Seoul-born Kim beats Nigerian finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who said the decision was not made on merit
The World Bank named Korean-born doctor Jim Yong Kim as its new president today amid criticism that the role had once more gone to a US-nominated candidate.
The 52-year-old president of Ivy League college Dartmouth beat Nigerian finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to the post, the first time in the World Bank’s history that the US candidate has faced a serious challenge.
US president Barack Obama nominated Kim to replace current World Bank chief Robert Zoellick in March. Kim, who was born in Seoul, the South Korean capital, is a public health expert – a change from the bank’s usual nomination of candidate from the financial world.
The World Bank presidency has gone to a US candidate since the organisation was founded at the Bretton Woods conference at the close of the second world war. The International Monetary Fund (IMF), its sister organisation, has always been run by a European.
The US backed France’s Christine Lagarde’s nomination to the top role at the IMF last year after the shock resignation of Dominique Strauss-Kahn. In return, Kim received Europe’s backing for the World Bank job.
But in recent years the organisations have faced growing criticism over their US/European duopoly. Ahead of the announcement, Okonjo-Iweala said: “You know this thing is not really being decided on merit.”
“It is voting with political weight and shares, and therefore the United States will get it,” she told reporters at a briefing on the country’s 2012 budget.
A third candidate, Colombia’s former finance minister Jose Antonio Ocampo, pulled out of the race Friday, calling the selection process a “political-oriented exercise”.
Okonjo-Iweala said that although she expected her challenge to the US’s nomination to fail, the process “will never ever be the same again”.
“So we have won a big victory. Who gets to run the World Bank – we have shown we can contest this thing and Africa can produce people capable of running the entire architecture,” she said.
Kim was a surprise nomination for the role. The 52-year-old is a leading figure in global health and a former director of the HIV/Aids department at the World Health Organization. He moved with his family to the US at the age of five.
Brazillian and South African government officials reiterated their support for Okonjo-Iweala on Monday. Before the announcement, South African finance minister Pravin Gordhan said there was a need to “look beyond the verbiage of democracy and the claims to democratic process, and ask whether in substantive terms the institution has met the democratic test.”
In a statement, the World Bank said: “We, the executive directors, wish to express our deep appreciation to all the nominees, Jim Yong Kim, José Antonio Ocampo and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Their candidacies enriched the discussion of the role of the president and of the World Bank group’s future direction. The final nominees received support from different member countries, which reflected the high calibre of the candidates. We all look forward to working with Dr Kim when he assumes his responsibilities.”
Professor Simon Evenett, a former World Bank official who works at the University of St Gallen in Switzerland, said Kim’s appointment was inevitable. “The Obama administration would almost certainly have withheld support for Lagarde’s appointment to the IMF if European nations had not agreed in advance to support whomever was Washington’s candidate for the World Bank,” he said.
“There was never really a contest. Some developing countries probably figured this out and put up a strong candidate to embarrass the west, hoping that this will lead to a more open process in the future. Don’t bet on that. The west won’t give up its hold over these institutions until they need something from the emerging markets.”
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