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"Behind the scenes, a backroom deal could be in the making that would see South Africa support Okonjo-Iweala, in return for Nigerian backing of President Jacob Zuma’s bid to chair the African Union."
EAC leaders caught in global diplomatic dance over top World Bank job
Rwanda President Paul Kagame is in a dilemma over who should replace Robert Zoellick at the World Bank, when he steps down in June. As the campaign to elect the next president of the Bank heats up, Kagame is caught in a complex diplomatic dance step that has seen both Kenya’s Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni play a central role from opposite ends.
Never before have two candidates — the US nominee, Korean American Jim Yong Kim and Prof Jeffrey Sachs — used their experience in helping to fight poverty and disease in East African nations and exploited their friendships with regional presidents to influence international politics.
Now these leaders must decide whether to back an African candidate, Nigeria’s Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and strengthen the continent’s voice in world affairs, or simply flow with President Barack Obama’s wishes.
Behind the scenes, a backroom deal could be in the making that would see South Africa support Okonjo-Iweala, in return for Nigerian backing of President Jacob Zuma’s bid to chair the African Union.
Shortly after Obama’s surprise nomination of Jim Yong Kim to head the World Bank two weeks ago, Kagame was quoted as saying: “He [Kim] is a true friend of Africa and a leader who knows what it takes to address poverty.”
In a story filed shortly after the announcement, the Associated Press reported that Obama’s “choice of Kim, with his foreign roots and years of experience fighting disease in poor countries, could neutralise any opposition among developing nations to another American” to replace outgoing Zoellick.
AP said Kagame “quickly praised” the nomination of the Dartmouth College president.
Informed sources in the capital Kigali said that the endorsement left Kagame in the awkward position of having to choose between three friends who all want the World Bank job.
Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs, who was lobbying hard for the job, is a close friend of Kagame. Sources confirm that he asked Kagame to help campaign for him, including “putting in a word for me with your friends at the White House.” Traditionally, the World Bank president is nominated by the US.
Sachs had on March 8 secured an official endorsement from Kenya’s Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who has been his friend for two decades. In addition to Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, Costa Rica, Honduras, Bhutan, Jordan, Guatemala, Haiti, Namibia, Malaysia, Namibia, East Timor, Chile, Uruguay, and Colombia also endorsed Sachs. He was also backed by 16 Nobel Laureates and intellectuals. Leaders from Brazil, Russia, India and China has also criticised the American, European and Japanese influence at the Bank, which represents 54 per cent of the vote.
However, this time around, there has been a challenge to the tradition by, especially, developing countries who are unhappy with American domination of the World Bank leadership — and Europe’s hold on the related IMF top job. This challenge opened up the competition to candidates who were not handpicked by governments, and Sachs entered the race fairly early.
Kagame, the sources say, kept his word and called the White House, speaking well of Sachs and his work on anti-poverty and anti-malaria programmes in Africa. In Kenya, the best known Sachs project is the Millennium Village in western Kenya. Some hours after that call, White House sources say that President Obama returned Kagame’s call to discuss the World Bank job, but this time with a twist, that he wanted Rwanda’s leader to back a different candidate – Kim.
Kim is Kagame’s friend too, and sources say the Rwanda president figured that if the US wanted Kim, then he would get the job, and Sachs’s quest was effectively over. The White House told Kagame it would help if leaders from the developing world like him who knew Kim wrote short notes commenting on his suitability.
Apparently, Kagame explained that he needed to speak to Sachs about the “new facts” on the ground, and it is claimed that the White House said they could help him with that — because Sachs was close to Kim too.
Kagame wrote the note, and Kigali sources claim it was the one quoted in the AP release. Apparently, Kagame was under the impression that it was a private letter. However, the White House allegedly leaked it to help bolster Kim’s case.
It was not possible to establish whether Kagame spoke to Sachs, but sources say it is likely he did because in the same AP story, the Columbia University economist said nice things about Kim: “He’s an outstanding choice,” Sachs said.
“For the first time in the Bank’s history, it will have a president whose life mission is what the Bank aims for: The elimination of poverty ... It’s a brash decision which breaks the standard practice of going with a banker or a political insider.”
Nigerian in the race
If Kagame thought the matter was settled, he was wrong. A few days after he sent the letter backing Kim to the White House, it was announced that Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was also in the running for the job, and she was Africa’s candidate.
Until that point, apparently Kagame didn’t know that Africa was going to enter a horse in the World Bank race. And Nigeria, at least, didn’t know that Kagame and the White House had been speaking about Kim.
Though this conversation had been taking place earlier, the Obama announcement that Kim was his man for the World Bank, and the Kagame note coming days after Okonjo-Iweala’s candidature had been made public, made it seem like the Rwanda leader had stabbed Africa in the back. To complicate matters for Kagame, Okonjo-Iweala is a good friend of his — a friendship struck up when she was managing director of the World Bank from 2007-2011, before returning home to take up the finance minister’s job.
In addition, Rwanda’s former finance minister, Dr Donald Kaberuka, is president of the African Development Bank (AfDB), a job he was voted into in 2005 at a time when Olusegun Obasanjo — another close friend of Kagame — was still Nigeria’s president. Nigeria is one of the major African shareholders in AfDB, and critically threw its weight behind Kaberuka in the final round of the hotly contested race in 2005.
Kagame would thus be seen as a traitor to the continent if he didn’t back an African for the World Bank job, particularly a Nigerian. Observers say that even with the support of all of Africa, Okonjo-Iweala cannot get World Bank job because the voting processes are not reformed enough for that to happen. Also, coming months after Frances’s Christine Lagarde became the first woman to the head the International Monetary Fund, the male establishment might be in no mood to give the Bank away too.
According to this view, Okonjo-Iweala’s candidature is a tactical move to get another top international job, like the global leadership of UNDP. Okonjo-Iweala is one of the most admired public servants in Africa, and is an inspirational figure for women activists all over the world. In 2007, she was touted as a possible successor to former World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz.
That makes it difficult not to placate her and her constituency. Some commentators have alleged that because she has strong anti-corruption credentials, and the kind of international experience rare in the patriarchal Nigerian political class, the old boy network in Abuja is trying to banish her from the scene — as a possible presidential contender — by kicking her upstairs.
Kagame, therefore, could pay his debt by becoming one of Okonjo-Iweala’s main champions for a plum international posting.
Kagame, an outspoken politician and former general, is no stranger to this kind of controversy. A well-known fan of English Premier League side Arsenal FC, in early 2012 he caused an international stir when he suggested in a Twitter posting that it was time for team coach Arsene Wenger to step aside.
The tweet became a big story in the English sports press. Wenger is Kagame’s friend, and on the Rwanda’s president’s 50th birthday in 2007, he sent him a birthday card and an Arsenal banner signed by all the team. That didn’t seem to deter him from putting the boot into Wenger’s backside.
Arsenal has since bounced back to form, and clawed its way to third position on the league table behind Manchester United and Manchester City. It is not known if the president and Wenger have discussed his January tweet.