Nigeria’s finance minister Friday joined the race for the top World Bank job, backed by Africa’s leading economies in a push for greater influence at global financial bodies dominated by rich nations.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, flanked by counterparts from South Africa and Angola, unveiled her candidacy at a press conference in Pretoria, putting the weight of Africa’s biggest economy and its two biggest oil producers behind her bid.
“I consider the World Bank a very important institution for the world and particularly for developing countries deserving of the best leadership,” she said.
“So I look forward to a contest of very strong candidates, and am I confident? Absolutely.”
The African powerhouses unveiled their bid hours before the deadline for nominations to succeed current president Robert Zoellick, who is stepping down at the end of his term on June 30.
The surprise announcement came just two days after her spokesman denied that she was angling for the job, which has been held by an American since it was founded nearly 70 years ago.
Former Colombian finance minister and central bank chief, Jose Antonio Ocampo, announced his candidacy Wednesday. Washington has yet to announce its own candidate.
Okonjo-Iweala is a respected former World Bank managing director who joined Nigeria’s government as finance minister in August.
“I have long experience in the World Bank, in government and in diplomacy and I look forward to giving you my vision at the appropriate time,” she said.
“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 said.
The World Bank has 187 member nations and focuses its activities on development loans.
Under a tacit agreement since the World Bank and its sister institution the International Monetary Fund were founded, the United States always selects an American as World Bank president and Europe puts a European at the IMF helm.
That traditional arrangement has triggered outrage from developing and emerging economies seeking greater representation to reflect their rising contributions to the global economy.
The US Treasury in February declared “the United States continues its leadership role in the World Bank,” as the largest shareholder, and would announce its candidate “in the coming weeks.”
Since then, the Treasury has declined to comment on the nomination process.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has long been among the most circulated names rumoured to be under consideration by President Barack Obama, along with UN ambassador Susan Rice, Democratic Senator John Kerry and former Treasury secretary Larry Summers.
Clinton has insisted that she is not interested in the job.
Another American, economist Jeffrey Sachs, has garnered support for his self-declared candidacy in small developing countries.
Sachs, the director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, has a decades-long career in development and poverty eradication and headed the United Nations’s Millennium Development Goals project.
A candidate must be presented by the Bank’s 25 executive directors, or by governors through the director representing them on the executive board.
The World Bank said that if there are more than three candidates, it will release a short list of three candidates but did not indicate the timing of the publication.