Does anybody at all think Kim’s a better candidate than Ngozi?

By Felix Salmon
April 3, 2012

If you want to get a great feel for the difference between Jim Yong Kim and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, just check out what they’ve said in public about what they want to do with the presidency of the World Bank.

Here’s Kim:

We live in a time of historic opportunity… We can imagine a world in which billions of people in developing countries enjoy increases in their incomes and living standards… My own life and work have led me to believe that inclusive development – investing in human beings – is an economic and moral imperative… economic growth is vital to generate resources… for change to happen, we need partnerships between governments, the private sector and civil society to build systems that can deliver sustainable, scalable solutions… we must draw on ideas and experience from around the globe… A more responsive World Bank must meet the challenges of the moment but also foresee those of the future. The World Bank serves all countries… I will ensure that the World Bank provides a platform for the exchange of ideas.

And here’s just one of Ngozi’s answers, in a Q&A with Annie Lowrey:

We need to move faster. The bank has to be quick, nimble and responsive in this global environment. I would like it to be much faster to get aid on the ground, and faster giving policy advice and help to ministers looking for it. I’d look to do things in days and weeks rather than months and years, and I have the bureaucratic knowledge, the knowledge of the institution, to make that happen.

But the premier goal should be helping developing countries with the problem of job creation. In country after country, the single most important challenge is how to create good jobs – in developing countries as well as developed countries. And a big challenge is youth unemployment, which I want to tackle very fast because of the other problems it creates.

There is an opportunity for a demographic dividend for developing countries if they address this issue. In my country, about 70 percent of the citizens are 30 years old or younger, and there are similar demographics in many other developing countries. The rest of the developed world is looking at a gerontocracy, but we’re looking at a youth bulge.

The World Bank is the premier institution to support young people, with all of its instruments to create jobs, build infrastructure and invest in human infrastructure. Also, green growth and climate change – that’s another issue I see as an opportunity for investment. And the World Bank has the knowledge and financial resources to help.

Okonjo-Iweala knows what the Bank was set up to do, knows what it’s capable of, and has a real vision for how it billions can be used to create growth and prosperity around the world and specifically in Africa. Here’s how Jagdish Bhagwati puts it:

The Obama administration mistakenly believes that “development” consists of healthcare, microfinance and other such projects, and not the big high-pay-off “macro-level” policies such as trade. The insidious notion that the former constitutes “development economics” and the latter does not is both wrong and glorifies the less important at the expense of the more important…

Dr Okonjo-Iweala will do both “macro” and “micro” projects. But Dr Kim’s healthcare expertise comes with an uncritical embrace of the charges against “neoliberalism”, betraying susceptibility to the anti-reform, anti-growth rhetoric of the 1990s.

The fact is that Kim, if you take his FT op-ed at face value, seems to be utterly clueless, and mostly interested in distancing himself from the opinions in his book (which was blurbed by Noam Chomsky) on inequality and health. There’s certainly no indication that he understands exactly what it is that the Bank is uniquely capable of achieving.

What’s more, Kim seems to have no appetite for a contest. Okonjo-Iweala is perfectly willing to say, quite explicitly, why she’s a better candidate than Kim. She’s not a narrow expert on health, as Kim is; she’s expert in many subject areas, from education to agriculture to manufacturing, and also the differences between the world’s developing regions. And her experience as Nigeria’s economy minister is surely much more germane than Kim’s as president of Dartmouth College.

Meanwhile, I’ve done quite a lot of searching, and asked Treasury to help me out, and so far I’ve managed to come up with exactly zero endorsements of Kim which explicitly say that he’s a better candidate than Ngozi. Even Kim himself hasn’t said, as far as I can tell, that he’s a better candidate than Ngozi. And he has notably failed to RSVP to the Center for Global Development and the Washington Post, which are running public sessions where the candidates can explain their vision for the bank’s future and be questioned by the media and members of the international development community.

Yes, it’s true that Okonjo-Iweala is in many ways the “establishment choice” for the job. But that’s no reason not to give it to her — quite the opposite. When you’re talking about a massive bureaucracy like the World Bank, only an establishmentarian has a chance of being able to steer it, rather than simply being steered by it or completely marginalized.

Conventional wisdom has it that the NYT has endorsed Kim; it hasn’t. The editorial is here; while it says nice things about Kim, it concludes by saying that the best outcome for the bank would be a “truly competitive and fully transparent” process for choosing the next president — and everybody knows that in such a process, Okonjo-Iweala would win. Similarly, Todd Moss, in an op-ed headlined “Why Obama Should Keep Control of the World Bank”, says quite explicitly that Okonjo-Iweala is “the candidate most qualified for the job”; the main reason for choosing Kim instead is that he will have “access to the corridors of American power”.

Does Moss explain why he thinks that Kim will have more access to the corridors of American power than Okonjo-Iweala? Not as far as I can tell. And as an Ngozi observer of many years’ standing, I’m quite confident in saying that should she become president of the World Bank, she will have a surprisingly large degree of access to the White House.

It seems to me that it’s incumbent on the White House to at the very least attempt to explain why Kim would be better in the job than Okonjo-Iweala. If they can’t or won’t do that, then they should forfeit their anachronistic droit du seigneur, at least this time around when the alternative is so strong. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is the best candidate for the job, and Barack Obama knows it. He should meet with her, and then do the right thing by freeing up the Bank’s board to vote for whomever they think most qualified.


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I don’t necessarily disagree…except with the part about Kim’s rejection of neoliberalism. That should actually be a positive factor, not a negative. I also reject the notion that just because someone is chummy with the insiders and can connect with them, that this is the reason that they are more qualified. How is that rationale any different than the reason that Barack Obama chose Tim Geithner and Rahm? I’m not equating Okonjo-Iweala with Geithner or Rahm, and from what I’ve read she seems like the most qualified candidate from my uninformed perspective. But the fact that she knows how to maneuver the power channels as reason for her superior qualifications strikes me as missing the fact that The World Bank is in need of reform, new ways of operating and new power channels, not acquiescence to the old. In that respect, the very fact that she is a qualified candidate from a region that has typically been marginalized in its dealings with The World Bank is enough for me…

That being said, isn’t it interesting that Felix started off by promoting a CEO of Pepsi for the position, and when a better candidate is put forth, he can’t seem to kick him enough. This seems like it might be one of those cases where people might be coming to the same conclusion, but for definitively different reasons. As such, I am kind of curious what led to Felix’s sudden epiphany?

Posted by chicorei | Report as abusive

Here is my question, if Obama loses in November, where does that leave Kim’s “access to the corridors of American power” ?

Here is another question, whats the wisdom of having a fresh non experienced President for the World Bank in addition to existing 3 non-experienced or less experienced managing directors that are there now? does it make sense to have the top 4 managers at the bank all new or with short experience in the organization?

Posted by JustOneVoice | Report as abusive

Has anyone asked what Ngozi has been able to achieve for the lot of the poor in her native country where she has roamed the corridors of power for years? Now there is a rally to support her to care for the poor of the entire world? This rally is misguided. People that do nothing when they are in a great position to influence change should not get a chance to advance their mediocrity.. She has not demonstrated any capacity to handle such a post and oratory does not compensate for action! What has she done?

Posted by John411 | Report as abusive

@chicorei, it’s a sudden epiphany if by “sudden” you mean five years old: ket-movers/2007/05/17/ngozi-okonjo-iweal a-for-world-bank-president/

Posted by FelixSalmon | Report as abusive

Felix writes that Ngozi is an “expert in many subject areas, from education to agriculture to manufacturing, and also the differences between the world’s developing regions”, which to me appears to be an oxymoron. More importantly, her statement to Annie Lowrey is also less than convincing. Of course youth unemployment is THE challenge facing both the developed and developing world, you’re not a genius if you’ve discovered that. But she doesn’t offer a single cogent policy responsive to that challenge, much less one that’s been shown to work. And then she actually goes on to babble about green growth and climate change investment opportunities. Being the Left’s mantra, this might be good self-marketing (for the others all they care about is how to maximize US and European financial aid), but how exactly is this the answer to the challenges of the developing world? Reduction of trade barriers, yes; good governance-tied assistance, yes; effective anti-corruption policy, yes; concentration of support to countries which subscribe to and demonstrably encourage economic and other freedom, yes. But please spare us the development babble of the 1970s that has been proven to be counterproductive. None of the existing candidates is a good one. It really doesn’t matter who’s appointed.

Posted by Abulili | Report as abusive

Spot on John411 and Abu66. As MD of the Bank Ngozi had years to champion reforms had she been minded to exert her influence. She didn’t. She sat back basking in her elevated position rather than creating waves that would upset the status quo. She’s a hypocrite of the first order.

Posted by Ash998 | Report as abusive

*reads Ash998’s comment*
*thinks – “Yes!”)

Like it actually matters “When you’re talking about a massive bureaucracy like the World Bank” (F.S.) who runs it. It runs for the benefit first-and-always of its own philanthro-poids. “Together” minds support whichever candidate has the greatest likelihood of inflicting mortal damage on the organization.

Posted by MrRFox | Report as abusive

The statutes of the World Bank indicate that “The Executive Directors shall be responsible for the conduct of the general operations of the Bank, and for this purpose, shall exercise all the powers delegated to them by the Board of Governors”

And so, at the end of the day, it is up to these EDs to decide who of the three candidates might be the best president of the World Bank. And frankly, in a case like this, they should not be able to hide behind the skirt of a “my government told me so”

As an ex ED I do not want to put special pressure on my colleagues but the fact is that it would be good for transparency and the World Bank to see who each one of them will vote for and, something truly great, their reasons why.

Posted by PerKurowski | Report as abusive

I can think of one reason why an Asian is preferable. Asia is the source of most capital in the world these days. Asian countries miight be much less inclined to buy into the World Bank with an African in charge.

You may wish that Asians in Asia think a certain way, but you cannot sprinkle pixie dust and make it so.

The World Bank would need, in the future, to increase its share of resources from the world’s primary source of capital, Asia. Clearly having one of their own at the helm would make Asian nations more willing to buy in.

You don’t need to sell Africa on the World Bank. They will be happy to receive.

Posted by DanHess | Report as abusive



Posted by oseun | Report as abusive

Great post, Felix. I can’t help but be worried by the lack of content in Kim’s statements, as well as his failure to (so far) RSVP for the Center for Global Development and Washington Post’s Q&A.

That said, I think it time to start focusing some of the discussion on what the next World Bank president should do, exactly. (I have some thoughts here: Ngozi’s statements about speeding up disbursement are interesting, but I wonder how she plans on accomplishing this. I’d love for someone with deep knowledge of the Bank, like @PerKurowski to chime in. Or perhaps to make this a topic of a future post.

Posted by PatrickSharma | Report as abusive

@FelixSalmon: I stand corrected on using the word “sudden.” I guess a better way to have phrased the question is why were you playing up Indra Nooyi (and others) this time around for so long instead of Okonjo-Iweala? Was it just that you didn’t think it was possible so why bother? It’s a genuine question, absent the snark, since Kim is definitely more qualified than Nooyi…

It could also be a start to illuminate what you think the role of the World Bank actually should be and how it should operate, which is critical to determining who the choice should be That’s a larger question which I, at least, have not seen answered by most anyone, including yourself (but perhaps I missed it).

Posted by chicorei | Report as abusive

Things have just gotten so far afield of logic and normalcy. So now the correct choice for the world bank presidency is a long time afrikan politician who feels the world bank will succeed or fail on Africa success or failure? How about Nigeria and the entire continent show a few decades of stability and economic growth without endless Euro-American handouts and then we start appointing them to international positions of power. I just dont understand that the whole world can go along with political correctness to the point that to prove something we will appoint an african woman to this position when her country/continent will be recieving (as always) the lions share of cash outlays, endless social program funding, and the endless billions of traditional U.S. foreign aid. The long held P.C. Theology that pouring our tax money into africa will eventually provide us stable allies and trading partners has been proven wrong for decades now, africa’s economic health and viability (just as iceland’s, or Canada’s or 16th century England for that matter) will be decided by their own actions, and since the dawn of recorded time those actions have been overly violent, under educated and contrary to progress as we in the west know it. These ideological wars have been fought in colleges and think tanks and the United Nations for decades and will unfortunately continue, it seems the only Answer that they refuse to find (and the one that logic dictates) is that Africa, and by extension the great majority of Africans, are not capable of performing economically and industrially on their own without extreme Euro-American hands on guidance… ie: rule.

Posted by Jets1916 | Report as abusive

Ya gotta love how Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala tosses the terms ‘green growth and climate change’ without any context at all. What does that even mean? Nobody knows, but it sure seems to stimulate everyone’s erogenous zones!

Posted by DanHess | Report as abusive

@Jets 1916. Far less than 2% of Nigeria’s total expenditure is aid. We don’t all take aid from America.

Posted by eaboyeji | Report as abusive

@Jets1916….its African not ‘Afrikan’. See an economically and industrially backward African just corrected your spelling. How does that make you feel?

Posted by Bayobabalola | Report as abusive

@Jets1916….its African not ‘Afrikan’. See an economically and industrially backward African just corrected your spelling. How does that make you feel?

Posted by Bayobabalola | Report as abusive

I apologize for the spelling error. I’m afraid I tend to type fast and my dexterity has always been rather limited. But if thats the only thing you can refute I may have some good points. I would like nothing more than for Africa to be independant and economically viable. Yet it is not and I suppose it hasnt been in many years, since the days of Rhodesia. I certainly did not mean to insult any one, just following a path of logic that is based on facts and history and the belief that if one follows a specific course of action that has the same results time and again than perhaps that result is inevitable and a new course is needed. And certainly many arguments have been made that the tens of billions a year Africa recieves every year from E.U., U.S., and W.B. have done nothing for the average Adrican as the statistics regarding education and poverty have not really changed. The true beneficiaries of this aid are the bloated beauracracies and corrupt governments who are constantly embroiled in scandal. Men like the esteemed President of Zimbabwe, a maniac dictator in a Country with 80% unenployment who forcibly removed white farmers from their homes to “resettle” the land. Until men like that are removed from power and Africa matures and creates their own stable economies and fosters internal industry we will see no real change, just new money following old down into the abyss.

Posted by Jets1916 | Report as abusive

Let me play a single point as mentioned, why hasn’t Jim Kim replied to the CGD/WPost interview-audience discussion? Instead, he, with the support of State and Treasury, is touring the world, asking for support. Sounds like the old agenda doesn’t it?

Nogzi has failures. It may apply that she’s also a neoliberal–she stated that she hates that word. Well, Obama is also a neoliberal.

The point is, do you want transparent global economic governance institution or the same old game? And if you want the same old game, why hasn’t your candidate at least talked?

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