Obama names Okonjo-Iweala

Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

United States President, Barack Obama, kept the announcement of his nominee for the World Bank Presidency race to the eleventh hour, as he named Jim Yong Kim, the president of Dartmouth College and a global health expert, to contest against Nigeria’s Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

If tradition is anything to go by, Mr. Kim’s entrance tips the scale against Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala, who enjoys the solid support of some developing nations, including her home country Nigeria, South Africa and Angola.

United States is favoured to select the head of the bank as has been the tradition since the 187-member World Bank and its sister institution the, IMF, were founded nearly 70 years ago during World War II.

But, the three African nations said in a joint statement that the endorsement of the Nigerian candidacy is in line with the belief that the appointment of the leadership of the World Bank and its sister institution, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), should be merit-based, open and transparent.

“We are proud to confirm that the Nigerian Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, will be a candidate,” South African Minister of Finance, Pravin Gordhan told reporters in Pretoria. “She has eminent academic qualifications and would be, I think, a candidate of choice not only on the African continent but well beyond as well. The three countries will lobby other African states to endorse her.”

Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala’s nomination marks a landmark push from developing countries for high-profile roles in international financial institutions which have remained the preserve of more developed nations.

“I am absolutely confident of my bid for the Presidency,” Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala said at the briefing announcing her nomination. “I have long experience in the World Bank, in government and in diplomacy and I look forward to giving you my vision at the appropriate time.

“I share the World Bank’s vision of fighting poverty with passion. The issue is in what direction one must take this to make this the most beneficial”.

Mrs Okonjo-Iweala is a respected former World Bank managing director who joined Nigeria’s government as finance minister in August.

Mrs Okonjo-Iweala’s candidacy poses an unprecedented challenge to U.S. dominance, though Jose Antonio Ocampo, the Colombian finance minister is also expected to run for the post.

Brazil said both Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala and Mr. Ocampo would be “great” candidates to replace Mr. Zoellick as head of the institution.

Jeffrey Sachs, a professor of economics at Columbia University, who has criticised the bank for neglecting African economic development, had also indicated interest to vie for the position.

According to the New York Times, Mr. Kim’s name was not among those widely touted to take the helm of the multinational development institution on June 30, when its outgoing president, Robert Zoellick, would step down at the end of his five-year tenure.

Highly respected among aid experts, Mr. Kim, an anthropologist and physician, co-founded Partners in Health, a nonprofit that provides health care for the poor, and a former director of the Department of H.I.V./AIDS at the World Health Organization.

 “The leader of the World Bank should have a deep understanding of both the role that development plays in the world and the importance of creating conditions where assistance is no longer needed,” President Obama said Friday. “It’s time for a development professional to lead the world’s largest development agency.”

The South Korean, who was awarded a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship in 2003, was born in Seoul in 1959. He moved with his family to the United States when he was five, graduating from Brown University in 1982, and an M.D. from Harvard University in 1991 and a Ph.D. in anthropology in 1993.

He was the first Asian-American to head an Ivy League institution when he took the post in 2009.

While working with Partners in Health in Lima, Peru, in the mid-1990s, Dr. Kim helped to develop a treatment program for multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, the first large-scale treatment of this disease in a poor country.

Kim’s ascension to the head of the bank is not a sure thing. But the United States supported the candidacy of Christine Lagarde, the former French finance minister, to head the International Monetary Fund (IMF) last year, presumably assuring that Europe will support his nomination.

In recent years, major emerging economies have criticized the decades-old gentlemen’s agreement giving the United States control of the World Bank’s presidency. The Group of 20 countries has called for a fairer, more transparent selection process for the top posts at the World Bank and the IMF, and the World Bank itself has reaffirmed its commitment to an open and merit-based process.

In addition, powerful emerging market countries, like Brazil and China, have failed to rally around a single, viable candidate since the announcement of Mr. Zoellick’s departure.

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