That South Africa, often seen as Nigeria's rival in the continent, was among the three countries that nominated Dr Okonjo-Iweala for the job and had reportedly persuaded its highly regarded former Finance Minister Trevor Manuel not to put himself forward for the job, is more than a symbolic gesture.
Nigeria and the World Bank Presidency
The candidature of Finance Minister, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, for the presidency of World Bank has, for once, seen Nigeria making news for the right reasons.
Her suitability for the job has generated considerable enthusiasm, nationally and internationally. London's Financial Times and The Economist have both endorsed Dr Okonjo-Iweala's bid, and by so doing, took the unusual step of breaking ranks with the tradition of Europeans supporting an American candidate for the job in a quid pro quo of the U.S. supporting a European candidate to be the managing director of the International Monetary Fund. The African Union has named Dr Okonjo-Iweala as Africa's sole candidate for the job, after she was nominated by South Africa, Nigeria and Angola.If Dr Okonjo-Iweala gets the job it would be personal achievement for her and a fitting crowning glory to a career dedicated to international development financing; it would also represent a tremendous boost to Nigeria's image and a perfect opportunity for a realistic rebranding of the country.
That South Africa, often seen as Nigeria's rival in the continent, was among the three countries that nominated Dr Okonjo-Iweala for the job and had reportedly persuaded its highly regarded former Finance Minister Trevor Manuel not to put himself forward for the job, is more than a symbolic gesture. Though that gesture could be a testimony of the strength of Dr Okonjo-Iweala's impressive credentials, it could also be a wakeup call for Nigeria to re-evaluate its recent ill-defined posture that, going forward, projection of a vacuously defined 'national interest' would be at the forefront of its foreign policy, and that Africa would no longer be the centrepiece of that policy. What Dr Okonjo-Iweala's candidacy has brought to the fore is that the country still needs to invest in soft-power-enhancing structures in Africa – or 'playing Big Brother' so that it can leverage the goodwill of other African countries in moments like this to enhance its objectives. National interest is much more than immediate economic gratification.
No one should be deluded into thinking that Okonjo-Iweala's candidacy does not faces a major challenge from the American nominee, Jim Yong Kim, an Asian-American, President Barak Obama's nominee to fill the World Bank's top position. In nominating Dr Kim, a public health expert, President Obama probably hopes to pander both to those who believe people from the emerging economies of the world should be given a chance and those who believe this is America's entitlement. Since the establishment of the World Bank and the IMF, Americans have monopolised the presidency of the former while the Europeans have always produced the managing director of the latter. With a consensus that the American nominee is not an obvious candidate for the job and is in fact less qualified than his two challengers, it behoves on Americans to practice what it preaches globally through such concepts as 'meritocracy', 'liberalism', and 'democracy'. America is often admired for these lofty ideals, which are against inherited privileges. Cornering the presidency of the World Bank for life implies a belief in monarchical and feudal entitlements, something that is deeply against America's image of its foundational ethos.
A Harvard University alumnus, Dr Okonjo-Iweala holds a PhD in Regional Economic Development from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She has some 21 years' experience working in the World Bank, where she rose to become Vice President and Corporate Secretary of the World Bank Group. From that position she was tapped by former President Olusegun Obasanjo to be Nigeria's Finance Minister and later Foreign Affairs Minister. She later resigned the position and returned to the World Bank to become of its Managing Directors. She joined the Goodluck Jonathan administration in July 2011 as Finance Minister and Co-ordinating Minister of the Economy.
Despite the formidable obstacles posed to her candidacy in the current voting status of participating countries, history seems to be on Okonjo-Iweala's side: when Emeka Anyaoku became the third Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, he was not only the first African to hold the post, but the first to be appointed from within the career structure of the Commonwealth secretariat. In the same vein, when Kofi Annan became the seventh Secretary General of the United Nations, he was not only the first Black African to have the post, but also the first to be appointed from a career structure in the United Nations. Okonjo-Iweala would also become not only the first African and first women to get the position, but also the first person who had an extensive career in the World Bank to be appointed to head the institution.