A Good Woman from Africa

The Economist went on to delineate the strengths and weaknesses of the three candidates, taking especial care to underline the not so wise choice of Jim Yong Kim, a medical doctor for a position that requires someone steeped in the intricacies of development economics and promotion of growth. It came down firmly on the side of Ngozi, noting that ‘’she is in her second stint as Nigeria’s finance minister’’ and ‘’has led the Paris Club negotiations to reschedule her country’s debt and earned rave reviews as managing director of the World bank in 2007—11. Hers is the C.V of a formidable public economist’’. The world should rally round Okonjo Iweala, it counseled.

The New York Times, The Financial Times as well as a number of Ngozi’s former colleagues have also thrown their considerable weights and goodwill in her support, taking care to state clearly that as a ‘’respected economist, diplomat and former World Bank managing director, she offers many conventional qualities of bank presidents.’’ This kind of ringing endorsement of an African, even for one whose competence and experience are well recognized, indicates a huge shift of perception about the competence of the African Professional by erstwhile megaphones of Western cultural and intellectual superiority. It also shows the illogicality surrounding the choice of the leadership of the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which, for some 70 years has been the exclusive preserve of the United States and Western Europe alone, a tradition which The Economist characterized as ‘’shabby’’, which to my mind is a gross understatement.

In a globalised world such an arrangement is not only untenable but downright antithetical for a body whose aim is to promote growth and development to continue to select its presidents on the basis of whether or not you are an American, even when in the hierarchy of the bank there are people who could easily assume the position, and seamlessly continue with the mandate of the bank. The world needs not harbour any fears about whether Ngozi would trip and fall over if she got the job. The reason for this is that Messrs Emeka Anyaoku and Kofi Annan, two earlier Africans that had held similar top positions at the Commonwealth and the United Nations respectively discharged their briefs creditably.

But do all these favourable endorsements imply that she would get the job? Certainly they should count for something, but with the US and Europe already inclined towards Jim Kim Yong, the possibility of the outcome going her way is at best dicey. If merit and knowing the job first hand are all that is needed she would win easily. And Barack Obama’s choice of Jim Yong Kim seems, in a certain weird sense, to further enhance her chances of getting the post. It would be a thoroughly upside down world that would ignore and over look the intimidating credentials of Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, which seem tailor made for the job and opt for the professor of public health who, it must be noted would indeed be an inspired choice were the position to be for the head of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

It may well be that putting forward the professor of public health’s name, which has continued to attract mounting displeasure and antagonism in world opinion, is President Barack Obama’s subtle way of showing his support for Ngozi’s candidature. If that is so, then it would a canny and shrewd way of tilting the balance in favour of a fellow black without as much as showing an inclination for such an outcome. But if it fails he can at least defend himself for trying his best. This thinking is plausible if it is realized that at a point another renowned American economists, Jeffery Sachs, threw his hat in the rings by personally applying for the post and making it known very volubly that he wants the post and that by dint of the work he has done in development and poverty eradication he is eminently qualified for it.

The Columbia University professor who is the director of the Earth Institute at the university has earned a Nobel Prize for his work and served as consultant to many Asian countries, advising them on how to come out of the economic melt down they witnessed in the late 90s. He has also made a couple of visits to Nigeria on the invitation of the government. Had he been put forward by President Barrack Obama, Ngozi Okonjo Iweala would have been up against a stiffer opposition in the person of Jeffery Sachs. Is there therefore an unspoken inclination to favour Ngozi Iweala on the part of Barack Obama in his choice of a medical professor over the head of a renowned professor of economics knowing full well that the former would be , so to say, a square peg in a round hole in the World Bank, no offence intended?

In the likelihood of Ngozi Iweala’s success what would it mean for Nigeria and Africa? For Nigeria, it will be like a whiff of fresh breath on her battered image rubbished by 419ners, drug pushers and corruption that has run rampant as well as the chronic inability to get things done that has become so pervasive. She embodies that notion that, warts and all, something good and ennobling can still come out of Nigeria.  And as president of the World Bank, Africa would be put on the world stage in more than one sense:- her sartorial choice of the African print, popularly known as atampa, would be uniquely African; her intonation which despite her long stay abroad has stubbornly remained ethnically Nigerian unlike many who have taken on the American nasal speech style with just a few days stay abroad.

Very importantly however is what her new position embodies for young women and men across the continent, that to become a good woman from Africa as she is they would have to imbibe the values that took her to where she is now. Good luck Ngozi.

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