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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

NGOZI AND THE CHALLENGE OF BECOMING AFRICA FIRST WORLD BANK PRESIDENT



        In recent time Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the current Nigeria’s minister of finance, has continued on the path of boosting her public profile since her first appointment as minister of finance during the tenure of former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo. Madam Ngozi is now in a league of her own, considered as one of Africa’s great women who are few in number in the whole continent. Like the current Managing Director of International Monetary Fund (IMF) Christine Lagarde who herself was a former finance minister of France and an acquaintance of Ngozi, the iron lady aspiration to become the president of the Bank is based on her past track record as a technocrat with many years of experience working for the World Bank and as a former finance and foreign affairs minister. Ngozi first appointment as minister of finance during the tenure of Obasanjo was credited with securing debt relief of about $18 billion for the country in addition to her record in bringing about some level of discipline to Nigeria’s unruly finance ministry.  It was also to her credit that Ngozi help to fight the bureaucracy that had bedeviled the ministry for many years. Though, her other image in the Nigerian public mind as a woman who spear headed the introduction of tough economic measures such as this year removal of subsidy is another pointer to the kind of programs to expect in the event she win the chair. Being the only woman contesting against two powerful men, the contest is not going to be easy considering the fact that one of the candidates was nominated by the United States, with more voting power than any other country in the World. The fact that Europe may likely support the candidate put forward by the US in order for the US to back her own candidate when it comes to the managing Directorship of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), is another stumbling block to her candidacy.
   Ngozi and those that are pushing for her candidacy are of the opinion that the woman is there to champion the cause of African countries or rather to champion the cause of development economics, where many critics argued the multinational institution has done little to address. For example, in the almost six decade history of the institution the body has done little to reduce chronic poverty that has destroyed many families in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, instead focusing on text book prescriptions designed by some arm chair academicians in various research centers and universities. If not in the last one decade the programs of the bank had focused on given loan to countries to finance the building of white elephant projects that do little to help the situation of the poor. It was in the last decade that the bank began to move its focus from the financing of such huge budget projects to soft issues like micro financing, HIV/AIDS, and provision of other supports directly to the poor. But, Ngozi as some one who has spent all her working career in the World Bank under the same tradition and leadership, her critics argued is least qualified to tackle such problems; that is why some of these critics see the candidacy of Kim who came from a more poor focus development background, with many years of experience working directly with the poor, as providing more lunching pad for orienting the bank towards addressing the problems of developing countries. But, Ngozi plus including the fact that she herself came from a poor  country and continent with millions  poor families in need of the assistance of the bank, and her work experience as finance minister of Nigeria afforded her with the opportunity to work directly in a poverty ravage country. Though, Ngozi first appointment as finance minister did little to address the plight of the Nigeria poor, she has done many things in indirect way to help the poor like her initiating of programs to generate jobs and fight poverty.
    Already, such mainstream economic and financial papers such as The Economist and Financial times of London, New York Times have endorsed her candidacy, but this is another pointer to the direction of things to come in the event that Madam Ngozi win the chair. The fact that such papers are hard line capitalists and advocates of text book economic prescriptions of the neo classical school of thought, explained their support for her as against Kim. Hence, some critics argued that her election is simply not more than going back to the status quo. But, to me even the candidacy of Kim as endorsed by the US will not amount to much; as the country with more voting and controlling power in the institution and one who produced her presidents since the creation of the institution in the 1940s US is to blame for all the bank lack of concern for the World poor in all these years. The one who’s candidacy will have mean something to the poor professor Jeffrey Sachs could not get the endorsement of the authorities in the white house, hence his failure to make the short list. But, Ngozi has other things working for her, the fact that she is the only female contesting for the post and the record of other female that hold other executive post around the world will help boost her candidacy. There is this almost  general opinion that female are less corrupt compare to their male counterpart and the fact that women and children made up the largest share of the world poor, Ngozi candidacy is a representation of that segment of the world population. Her CV is as vast as that of any other candidate or even more, with fine educational qualifications and work experience, her current post in the ministry of finance as a super minister point to the fact that Ngozi is a super woman and workaholic.

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