College President Jim Yong Kim’s election to World Bank presidency has created a maelstrom in media outlets worldwide, as commentators with varied opinions have emerged to consider issues ranging from Kim’s credentials to the Bank’s selection process. While some view Kim as inexperienced and unprepared, others said he will provide a unique worthwhile perspective at the Bank.
The voting process for the Bank’s presidency is weighted according to the share each country holds in the institution. The United States and Japan, the two largest stakeholders, and Western Europe all endorsed and voted for Kim, while most countries in Africa and South America supported Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
Global news outlets have also drawn attention to the United States’ monopoly on the World Bank presidency.
“Kim’s appointment maintains Washington’s grip on the multinational institution tasked with combating global poverty since its founding after World War II,” an article in the China Daily News said.
In an opinion column published in The Australian on Wednesday, Australian National University professor Ramesh Thakur criticized the selection process, which he said favors wealth over effective leadership.
“When the rubber hits the road, all the fine talk of good governance, merit-based selection of chief executives and transparent decision-making flies out the window,” he said in the column. “Good governance is for suckers, trumped always by wealth and power.”
John Briscoe, an environmental engineering and health professor at Harvard University, said that Kim’s election is a “sad reflection” of the U.S. government’s relationship with the rest of the world.
Unlike past elections, this year’s contest was a “big deal” because many countries resisted pressure from the U.S. in their endorsements, Briscoe said.
Kim’s relative lack of experience in economics and governance made Okonjo-Iweala more qualified for the position, according to Briscoe.
“He is basically a physician that ran a small non-governmental organization,” Briscoe said. “Partners in Health is small in the world and only deals with one thing: delivering medicine. The World Bank is very wide and covers many issues over many nations. People who have been effective in the World Bank have had that background and experience.”
Lawrence MacDonald, vice president of communications and policy outreach at the Center for Global Development, also noted in an interview with The Dartmouth that Kim’s skill set is not perfectly tailored to his new position.
“Kim has a strong record in one aspect of global development: health,” he said. “Even though it is an important issue, it is a small subset of the issues the bank is involved in. Whether Kim can take his experience in global health and apply it in many other issues, like finance, education, infrastructure that remains to be seen.”
MacDonald also said that Kim’s past as an anthropologist may be more of a challenge than a benefit, especially in taking the Bank in a new direction that faces truly international issues, such as climate change
“Kim’s different background may mean that he can lead the bank in a new direction, but it can also mean he can have a slow and difficult time understanding the challenges of the bank,” he said.
The selection of Kim over Okonjo-Iweala has caused a stir on the African continent, particularly in South Africa, the nation that nominated Okonjo-Iweala for the Bank post. South Africa holds one of only three seats on the World Bank board occupied by an African country.
In an interview published on Independent Online, a South African news outlet, Cornell University economist and former International Monetary Fund official Eswar Prasad said the Bank’s selection of Kim “reflects how global governance continues to lag behind changing economic realities.”
“Emerging-market economies are increasingly dominant in global trade, finance and output, but the advanced economies continue to maintain their positions of privilege at major international financial institutions,” Prasad said.
In an article published in Bloomberg Businessweek, South African Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan expressed his concern with the process, which he said “falls short” of its claims of being merit-based and will likely be reformed.
“It’s no longer in the smoke-filled rooms of Europe and the United States that the spoils are shared,” Gordhan said.
At a summit in Abuja, Nigeria, Okonjo-Iweala said she lost the contest to world powers due to their inordinate influence in the voting process, which should strive to become more transparent.
“I want people to know what is happening,” she said in an interview with The Nigerian Daily. “This thing is not really being decided on merit, it is voting with political weights and shares and therefore the U.S. will get it.”
Representatives from Oxfam International, an international confederation that aims to combat global poverty and injustice, also expressed skepticism about the process that placed Kim in the presidential seat. Elizabeth Stuart, head of Oxfam International’s office in Washington, D.C. said the process is a “sham” that “sullied” Kim’s appointment.
“Dr. Kim is an excellent choice for World Bank president and a true development hero,” she said in a statement published on Oxfam’s website. “But we’ll never know if he was the best candidate for the job, because there was no true and fair competition. The world deserved better than a selection process with a forgone conclusion.”
In the Asian sphere, Japan and China endorsed Kim, as did his native South Korea.
Kim’s nomination constitutes a victory for all minorities, Seoul National University professor Kim Seong-kon said in an opinion column published in The Korea Herald, a South Korean English-language newspaper.
MacDonald said that this election process was a step in the right direction in terms of transparency and fairness.
“The selection process was more important and competitive than ever before it was the first time with more than one nominee, and the board interviewed each nominee at length,” he said. “This is a huge amount of progress in opening up the election process. The old system where the U.S. chose one candidate and the board voted up or down, and always up … is gone, but there is no new system to replace it.”
Rwandan columnist Arthur Asilmwe said in an opinion column in The New Times that Kim’s credentials make his election a positive step forward for the Bank. Rwanda was one of the few African nations that endorsed Kim in the selection process.
“Since its inception in 1944, the World Bank has largely been governed by a politician or a celebrated Wall Street banker or economist who thinks the most remote part of the world is in Alaska or Southwest Colorado,” Asilmwe wrote. “None, at least out of the last 11 presidents, has had a firsthand experience of the real challenges that face the developing world and for which the Bank largely serves.”
Kim’s nomination came as a response to a burgeoning demand for change, he said in the column.
“His 30 years of experience as both an implementer in some of the world’s poorest communities, as well as a global policymaker and academic, make him an ideal candidate who might silence even the most vocal critics of U.S.’ dominance of the bank,” Asilmwe said. “Dr. Kim has rubbed shoulders with the poor, mingled with the most destitute and sought sustainable solutions for some of their problems.”