World Bank Boss: Kim, Okonjo-Iweala or Ocampo?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,,, at 3/26/2012 05:30:00 PM
I'd like to say the competition to become the next World bank president is heating up if it weren't for the common understanding that it will be another American stitch-up. While I'd have preferred the term "whitewash," the White House has thrown those of us who are critical of Western domination of these institutions a curveball by nominating an Asian-American candidate in Jim Yong Kim. Thinking it over, I can offer a number of pros and cons. Starting with the good stuff I can think of--I am a charitable lad, yes...

  1. Global health is one of the areas where multilateral development institutions have actually made significant strides. Disease prevention is usually a large-scale intervention, and it is here where top-down efforts have shown promise. Witness the eradication of smallpox and the near-eradication of river blindness for instance. Since Kim's global advocacy is more on TB and HIV/AIDS, the more tentative results there are not really indicative of a lack of skill but of the increased difficulty in addressing the illness at hand;
  2. Becoming a university president--especially at a venerable Ivy League institution like Dartmouth--involves no small amount of political skill (Larry Summers notwithstanding);
  3. It will be a welcome change to have a physician by training head the World Bank instead of yet another economist or political scientist;
  4. It is also good that Jim Yong Kim is not a loyal party figure alike Zoellick and his American predecessors but rather someone who does not really come from the inner circles of US politics.

On the downside, though...

  1. This "pick a non-Caucasian to silence the critics" strategy would work better even as a token if he came from an LDC. Remember, South Korea famously joined the OECD in 1996 just before the outbreak of the Asian financial crisis a year after. We kicked it out of the G-77 after acceding to this rich country club, so he's not really someone who comes from today's Global South;
  2. His post as a university president aside, he will need to juggle conflicting interests from rich countries wishing to keep their hegemony at the World Bank as is and poor ones that are interested in being more involved in global governance but have found it hard to be among the big boys. There is not much from his previous experience that may prepare him for the rough-and-tumble of development politics.
Let's now turn to Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Nigerian who's put her name up for candidacy via her supporting countries' World Bank representative. Also there's Jose Antonio Ocampo, the Colombian candidate put forward by a number of Latin American nations. Alike the bid by the Mexican Agustin Carstens to replace the infamous Dominique Strauss-Kahn at the IMF, it's probably best not to take these two bids very seriously (unfortunately)...
  1. The Jim Yong Kim ploy aside, the US shows no signs of breaking its stranglehold on World Bank leadership anytime soon, so both bids are forwarded more as "protest" votes;
  2. Alike Carstens, both LDC candidates are hampered by iffy support from disunited developing countries. After all, they've again failed to rally around a single candidate. Alike the Americans with their blinders, those that have volunteered someone have chosen a person from their own region. Not much "third world solidarity" here, eh? United we stand, divided we fall it is once more;
  3. Moreover, many other LDCs would probably be dissuaded from backing someone other than the US pick in justifiable fears of retribution from the West through vetoing future World Bank loans and grants;
  4. What's more, many "realists" would prefer to just aim for the backup spots alike being a World Bank managing director (the #2s). Indonesia's Sri Mulyani Indrawati probably understands this glass ceiling more than most. Call it the Zhu Min strategy;
  5. Okonjo-Iweala and Ocampo are hardcore development persons familiar with those working in this area and many LDC grandees. However, this status may actually detract from the idea of bringing in new blood in development work.
So in some (symbolic) ways Jim Yong Kim marks a real break as the American nominee--in terms of being a doctor by profession and an outsider to US politics. That said, these token gestures are unlikely to comfort the likes of yours truly since the guy probably knows who butters his bread when push comes to shove. At least U2's Bono was non-American. The more things change, the more things stay the same.

UPDATE: There is a lot of relevant material on the succession debate from the "World Bank President" site co-authored by my colleague Peter Chowla of the Bretton Woods Project.