The reputable London-based weekly, The Economist, has backed the candidacy of Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as president of the World Bank and seriously questioned the suitability for the job of President Barack Obama’s nominee.
In a leading article (editorial) in its March 31 issue, the paper says a World Bank chief needs “experience in government, in economics and in finance… He or she should have a broad record in development, too. Ms Okonjo-Iweala has all these attributes… Jim Yong Kim, the American public-health professor whom Barack Obama wants to impose on the bank, has at most one.”
The Economist has long been notorious across the continent for its Afro-scepticism, notably declaring Africa as the “hopeless continent” on its cover a decade ago. But last year it recanted and apologised for the characterisation.
In tomorrow’s edition, it attacks the “indefensible carve-up” adopted since the founding of the Bretton Woods institutions, in which the United States has chosen the head of the World Bank and Europe the head of the International Monetary Fund.
“This shabby tradition has persisted,” says The Economist, “because it has not been worth picking a fight over. “The gap between Mr Kim and Ms Okonjo-Iweala changes the calculation. It gives others a chance to insist on the best candidate, not simply the American one.”
The paper suggests that the third candidate, former Colombian finance minister José Antonio Ocampo, has more qualifications than Kim but fewer than Okonjo-Iweala, and “should bow out gracefully.”
Summarising the Nigerian candidate’s attributes, the Economist writes:
“Ms Okonjo-Iweala is in her second stint as Nigeria’s finance minister. She has not broken Nigeria’s culture of corruption – an Augean task – but she has sobered up its public finances and injected a measure of transparency. She led the Paris Club negotiations to reschedule her country’s debt and earned rave reviews as managing director of the World Bank in 2007-11. Hers is the CV of a formidable public economist…
“Ms Okonjo-Iweala is an orthodox economist, which many will hold against her. But if there is one thing the world has discovered about poverty reduction in the past 15 years, it is that development is not something rich countries do to poor ones. It is something poor countries manage for themselves, mainly by the sort of policies that Ms Okonjo-Iweala has pursued with some success in Nigeria.”
The article ends by declaring: “May the best woman win.”