By ‘Fisayo Soyombo
“With the board of the World Bank ditching a globally acclaimed economist (on the basis her nationality of an emerging-market country) for a health specialist from world superpower, America, the rest of the world will have to see how the next five years play out. But for the essence of poverty reduction, which is the bank’s official goal, we, the doubters, will be hoping that Dr. Kim proves us all wrong.
VENTURES AFRICA — In a textbook case of the West’s hypocrisy, the board of the World Bank rose from Monday evening’s secret voting to announce American (never mind his Korean roots) Jim Yong Kim as the successor to fellow American, Robert Zoellick, at the helm of the world’s foremost development institution.
Economists from the same World Bank have amassed a reputation for advising developing countries to shun cronyism and nepotism, and appoint the most qualified candidates for crucial government and public offices.
In its appointment of Kim, the Bank, alongside its Western power brokers, has implicitly recanted itself on the meritocracy it has professed these past years, considering that its member countries agreed in 2010 to appoint future presidents on the merit of the candidates rather than their nationalities.
This, directly, meant that the United States and Europe would be stripped of their respective strangleholds on the presidency of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Sadly, this is yet to happen. And so it may remain for many years to come.
The two front-runners for the job, Nigerian Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and American-Korean Jim Yong Kim, are two worlds apart, even by the faintest meaning of the term “qualification.”
It is in controvertible that Kim has had a brilliant career replete with some of the noblest humanitarian efforts ever championed by any individual. But does this change the perspective, especially in emerging markets, that his appointment, like in past decades, has been a stitch-up? No. The least complex of all reasons: Kim has absolutely no experience running a global organisation, so he will heading to Washington as a little more than a novice.
Kim, the 17th and current president of Dartmouth College, co-founded Partners in Health (PIH), which has recorded magnificent success in treating diseases, top of which is tuberculosis, in Haiti and Peru. He is a former director of the Department of HIV/AIDS at the World Health Organisation (WHO), and he has held professorships at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health. Summarily, he is the brilliant physician that he has been described to be.
In superior contrast, Okonjo-Iweala has earned global renown as an economist who has served the World Bank for years, four of which (2007 to 2011) were as a managing director. Although she came under a lot of flak for the federal government’s unpopular fuel subsidy removal of January 2012, she is yet remembered in foreign financial circles as the Nigerian finance minister who, in 2005, led the team that struck a deal with the Paris Club to pay a portion of the country’s external debt ($12b) in return for an $18b debt write-off. In the lead-up to yesterday’s voting, leading foreign financial publications, including Economist and Financial Times, gave her rave reviews. Newsweek particularly wrote: “If competition follows normal process, Kim stands no chance [against Okonjo-Iweala].
With the board of the World Bank ditching a globally acclaimed economist (on the basis her nationality of an emerging-market country) for a health specialist from world superpower, America, the rest of the world will have to see how the next five years play out. But for the essence of poverty reduction, which is the bank’s official goal, we, the doubters, will be hoping that Dr. Kim proves us all wrong.
Image via BusinessWeek