You know the old three-card trick: pick a card. Any card. But, inevitably, it’s the card the magician wants you to choose.
Jim Yong Kim, now the newly-annointed World Bank president, was the only possible choice in a stacked deck of only three cards. And the other two candidates were jokers.
Why? Because Kim’s appointment was a lay-down misère the minute Barack Obama paraded the anti-HIV campaigner on the White House Lawn and declared he was the US candidate for the Bank job.
Kim was always going to win the majority of votes from the Bank’s 25 Directors, despite serious competition from Nigerian finance minister Ngozi Iweala, 57, who has had a 25-year career at the World Bank.
Another candidate, Colombia’s former finance minister Jose Antonio Ocampo, formally withdrew his bid for the job last Friday. But in a parting shot at the US, EU, Japan and Russia, Ocampo backed Ngozi Iweala, labelling the selection process “a political exercise.”
Fleetingly, Iweala made the World Bank presidency a genuine – if illusory – contest, as she campaigned publicly and vocally for the position.
In her interview, Iweala canvassed World Bank challenges, listing 11 major issue areas in the developing world including job creation, infrastructure building and education, health and gender issues.
In the last few hours before the decision was announced, Iweala appeared to have accepted defeat. However, she declared her campaign for transparency a success.
Despite the World Bank selection panel’s claim that this would be a “merit-based” selection process, early news reports suggest US representatives at the Bank did not allow the merit discussion to proceed following the candidate interviews.
Nigerian news site, The Nation, reports that outgoing Bank President Robert Zoellick disclosed that “the next election will be merit-based but not this one.”
The Nation’s other claim – that Washington secured the EU’s support with the US backing Christine Lagarde’s elevation to the position of Managing Director of the IMF in 2011 – certainly rings true.
Clearly, as the IMF job has been a European appointment since 1944, neither the US nor the EU want to create a precedent where the world’s international financial organizations are run by outsiders. Traditionally, of the major international organizations, only the UN Secretary-General’s post is relatively open. It is usually awarded to a national of a non-aligned or neutral country. But there are exceptions, such as current UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon (South Korea).
Nevertheless, Washington has a history of getting rid of chiefs of international organizations who don’t do its bidding. Bill Clinton canned Boutros-Boutros Ghali (Egypt), favouring his preferred Manchurian candidate, Kofi Annan (Ghana).
At least if you campaign for the Director-Generalship of the World Trade Organization (WTO), you may stand half a chance of success. Of course, you’re forced to log about half a trillion frequent flier miles drumming up support from Trinidad and Tobago to Tonga. But this will all be pointless unless Washington supports your candidacy.
And, in the rare event that, say, Washington, Tokyo and Brussels disagree, then a compromise candidate can be found that they’re mutually disappointed with: how about Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s appointment to the IMF, for instance? Nobody was happy to see DSK coming. Or going.
Mind you, few can match the mind-boggling machinations that saw Gaddfi’s Libya elected by African countries to head up the UN’s Human Rights Commission in 2003. In second place is – yes, you guessed it – Libya’s election to the HR Commission’s successor body, the UN Human Rights Council in 2010. By early 2011, Libya was belatedly expelled from the Council. Gaddafi was expelled from his bunker a few months later.
The controversy surrounding this World Bank selection process will be rapidly forgotten by the global media. But the whole merry-go-round will start up again in 5 years' time when a new Bank president will be appointed.
Who will that be? Well, if Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s still looking for gainful employment in 2017…
(You can take that to the Bank).