who will be next World Bank President What will they do


Speculation on the next WB President No, I don't have any special knowledge about if or when the resignation is coming. But Alex has given me a platform, so I thought I'd be the first to start speculation about the successor to Wolfowitz, and how it will be done. Never too early to start having some fun.

Civil society organizations have been emphasizing what they were saying back when Wolfowitz was appointed: if it wasn’t obvious that the process for choosing the World Bank president was anachronistic and corrupt, the fruits of that process this time around should suffice to convince just about anyone.

The existing process at least has the merit of simplicity: the president of the United States chooses whoever he likes. It’s not written down anywhere, so it’s not official – it’s just a convention that the Bank’s board has been willing to observe since the founding of the institution.

I want to suggest one possible scenario, which I think would be the smartest move for the U.S. administration now. That’s no reason to think they’ll actually do it, but they have in the past shown willingness to be both radical and opportunistic when it comes to the World Bank and international finance. Development is not a core issue for Bush or his constituency, so it is most useful as a field for symbolic gestures. (Or, in the case of Wolfowitz, a handy place to shift a valued friend who was becoming a liability.)

Even if they don’t care much about the Bank, there would certainly be some indignity in being the administration that gave up the historical prerogative of choosing the World Bank president. If next week they end up with a disgraced former close adviser to the president, (Wolfowitz), and a clamoring for a new process for choosing his successor, they will have a tough time in prevailing when they offer up the next old, white, male, Republican American to take over the Bank. It will be a public relations problem when what they could really use right now is a public relations coup, especially in something to do with international affairs.

If they’re smart, they’ll cut the loss – give up on putting one of their own into the president’s seat, this time around, but preserve the prerogative for choosing the person who sits there. They could get enormous credit for choosing a non-American, and someone from the Global South at that, to head the World Bank. It would be unprecedented, and it would shut up those troublesome critics (well, no, it wouldn’t, or shouldn’t, but it might at least distract the reporters and columnists).

So, if they’re smart, they’ll immediately start cultivating their nominee, and cultivating support from some of the nominee’s constituencies. The most obvious candidate, in my estimation, would be Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the former finance minister of Nigeria. She is a former high-ranking World Bank official, she got tremendous publicity for her anti-corruption drive in Nigeria, as well as her budgets and work on debt reduction, and she’s, well, an African woman. She managed to get out of the Obasanjo government in Nigeria before being tarred by its recent machinations to determine the outcome of next week’s election. She’s feisty, she’s neo-liberal, and she’s conveniently in Washington, taking refuge at the Brookings Institution while pondering her next move. She would be an immediate media darling, and Bush would get a nice bump from appearing at a podium with her as he nominates the next World Bank president, all without even mentioning the travails of his old friend “Wolfie.” They could try to get African ambassadors and others on board early, in an effort to discourage calls for a better process.

Needless to say, I hope, the imperative for civil society in any scenario like this would be to object loudly and insist on a democratic and open process. We should not allow ourselves to be drawn into the “Albright syndrome,” where some of our allies were blind to the policies advocated by Madeline Albright, when President Clinton made her the first woman to serve as Secretary of State. No one who is allowed to become president of the World Bank is going to be our ally, unless Dennis Kucinich is elected president of the United States (does Obama have a strong position on these issues?). For those who monitor, critique, and advocate, a transparent and democratic process is more promising than the status quo. We’re still far away from actual accountability, but depriving the White House of this imperial mandate would be a start.

Soren Ambrose ~ April 13, 2007

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