On Monday, March 26 (yesterday), the African Union added its backing to the candidacy of Nigeria’s finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala for World Bank President. Okonjo-Iweala announced her candidacy on Friday, just hours before US President Barack Obama told everyone he’d picked South Korean-born rapper (well, economist) Jim Kim (now backed by Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame). But how do Nigerians perceive Okonjo-Iweala’s candidacy? Some Nigerians are puzzled by the government’s silence, and local media reports that the elderly Kenyan academic, Ali Mazrui, had written to President Goodluck Jonathan urging him to offer louder and stronger support to Okonjo-Iweala’s campaign.
There are also those who would be pleased to see her get the job simply so that Nigeria could be rid of her. Dubbed “Okonjo-Wahala” (wahala means “trouble”) and accused by opponents of acting as an agent for global financial institutions, she was widely seen as the instigator of the removal of the fuel subsidy in January that led to the eruption of the Occupy Nigeria movement (when she became very grumpy indeed, took to twitter and got a bit of a kicking). The poet Odia Ofeimun says she wouldn’t have had to return to Nigeria if she’d been able to finish the job of ruining the economy first-time around when she worked for Obasanjo.
It’s great that a Nigerian woman is in the running for such a prominent job, and I’d pick her over Jeffrey “Yawn” Sachs and crooked Larry Summers any day. But it’s pretty hard to get enthusiastic about an anti-corruption politician who hates anti-corruption campaigns so much and seem to distrust poor people so much.
What has also gone undiscussed is the fact that Okonjo-Iweala was put forward by a bloc of African “superpowers” comprising Nigeria, South Africa and Angola, which isn’t really such an obvious grouping when you think about it. Sure, they’re all considered “emerging African economies” but they’re also fierce competitors. Has this triumvirate made international diplomatic moves like this before or is this a new thing? What other issues might bring these three together in future? Do the three countries’ interests actually line up behind Okonjo-Iweala’s candidacy or is this part of a longer-term power play to tip southwards some of the power vested in global financial institutions?