money where its mouth was by opening up its decision-making process to public scrutiny and giving emerging nations a chance.

Traditionally the bank's presidency has gone to an American whilst that of the International Monetary Fund has been awarded to a European.

African nations are growing more assertive in their calls for reform.

Although there have been changes, the pace is considered by many to be glacially slow.

"If the World Bank doesn't reform it runs the risk of becoming irrelevant," Kusemi Dlamini from the Institute of International Affairs in South Africa told the BBC.

"The Brics [Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa] countries have grown so frustrated that they are now giving serious consideration to the establishment of their own development bank."

South Africa holds one of the three African seats on the 25-member World Bank board.

Mr Gordhan conceded that the adding of a third seat for sub-Saharan Africa to the World Bank's executive board two years ago was an important step.

But he insisted he would be pushing for similar reforms to the leadership of the International Monetary Fund when the G20 meets later this week.

"There's a lot more reforms to come," he said.

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