The World Bank yesterday chose a Korean-born American health expert Jim Yong Kim as its new president, maintaining United States' grip on the job and leaving developing countries questioning the selection process.
Kim, 52, won the job over Nigeria's widely respected Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, with the support of the US allies in Western Europe, Japan, Canada and some emerging market economies, including Russia, Mexico and South Korea.
Unlike previous World Bank elections, the decision was not unanimous. "The final nominees received support from different member countries, which reflected the high calibre of the candidates, "the World Bank said in announcing its board's decision.
Meanwhile, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iwaela has congratulated Kim over his selection as the World Bank President. Okonjo-Iweala, who spoke in her office, yesterday said "I look forward to working with him, staff and stakeholders of the World Bank Group for the benefit of the poor people around the world."
She nonetheless described her participation in the 'contest' for the World Bank presidency as victory in the struggle for greater equity and fairness in the process of choosing the World Bank President.
"By our participation, we won important victories. We have shown what is possible. Our credible and merit-based challenge to a long standing and unfair tradition of over 70 years will ensure that the process of choosing the World Bank president will never be the same again."
She thanked all Nigerians, especially President Goodluck Jonathan, all African leaders, the National Assembly and everyone who supported her candidature.
"Africa has stood for the right principle throughout these processes. I am proud to be African," she stated.
Also, in an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour monitored by LEADERSHIP, Okonjo-Iweala congratulated Kim and said she was pleased with what she had accomplished in her campaign.
"We've been able to push this process along, and we hope that going forward, we'll get an even more open, transparent and merit-based process," she said.
"It should not be about the nationality of individuals, but about merit."
Kim, who was born in South Korea before emigrating to the U.S. at age five, has won support from those who believe the bank should focus its energy on poverty reduction in the world's poorest countries.
"As President, I will seek a new alignment of the World Bank Group with a rapidly changing world," Kim said in a statement Monday, pledging to amplify "the voices of developing countries."
Okonjo-Iweala, by contrast, is an economist with degrees from Harvard and MIT who logged more than two decades at the World Bank, eventually rising to the No. 2 position.
Earlier this month, a group of 39 former senior officials at the World Bank endorsed her in an open letter to the bank's board, saying the American monopoly on the presidency "no longer reflects the world as it is today."
However, President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday congratulated Dr. Jim Yong Kim on his election as the new President of the World Bank.
He noted, however, that Finance Minister and coordinating minister of the economy, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala represented the voice of developing countries in the imperative campaign for the reform of the World Bank.
According to the President, her participation in the race has been a truly rewarding experience, which should inspire all Africans and the rest of the developing world to remain optimistic about the future of the World Bank.
A statement issued by presidential spokesman, Dr. Reuben Abati yesterday night also noted that Jonathan "also thanked the leaders, governments, peoples and friends of developing countries, as well as the media and other civil society groups, for the support and encouragement given to Nigeria's Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala".
The statement made available to LEADERSHIP further stated: "The President restated the readiness of the Federal Government of Nigeria to continue to build on the existing cordial relationship and cooperation with the global institution.
"President Jonathan wishes Dr. Kim, the candidate of the United States in the race for the helmsman of the World Bank, a successful tenure. He urges him to see his election as a challenge and a great opportunity for addressing the numerous issues of human development and poverty alleviation facing developing countries in general and Africa in particular.
The incoming President of the bank, Kim, will be in for a five-year term beginning from July 1, 2012. The World Bank President, who will chair Boards of Directors of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and the International Development Association (IDA) is also ex-officio chair of the Boards of Directors of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA), and the Administrative Council of the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).
A statement obtained by one of our Correspondents stated that the Executive Directors of the global bank followed the new selection process agreed in 2011 which, for the first time in the bank's history, yielded multiple nominees.
The statement further said that the process included an open nomination where any national of the Bank's membership could be proposed by any executive director or governor, publication of the names of the candidates, interviews of the candidates by the Executive Directors, and final selection of the president.
"We, the Executive Directors, wish to express our deep appreciation to all the nominees, Kim, José Antonio Ocampo and Okonjo-Iweala. Their candidacies enriched the discussion of the role of the president and of the World Bank Group's future direction.
"The final nominees received support from different member countries, which reflected the high calibre of the candidates. We all look forward to working with Kim when he assumes his responsibilities.
"The board expressed its deep gratitude for Mr. Robert B. Zoellick's outstanding leadership and his dedication to reducing poverty in its member countries, the core mandate of the World Bank Group" the statement read in part.
The US has held the presidency since the World Bank's founding after World War Two, while a European has always led its sister institution, the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Unlike previous heads of the World Bank, Kim is not a politician, a banker or diplomat. He is a trained physician and anthropologist who has worked to bring health care to the poor in developing countries, whether fighting tuberculosis in Haiti and Peru or tackling HIV/AIDS in Russian prisons.
There had been a three-way contest for the presidency of the poverty-fighting institution until Friday when former Colombian finance minister, Ocampo withdrew. He said the process, which was meant to be based solely on credentials, had become highly political.
South African Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan welcomed the fact that non-Americans competed for the post for the first time, but also said there were concerns the process was not fully merit-based.
"I think we are going to find that the process falls short of that," Gordhan told the Foreign Correspondent's Association in South Africa, adding that there were also "serious concerns" the decision was made without full transparency.