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Why the World Bank needs an African Woman as its President

Yesterday the Board of Executive Directors of the World Bank confirmed that the period for submitting nominations for the next President was officially closed and the 3 nominations received within this period were:

  • Jim Yong Kim, a US national and President of Dartmouth College, New Hampshire
  • José Antonio Ocampo, a Colombian national and Professor at Columbia University, New York
  • Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a Nigerian national, Co-ordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of Finance, Nigeria

Individual candidate interviews will take place in Washington DC in the next few weeks and a new supposedly merit-based president is expected to be announced shortly thereafter. There has been a large amount of pressure from developing nations to appoint a President from one of our countries, and considering that since the inception of the World Bank in 1944 only US citizens have held the position, our lobby is justifiably receiving widespread support. This argument could be taken even further though, to the point where we say that it’s time for an African Woman specifically to sit in the position, and this is why:

It is almost universally accepted, although not yet universally acted upon, that Africa is the world’s current GDP growth rate leader, has a rapidly expanding (and profitable) middle class, is the continent offering the greatest investment returns,  and  all this is expected to continue and grow as governance and infrastructure constantly improve. The global economy of the future is one in which Africa is going to play a substantially larger and more important role. It follows that since our continent’s people and the management of our resources will have a larger impact on economies beyond our shores than ever before that our involvement in global financial systems and organisations should be larger than ever before too.

The people of Africa and the developing world have the most at stake when it comes to global financial decisions/systems, yet to date have had the least input into these. The World Bank’s primary customer base is the developing world and yet we have never been represented at the top of this organisation. To be successful the organisation needs to understand clearly and be directed by these realities – what better way to do this than through representation of this group at the very top?  Ignoring these realities in the past has evidently neither served us nor the developed world well and the time for fresh perspectives and approaches seems to be upon us. In the business world for a company in this position a customer-centric approach is generally the most accepted and successful business practice. Why should this logic not apply to the World Bank?

From a more ideological stand-point and as a believer in the principal of democracy, even at a global level, it needs to be noted that Africans account for a 6th of all people living on the planet. Our representation at global levels of organisations such as the World Bank specifically but also the IMF, WHO, UN and so on is not even close and this needs to change, simple. Our fair share of influence needs to be apportioned and placing an African Woman as president of the World Bank would be a great start.

It could very easily be argued that African Women are the most marginalised, under-represented and disadvantaged people on the planet, yet despite this a constant stream of almost miraculous tales of business success and community impact can be found all around the continent.  There’s Prisca Tshabalala, the South African founder and manager of the Nkanyezi Stimulation centre for children with multiple disabilities; Bethlehem Alemu, the Ethiopian founder of Sole Rebels, an eco-sensitive footwear brand; Kenyan-born Ory Okolloh who spearheaded the founding of Ushahidi, the many women who manage and run the award-winning Swazi Secrets, a Swazi company making beauty products from natural resources and completely managed by the local women themselves. I literally could fill pages with such inspiring examples but my point is not to list but rather illustrate the massive and growing impact women are making across the continent (especially as they realize they do not need permission to do so.) Imagine then what these incredible people could do if considered, for the first time, and represented at the level of global financial policy formulation, aid distribution and investment direction?

As far as inspiring women go Nigerian-born Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is about as inspiring as they come. She is a former World Bank Vice-President and Corporate Secretary, posts she left to take up arguably the most challenging finance position in the world: Minister of Finance in Nigeria. During her first term (2003 – 2006) she increased the country’s reserves from US$7bn to US$30bn, brought inflation down from 28% to 11%, increased average GDP growth from 2.3% p/a in the previous decade to 6.5% p/a in this one and focused on rooting out corruption despite the fact that this pursuit often endangered her life. Importantly, I believe,  she is an ardent advocate of the ‘Trade not Aid’ movement and can be seen presenting motivating, incredibly well delivered speeches encouraging and helping others to see Africa, and  particularly its women, differently.  She has also already indicated that there would be no ‘business as usual’ if she took charge, “I share the World Bank vision of fighting poverty with passion. The issue is in what direction one must take this to make this the most beneficial” she has said, and this only strengthens her candidacy.

“She has eminent academic qualifications and would be, I think, a candidate of choice not only on the African continent but well beyond as well,” South Africa’s Pravin Gordhan said this week. His position is also supported by Nigeria and Angola in a rare display of unity between these countries, usually battling for dominance of the continent. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s individual credentials alone would be impressive but add to this her position as an African Woman who is capable of and uniquely positioned to truly represent Africans, Women and the developing world. She truly is the strongest candidate, possibly even the organisation’s only hope of survival.

Sources:

Ernst & Young. 2011 Africa Attractiveness Survey. ‘It’s time for Africa’ http://bit.ly/GVLp1K

Mfonobong Nsehe. 2012. ‘Africa’s Most Successful Women: Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu’ http://onforb.es/GMbHnj

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. 2007. ‘Want to help Africa? Do business here’ http://bit.ly/GNzRhP

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