Whispers in Washington: US to ensure its candidate will be president

As the White House keeps it lips seeled on who its candidate might be, and pointedly makes no public commitment on the status of the ‘gentlemans agreement’, we’re often left to contemplate the snatches of gossip, conjecture and rumour that trickle forth from DC. Alan Beattie, international economics editor at the Financial Times, is an old Washington-hand, and a well connected fellow. If anyone knows which whispers in Washington are the right ones to listen to, it’s probably him. And his recent article for the FT may be a little deflating for those hoping that this time things will be different. The clue is in the rather unequivocal title, ‘US to keep grip on helm of World Bank’.

Beattie says that:

One potential candidate from anemerging economy – frequently mentioned in the media and by expert observers as a potential bank president – told the Financial Times that the US administration’s determination to promote an American was putting off contenders from even applying. This person, an experienced policymaker, said the view was shared by some other putative candidates they had spoken to.

He also quotes a ‘senior Bank policymaker’:

In a US election year, and given the need to do nothing to upset Congress by appearing weak internationally, the strong feeling around the bank is that the White House will absolutely insist on getting its way.

The article goes on to list potential US candidates being discussed by Washington officials. Names include Hilary and Larry, now so familiar in coverage of this issue I feel like I know them well enough to use their first names. But other names mentioned are less obvious: Susan Rice, US ambassador to the UN, Lael Brainard, top international economics official at the Treasury, and Indra Nooyi, chief executive of Pepsico, as well as Laura d’Andrea Tyson, former White House chief economic adviser to former president Bill Clinton.

Meanwhile, over in South Africa, international economic law professor Daniel Bradlow makes the case that:

Since 1994, SA has been an eloquent advocate for reforming the governance of the international financial institutions. The selection of the next World Bank president is a good opportunity to win an important victory in this campaign. Our government should work with other African states, our partners in Brics and other sympathetic World Bank member states and with allies in international civil society to ensure that there is an open and merit-based selection process.

He argues that there is one prominent South African candidate. You guessed it, it’s the well established barfly of international commissions and committees and World Bank fanboy Trevor Manuel. But Bradlow says that this time the candidate should be a woman, and proposes two potential choices: Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, obviously, and Mamphela Ramphele. Ramphele is a former MD of the Bank, and has experience working in the corporate world, as well as a strong academic background. She is also, along with Manuel, not hugely favoured by many in South African civil society and on the left.

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