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Nigeria’s Failed World Bank Presidency Bid

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D. I really wanted to avoid discussing Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s bid for the presidency of the World Bank. But s...

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

I really wanted to avoid discussing Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s bid for the presidency of the World Bank. But several of my readers wrote to say they wanted me to share my thoughts on the issue. They wanted to know, for instance, what I thought about the irony of America, the patron-saint of democracy, being averse to openness and inclusion in the selection of the World Bank president.

For ideological reasons, I didn’t want to be bothered by what goes on at the World Bank—and at the IMF, the World Bank’s evil companion. I would much rather see these detestably  predatory institutions that weigh down on developing countries like an incubus disappear from the surface of the earth—or become so radically transformed that they truly serve the interests of everyone in the world.

But it is legitimate to question why the headship of these evil centers of power, these scourges of the Third World, is always the preserve of Euro-America. If the World Bank and the IMF are the global institutions they purport to be, why are they allergic to leadership from the developing world? How could America pass over Okonjo-Iweala, a Harvard-educated economist and MIT Ph.D., for a professor of medicine who has no background in economics or banking?

Unfortunately, legitimate as these questions are, they are naïve. First, background in economics or banking is not a criterion to lead the World Bank. For example, the World Bank’s first president, Eugene Meyer, was a newspaper publisher, not an economist. Similarly, Robert McNamara, the World Bank’s second-longest-serving president, was neither an economist nor a banker.  Barber Conable, another former World Bank president, was a politician who had no background in economics or banking. And Paul Wolfowitz, who preceded Robert Zoellick whom Okonjo_Iweala wanted to succeed, is a political scientist who had no prior banking experience.

Second, this is not about democracy; it's about tradition. Historically, Europeans lead the IMF and Americans lead the World Bank. That's how it has been from the beginning. While it makes sense to demand that this undemocratic practice be stopped, it is unreasonable to let Europe lead the IMF but insist that America give up its own hold on the World Bank. It makes more sense to me to insist that both the IMF and the World Bank open up their selection process to involve every part of the world. But that would also mean that other parts of the world would have to agree to contribute equally to the sustenance of these institutions. I am not sure many countries in the Third World would be prepared to shoulder that ponderous financial burden. That would mean that we want to call the tune without paying the piper.

But, most importantly, since their founding in 1944, the World Bank and IMF have always been institutions that are dedicated to advancing and perpetrating the economic interests of Euro-America. Europeans and Americans never had the Third World in mind when they conceived these institutions.  It was only from 1968 that the World Bank and the IMF began their vulturous forays into the Third World. And we can all see the evidence of these forays in the misery and despoliation that they have brought and continue to bring on much of the Third World.

So, demanding that the Third World should lead the World Bank is synonymous with slaves telling their enslavers that a house slave who was groomed in the enslaver’s house be made to lead the slave plantation. It is the same difference. A house slave socialized into the vicious and rapacious ways of the slave master would be just be as brutal to less fortunate slaves as the enslavers. In fact, the house slave is likely to be more vicious. That is what history tells us.

And it is telling that the Economist magazine, that unabashedly racist defender of Western capitalist greed, in endorsing Okonjo-Iweala, called attention to her being an “orthodox economist” (a euphemism for an anti-people, anti-developing countries, pro-big Western capital economist), which it says “people will hold against her.” When the Economist concedes that being an “orthodox economist” is such a bad thing in the Third World and among progressive humanity that it can cause widespread revulsion against such an economist, you know you’re dealing with a really dangerous character. 

And we don’t need to be told about the deleterious effects of having an “orthodox economist” superintending over our economy. Dubious “fuel subsidies” continue to be removed under our “orthodox economist’s” direction—of course, at the instance of her paymasters in Washington DC. An insanely huge chunk of our national patrimony was paid off in so-called debts to dubious Western lenders while millions of our people vegetate in appalling penury.

It’s interesting that the Economist pointed to this national treachery as Okonjo-Iweala’s strength. Never mind that America is the world’s most indebted nation. It owes China, Japan, and other countries trillions of dollars. If debt was such a bad thing, why is America still the world’s most powerful nation?

Interestingly, the Economist was critical of Jim Kim, the recently selected Korean-American World Bank president, for being too sympathetic to the poor and for being concerned with social equality. “In an introduction to a 2000 book called ‘Dying for Growth’, [Jim Kim] wrote that ‘the quest for growth in GDP and corporate profits has in fact worsened the lives of millions of men and women’, quoted Noam Chomsky and praised Cuba for ‘prioritising social equity’,” it wrote. It then reminded Kim that the World Bank’s raison d'être is “to promote private foreign investment…” and added cheekily: “If Mr Kim disagrees, he should stick to medicine.”

So there you have it. The Western financial press supported our Ngozi, not because they love Nigeria or are persuaded by the principles of democratic inclusivity, but because she is an “orthodox economist” who would protect Western interests and harm her kind in the process (which has sadly been her track record so far) — in contrast to an ill-defined Korean-American who seems unorthodox in his criticism of capitalist greed and in his sympathy for social equity.

I am not by this implying that Kim would be any different from all the World Bank presidents that preceded him, his pro-poor, anti-big business sentiments notwithstanding. Institutional structures and traditions always trump the pious intentions and antecedents of individual personalities. Even if Karl Marx were to lead the World Bank in its present form, his revolutionary consciousness would be diluted by the structure and traditions of the institution. That is why otherwise clear-headed and revolutionary personalities who find themselves in power almost always become indistinguishable from the people they’d criticized when they were outside the orbit of the power structure.

Our challenge as a people is not to hanker after the headship of the slave plantation that holds us all—except for a few house slaves dignified as “orthodox economists”—prisoners. We should instead fight to first liberate ourselves from the asphyxiating grip of the glorified, blood-sucking Euro-American bank that calls itself the “world” bank.

1 comment

  1. Dr. Iweala is surely an econimist whose impacts are felt by the common people on the street. She has helped restructure our economy.


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