By Bade Adebolu (Opinion)
In 2012, when former Nigerian Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr. (Mrs) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala signified her intention to run for the World Bank presidency, there was a quake – she was endorsed by a majority of the emerging economies.
As a matter of fact, she was the candidate of the African continent as they had put forward her name as the best qualified candidate to represent Africa and challenge the West.
She was the most qualified candidate, having worked at the World Bank for decades, including a stint as its second in command. The only country that stood her way was the United States which controls not less than 16 per cent of the Bank’s shares.
Before I go on, let me present her unabridged Curriculum Vitae for the world to see. Her intimidating credentials include: Harvard University degree in Urban and Regional planning (magna cum laude); Ph.D. in Regional Economic Development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1981; Vice-president and Corporate Secretary and later, Managing Director of the World Bank Group. Can I say our dear Okonjo-Iweala is over-qualified for this job?
The US and allies took notice of this, as well as respected media organisations such as the New York Times, The Economist and UK Guardian which paid glowing tributes to her and urged the World Bank’s board to take a serious look at her, as they juxtaposed her candidature with those of Ocampo of Colombia and Kim who was the choice of the United States of America. Her appeal to reason to the United States fell on deaf ears.
She was endorsed by over 30 former staffers who wrote an open letter praising her deep experience in international and national issues in economic management. On paper, her opponents – the Colombian Jose Antonio Ocampo and the Korean American, Dr. Jim Yong Kim stood no chance against her. Ocampo stepped down and endorsed her, leaving her to slug it with Dr. Kim, who later won.
Why a liberal country like the US will support a less qualified candidate with no demonstrable experience like Dr. Jim Yong Kim, a medical practitioner, against Dr. Okonjo-Iweala still baffles rational minds. To some of us, Kim’s victory stood merit and competence on their head. It also institutionalised and glorified nepotism. With America’s might and anointing on Kim, the result was out before the voting.
But the media and the world, especially the developing nations, were agog and chorused for Ngozi. She lost gallantly.
But the world has learnt a lesson: who backs you up signposts your success or failure. You can’t be nominated by America and lose to a third world nominee even if you are a world-class economist like Okonjo-Iweala. Only in this world will a low-rated medical personnel defeat an economist in a contest for the World Bank presidency.
She lost out gallantly and even made a point in the process. It was the first time in the World Bank’s history that the United States’ hold on the position was challenged. Okonjo-Iweala congratulated Kim and said the competition had led to “important victories” for developing nations, which have increasingly pushed for more say at both institutions. Still, she said more effort was needed to end the “unfair tradition” that ensured Washington’s dominance of the global development lender.
It didn’t take long before Kim’s incompetence began to show. The recent poor handling of staff relations in the Bank is one of the reasons Kim should not be trusted for the position.
He seems more like a stranger to the Bank he is supposed to preside over. He lacks the requisite administrative skills needed to manage one of the most robust institutions in the world.
It takes more than just academic brilliance to handle sensitive issues like human relations in the Bank. This would have been better handled by Okonjo-Iweala if the US had supported her.
The embarrassment the administration has caused the Bank would have been avoided with Okonjo-Iweala at the helm of affairs. She is no stranger to the Bank. Okonjo-Iweala who has worked as the Bank’s Managing Director would have understood the inner workings of the Bank better than an outsider. The Obama administration can still undo this error by sticking to reason in the future. This is my stand!