Nigeria, South Africa, and Angola are supporting the candidacy of Nigeria’s foreign minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, for the World Bank (WB) presidency. For that office, President Obama has nominated the president of Dartmouth and a medical doctor, Jim Yong Kim, who has a distinguished background in development -- but not in business, finance or politics, as his predecessors have had.
Dating from the era of World War II, there has been a gentlemen’s agreement that the WB presidency is held by an American while the top spot at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) goes to a European. However, within the emerging economies -- and even among some Americans and Europeans -- there is strong sentiment for opening up the process to secure the most qualified candidate, regardless of nationality. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, who has held high office at the World Bank and is now serving for the second time as Nigeria’s finance minister, has such a strong background.
Nevertheless, Kim must be regarded as the favorite. The WB board of directors will choose through a system of weighted voting in which the United States has 16percent, the EU states altogether 29 percent, and the Japanese 9 percent. As the United States supported Christine Lagarde of France for the IMF top spot, the Europeans are highly likely to favor Kim. So, too, are the Japanese. That means Kim could anticipate 54 percent of the vote.
Under these circumstances, why did South Africa endorse a candidate from its rival Nigeria? A Nigerian journalist suggests, credibly in my view, that the South Africans calculated that Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala could not win. But, South African support for her might generate African sympathy for South Africa’s candidate for the position of Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Nkosanza Dlamini-Zuma. A former wife of South African president Jacob Zuma, she has had a distinguished career in post-apartheid South Africa and is regarded as highly competent. But, up to now, Nigeria has opposed her and supported the incumbent, Gabon’s Jean Ping. South African support for Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala could reduce African support for Nigeria’s opposition to the South African candidate.
Nevertheless, many in Africa are looking for an end in Western predominance in international institutions ranging from the World Bank to the UN Security Council. If Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s candidacy fails, with her manifestly high qualifications, it can only feed African resentment at Western domination of the international system.