The United States has picked a public health expert of South Korean origin as its candidate for the World Bank presidency, a job emerging market economies are contesting for the first time. In an announcement on Friday at the White House President Barack Obama said he was nominating Jim Yong Kim, president of Dartmouth College in New Hampshire and former director of the Department of HIV/AIDS at the World Health Organization.
“It is time for a development professional to lead the world’s largest development agency,” Obama said flanked by Kim, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Angola, Nigeria and South Africa have endorsed the nomination of Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a respected economist and diplomat, as a candidate to take over the bank when Robert Zoellick steps down in June.
The South African Finance Minister, Pravin Gordhan, said at a press conference in Pretoria that “Africa is confident of the capability of Okonjo-Iweala for the top job”. “We are very proud as Africa and certainly this constituency to confirm that the Minister of Finance in Nigeria is going to be a candidate for the President of the World Bank. She would be a candidate of choice, not just on the African continent, but well beyond as well,” Gordhan said. He said South Africa and Angola had committed themselves to mobilise support for Okonjo-Iweala.
Gordhan said the constituency meeting between South Africa, Nigeria and Angola formed part of the world body’s three sub-Saharan constituencies out of 25 constituencies. “The countries will garner support for her candidature at the next week’s meeting of the continent’s finance ministers in Addis Ababa, as well as at the BRICS summit where South Africa will encourage members to support her candidacy.
“We believe that the candidature of Okonjo-Iweala enables those that are going to make this decision in Washington to have before them an eminently qualified individual, who can balance the needs of both developed and importantly, developing countries. Also, her election will provide a new vision and sense of mission to the World Bank and its relevance, particularly to developing countries across the globe,” he said.
“We’ve heard the name of a Columbian academic and former Finance Minister Jose Antonio Ocampo and Prof. Jeffrey Sachs had made themselves available. There could well be last minute surprises that we are unaware of,” Gordhan said.
Okonjo-Iweala, responding, said she hoped that the contest would be merit-based, adding that those nominated had applied their best minds in the interviewing processes.
“I hope that the best candidates come forward. I consider the World Bank as a very important institution for the world, particularly developing countries deserving of the best leadership. I look forward to a contest of very strong candidates. I am absolutely confident,” she said.