Some African nations are planning to nominate Nigeria’s Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to become president of the World Bank, an official on the lender’s board of directors said.
Okonjo-Iweala, who was a managing director at the Washington-based World Bank until August, would be proposed by South Africa, according to the official, who spoke on condition of not being named because the talks are not public. South Africa also represents Nigeria and Angola on the 25-seat World Bank board.
South African Treasury spokesman Jabulani Sikhakhane said “we’re not commenting on the issue,” when contacted on his mobile phone today. Mac Maharaj, a spokesman for South African President Jacob Zuma, did not respond to a message left on his mobile phone.
“It’s great there’s a conversation about merit,” said Kevin Gallagher, associate professor of international relations at Boston University. “She knows a heck of a lot about development. I’m not so sure what her thoughts and record is with respect to environmental protection,” he said in reference to a topic of increasing interest at the World Bank.
While the bank promised a “merit-based and transparent” selection process, the position has always been held by a U.S. citizen proposed by the U.S. president. Two days before a March 23 deadline, President Barack Obama’s administration has not announced its candidate to replace Robert Zoellick, who has said he will step down when his term ends June 30.
“The minister hasn’t put herself forward for the position and she’s not actively seeking it,” Nigerian finance ministry spokesman Paul Nwabuikwu said. “That’s why it’s quite surprising the amount of support that the idea is getting from Africa and other parts of the world.”
The World Bank’s board has said will decide on a shortlist of as many as three candidates, whom it will interview, and that it wants to make a decision by April 20.
The plan to nominate Okonjo-Iweala was reported earlier by Reuters, which also said Brazil will nominate former Colombian Finance Minister Jose Antonio Ocampo. Ocampo didn’t return a call to his office at Columbia University in New York.
Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa “and other active developing countries in the World Bank are discussing the issue,” Carlos Cozendey, secretary for International Affairs at the Brazilian Finance Ministry, said in a statement while declining to confirm Ocampo’s candidacy. “The president of the World Bank should be chosen by his merit and we think it is very positive to have an open competitive process,” according to the statement.
Okonjo-Iweala’s possible candidacy may not be enough to derail a nomination by the U.S., the bank’s largest shareholder, said Uri Dadush, director of international economics at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. The U.S. last year also backed Europe’s pick for the International Monetary Fund against Mexico’s candidate.
“The only scenario I can imagine where it would make it difficult is if the U.S. doesn’t come up with a strong candidate themselves,” Dadush said. “But if they do and they are convinced they have a good candidate, I don’t think the African countries can stop this.”
Another declared candidate is Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs, who is backed by developing nations including East Timor, which said it nominated him.
-- With assistance by Arnaldo Galvao in Brasilia, Maram Mazen in Abuja and Franz Wild in Johannesburg. Editors: Kevin Costelloe, Gail DeGeorge