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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Why Obama’s choice of nominee for World Bank president is odd



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Anybody hoping that America’s nominee for the World Bank presidency, Jim Yong Kim, has not yet got a lock on the job will be disappointed.

This being an election year in the US, it is simply inconceivable that President Barack Obama is going to succumb to the pressure to break with tradition and back a non-American, more so from the developing world.

For Mr Obama, that would only play into the hands of his rivals seeking the Republican party presidential nomination who have been harping on the line that his “weak” presidency has accelerated the superpower’s global decline.

Voting power in the World Bank is distributed rather like a company’s shareholder rights. The US, measured by the size of its economy and “stakeholding”, enjoys the most power.

That guarantees Jim Yong Kim, a distinguished academic in his own right, will become the 12th president of the World Bank, never mind the grumbling from the Third World. Japan has already declared support for him and the expected endorsement by Western Europe would seal his selection.

Which is a pity, since every knowledgeable voice agrees this candidate’s credentials and expertise are inferior to the two competitors he is facing in the race: Jose Antonio Ocampo of Colombia and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria.

Mr Ocampo is rightly regarded as one of the most oustanding development economists from Latin America, while in Africa Mrs Okonjo-Iweala, the current Nigerian finance minister and a former managing director of the World Bank itself, quite simply has no peer when it comes to experience and credentials for the job.

Already, 39 former senior managers and economists at the Bank are backing Mrs Okonjo-Iweala and have written an open letter to the Bank’s executive board calling for the choice to be made  on “merit”. Mr Ocampo, on the other hand, seems to have the upper hand among academics in his field of development economics.

Even eminent Americans who know what the job takes are speaking out. Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate in economics and former World Bank chief economist, has warned that US insistence on controlling the selection process will harm the Bank and its anti-poverty mission.

There have been arguments that Africa and the rest of the developing world should concentrate on reforming the lopsided power structure in the Bank and IMF rather than dwell every time on pleas for their candidates to be accepted.

Even if the formidable Mrs Okonjo-Iweala or Mr Ocampo were to get the job by the grace of America and her rich allies, there is no guarantee of job security if either strays from the traditional script.

They would simply get the boot, rather like the Egyptian Boutros Boutros-Ghali got when a US veto rudely denied him a second term as UN secretary-general.

Truth be told, the World Bank’s top job is rarely ever given out on account of merit or qualifications. The 11 Bank presidents who have served so far have been a mixed bag of bureaucrats, investment bankers and lawyers, and even a politician or two.

Actually, the first president was a newspaper publisher. Strictly speaking, the ability of the person heading the Bank does not depend on his (there has never been a woman) being an economist. Still, Mr Obama’s choice of nominee is decidedly odd: his training is in medicine.

Some reports suggest Hillary Clinton was instrumental in the choice. The job would have been hers for the taking had she been  interested.

But after a hectic spell as secretary of state, she reportedly plans to leave government service at the end of Mr Obama’s first term to devote time to her family. And no doubt to keep a close eye on aging Bill.

Last week’s Kamatusa gathering resolved to compel their athletes to boycott this year’s London Olympics if the ICC continues to “mistreat” their sons.

I guess Prime Minister David Cameroon and the entire world are shaking in their boots and will have no choice but to cancel the global sporting extravaganza. Impunity, indeed, comes in many guises.

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