The (very unpopular) Nigerian finance minister who wants to be President of the World Bank

Yesterday the African Union added their backing to Nigerian finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s run at becoming World Bank President. She announced her candidacy on Friday, just hours before Obama told everyone he’d picked South Korean-born rapper Jim Kim (now backed by Paul Kagame). But how do Nigerians look at this? Some are puzzled by the government’s silence, and local media reports that Ali Mazrui wrote to President Jonathan urging him to offer louder and stronger support to Okonjo-Iweala’s campaign.

There are also those who would be pleased to see her get the job simply so that Nigeria could be rid of her. Dubbed “Okonjo-Wahala” (wahala means “trouble”) and accused by opponents of acting as an agent for global financial instutions, she was widely seen as the instigator of the removal of the fuel subsidy in January that led to the eruption of the Occupy Nigeria movement (when she became very grumpy indeed, took to twitter and got a bit of a kicking). The poet Odia Ofeimun says she wouldn’t have had to return to Nigeria if she’d been able to finish the job of ruining the economy first-time around when she worked for Obasanjo.

It’s great that a Nigerian woman is in the running for such a prominent job, and I’d pick her over Jeff “Yawn” Sachs and crooked Larry Summers any day. But it’s pretty hard to get enthusiastic about an anti-corruption politician who hates anti-corruption campaigns so much and seem to distrust poor people so much.

What has also gone undiscussed is the fact that Okonjo-Iweala was put forward by a bloc of African “superpowers” comprising Nigeria, South Africa and Angola, which isn’t really such an obvious grouping when you think about it. Sure, they’re all considered “emerging African economies” but they’re also fierce competitors. Has this triumvirate made international diplomatic moves like this before or is this a new thing? What other issues might bring these three together in future? Do the three countries’ interests actually line up behind Okonjo-Iweala’s candidacy or is this part of a longer-term powerplay to tip southwards some of the power vested in global financial institutions?

So what’s the verdict, people? See you in the comments.


5 thoughts on “The (very unpopular) Nigerian finance minister who wants to be President of the World Bank

  1. I’m told Zuma got Ouattarra and Dos Santos to help him sell the idea to Jonathan, who’s currently lukewarm towards pretoria. It must’ve worked, cos the Finance ministers flew out to Pretoria on the weekend to announce the nomination.
    And I wouldn’t place great store by this new triumverate. There’s the hidden hand of Beijing in the background, which is jostling with Brazil over a mini-currency and tariffs war, as well as supremacy within BRICs. Instructive that the Brazilians nominated the Colombian (huh?) the very next day.

  2. Nigeria lacks credibility in the financial world, it has a corrupt legal and regulatory system and I do not believe her being President of the World Bank would be of benefit.

    If she wishes to make a difference, she should start with the Finance ministry in Nigeria

  3. actually, Nigeria, Angola and South Africa share a seat on the WB’s board of directors – that’s the reason they are the 3 that nominated Ngozi. Led by a South African, Renosi Mokate, with a Nigerian alternate director, this new 25th board seat was created in 2010 to give Africa a 3rd seat. I don’t know exactly why these 3 were grouped together, though it could be their relative similarities vs poorer African countries. But I do know it’s led to some consternation among the other 2 African board members who hoped for a more substantial reduction in the number of governments they have to represent – the largely Francophone Africa seat represents a whopping 24 countries but just 1.65% of the voting shares. At risk of editorializing, Mokate is a great addition to the board, as there’s finally an African director with a strong voice and who is well respected.

  4. @Sbongile interesting – do you know what NOI’s relationship w/ China is like?

    @Nirano can’t there be more to life than “making a difference”?

    @Josh thanks a lot for this, very helpful context. If the seat’s only 2 years old, is the NOI nomination being seen as bold or as premature? Also, do you think having to share a single seat has changed the relationship between the three much?

  5. good questions all. in terms of the “newness” of the seat, I don’t know whether that is much of a factor. Renosi’s been there 1.5 years and has developed a good reputation, and board members are constantly rotating (I think there were 4 US directors during the GW Bush years). But it is a pretty bold move, and one that’s almost certainly doomed to fail, at least this time around. I think it’s striking that there were 2 “southern” nominations, including Ocampo who apparently doesn’t even have the backing of his own government. “Southern” EDs have in the past couple years flexed their new found collective power, though presenting 2 nominees isn’t the first evidence of a fracture. How the single seat operates is still unclear to me, though I understand that initially at least South Africa really called the shots. This may have changed with the appointment of the Nigerian alternate director and a couple senior Nigerian advisors. I would add that the seat was created at South Africa’s insistence, because it wanted to be a more prominent player at the banks (SA also recently got its own seat at the African Development Bank), in part to protect and represent its own interests, so it’s widely seen as the South African seat. It would be interesting to see when Renosi’s first term is up whether Nigeria or Angola will lay claim to it. btw, “Okonjo-Wahala” is hilarious.

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