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Africans react to World Bank decision over Okonjo-Iweala

posted 17 Apr 2012, 08:25 by Mpelembe   [ updated 17 Apr 2012, 08:25 ]

Africans react to the appointment of Korean-born American Jim Yong Kim as new president of the World Bank, over widely respected Nigerian finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who was seen as the candidate who would break the "unfair tradition" that ensured US dominance of the global development lender.

The World Bank on Monday (April 16) chose Korean-born American health expert Jim Yong Kim as its new president, maintaining Washington's grip on the job and leaving developing countries frustrated with the selection process.
The decision by the World Bank's 25-member board was not unanimous, with emerging economies splitting their support. Brazil and South Africa backed Nigerian nominee Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala while three sources said China and India supported Kim.

News that their candidate had lost out on the top spot was greeted with disappointment on the streets of Lagos, where many had hoped an African candidate would reflect the interests of the continent better than an American.

"I believe as an African, she also as an African ought to have gotten the position but the way I am thinking is politics is everywhere," said Olubanwo Ogundola, a civil servant.

Others seemed unsurprised at the decision but expressed regret that it hadn't turned out differently.

"We had it coming, she did try, it was a good try but eventually if you come against world powers like that, you have to be very ready so that at some point you just have to give in to pressure from above. The other person was nominated by the President of America, when you have that coming to you... she really didn't have a chance but she really tried and I hope better luck next time for the next person," said Providence Osimen, a lawyer.

With Nigeria's widely respected finance minister, Okonjo-Iweala in the running for the global development lender's presidency it was the first time in the World Bank's history that the United States' hold on the job was challenged.

The United States said the process was open and transparent, but a number of emerging nations questioned whether candidates were assessed on their nationalities rather than on their merits, as World Bank members countries had agreed in 2010.

South African economist Professor Raymond Parsons said the competition between Okonjo-Iweala and Kim was in itself important.

"The balance of power in the global economy is shifting, it is shifting gradually, not as dramatic as some people think but eventually that will be reflected in a change not only in the balance of power in some of the key global institutions but also in the kind of people, the best people that we will select in order to run them. Because what is important now is not that any one appointment should be the prerogative of any one group of nations, but that at the end of the day it's on the basis of the best candidate. That person, that man or woman, who could make the biggest difference to the running of these institutions and to the welfare of the global economy," Parsons said.

In Kenya the mood was mixed. John Hogha, an engineer said it was an outrage that Kim was picked over Okonjo-Iweala who was a much stronger candidate in his eyes for an economic role.

"This is a personal insult to Africans because the Nigerian [candidate] was an economist, someone who is conversant with financial matters. And the American from what we hear is a health expert. So health and money issues, there is a chasm between the two fields. It's also about time that Africans were given a chance to show the world what they can do," he said.

But Clara Lagata, a French teacher disagreed, saying Africans should trust the decision was taken on the merit of the candidates and nothing else.

"Maybe he has the qualifications necessary and if the African, the Nigerian was not chosen this maybe means that he has better qualifications. That is my view," she said.

The United States has held the presidency since the World Bank's founding after World War Two, while a European has always led its sister institution, the International Monetary Fund.

As part of their efforts to gain greater say in global financial institutions, emerging economies are also pushing for greater voting power at the International Monetary Fund.