The World Bank Needs Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Not Dr. Jim Yong Kim


American Dr. Jim Yong Kim will be the new president of the World Bank.

While America has the last say on who leads the World Bank, it can no longer be ignored that the balance of economic power in the world has shifted to emerging market countries that are contributing more to global growth, and therefore have earned a right to decide who leads the Bank.

It is no longer one’s nationality which should determine the leader of the World Bank but a financier with experience and understanding of how the bank works.

World Bank and International Monetary Fund statistics show that in the last five year, emerging market economies have contributed more than 50% to global growth. Still, representatives from these nations can't lead the world's two most prestigious financial institutions. 

Under an informal agreement between the U.S. and its allies in Europe, only an American can claim the top job at the World Bank, while a European has always led the International Monetary Fund.

As of Friday, three candidates were successfully nominated to succeed Bob Zoellick, but the interviews will just be a formality and Kim will definitely be given the top job.

The World Bank board of directors announced that “Dr Jim Yong Kim, a U.S. national and president of Dartmouth College, José Antonio Ocampo, a Colombian national and Professor at Columbia University and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a Nigerian national and Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of Finance,” were the three successful nominees.

While we cannot ignore the fact that, Kim, a physician by profession, has been very successful in the health field, the World Bank needs its “own" for its transition from the Zoellick era to be smooth.

For those who may not be aware, Kim formerly chaired the department of global health and social medicine at Harvard Medical School and was a co-founder and executive director of Partners in Health.

The organization began with radical, community-focused health care programs in Haiti, and quickly expanded to Peru. The program executed treatments based on local needs and by training community members to implement them.

By 1998, extremely successful results curing both common and serious ailments prompted the World Health Organization to embrace the Partners in Health Program model, and support the adaptation of community-based care to impoverished communities around the world, particularly success in treating tuberculosis and putting three million people in developing countries on treatment by the end of 2005.

In saying that the World Bank needs its “own” to take over from Bob Zoellick, I mean Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who told journalists in Johannesburg at the weekend that if the U.S, the nation with the largest World Bank voting bloc, and Europe hold together in the wider vote, her candidacy would be doomed.

Okonjo-Iweala, a respected economist and diplomat is a former World Bank managing director who says her hands-on experience running one of Africa’s largest economies, as well as a proven track record at the bank helping nations in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East tap financial markets to fund development is enough to make her the best candidate for the job.

“We’re not asking the U.S. not to compete, we’re just asking for a level playing field where candidates can be evaluated on their merits,” she said. “I don’t have a learning curve because I know how the institution works and I know what needs to be done to make it work better and faster for developing countries. I know what its strengths are its weaknesses and importantly I know what policymakers need. I’ve actually done it.”

Okonjo-Iweala is banking on the World Bank’s 187 member nations to hold true to their pledge for an open, merit-based process.

“My biggest hope is that this will be a fair contest. We are not just going into this saying to ourselves we are already defeated,” she said. “We are hoping that the Bretton Woods institutions and their shareholders will keep their word.”