Africa mulls over new World Bank chief | Africa | DW | 18.04.2012
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Africa mulls over new World Bank chief

In the race to head the World Bank, African excitement at seeing an African candidate pitted against a rival with all the might of the United States behind him has evaporated, but a sense of achievement lingers.

Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala congratulated Korean-American physician Jim Yong Kim on landing the job of president of the World Bank that she would like to have secured for herself.

Okonjo-Iweala insisted that her campaign for the top World Bank post had put a spotlight on a selection process that had "not been based on merit".

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala called for a merit-based transparent contest

She thanked Africa for displaying great unity in supporting her, saying it was a "worthwhile battle".

For nearly 70 years, the United States has always put a US national at the helm of the World Bank and Europe has picked a European to lead the International Monetary Fund.

Since North American, European and Japanese representatives hold a majority on the board, it was perhaps unlikely that this was about to change, but Okonjo-Iweala's failure to make it to the top of the World Bank has still prompted much soul-searching in Africa.

Not strategic enough

Hussani Abdu, country director for Action Aid Nigeria, told DW not all African countries supported Okonjo-Iweala and those that did were not strategic enough.

"Rather than engaging America in a very competitive manner, the best thing to have done would been to have influenced America to drop her candidate and adopt the other candidate(s), which would be Okonjo-Iweala," he said.

Development activists applauded the choice of Dr Kim, while regretting the appearance of a pre-ordained result.

The Health Global Access Project called Kim a "transformative figure in global health" who could bring sweeping changes to the bank. It noted that his successful campaign to scale up access to AIDS treatment in Africa took place at a time when experts in development, including the World Bank, argued that it was neither feasible nor cost-effective.

Reaction in Ghana

In the Ghanaian capital Accra, electronics shop-owner Francis told DW correspondent Isaac Kaledzi he hoped Dr Kim would assist the government so that it in turn could help skilled business people "improve their standard of living". Stella, who has a cosmetics shop, said she hoped the World Bank would make things cheaper in the markets so that "we could buy and sell and get our profits".

Last year the World Bank lent some $43 billion (32 million euros) to low and middle income countries. Its private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation, made another $12 billion in new commitments.

Hussani Abdu says lessons are to be learnt from what he calls the defeat of Okonjo-Iweala. "Democratisation must ensure that the World Bank, the IMF, the UN system are run in a very open, transparent way so that even weaker countries have a voice - if we are going to call them global institutions."

Author: Mark Caldwell (AFP, IPS, dpa)
Editor: Susan Houlton / rm

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