Shortly after US President Barack Obama’ surprise nomination of Jim Yong Kim to head the World Bank last week, Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame is reported to have said: “He [Kim is] a true friend of Africa and a leader who knows what it takes to address poverty”.
In a story filed shortly after the announcement, the Associated Press (AP) reported that Obama’s “choice of Kim, with his foreign roots and years of experience fighting disease in poor countries, could neutralise any opposition among developing nations to another American” to replace outgoing president Robert Zoellick.
AP said Kagame “quickly praised” the nomination of the Dartmouth College president. Why Kagame?
Knowledgeable sources in the Rwanda capital Kigali tell me that Kagame now finds himself in an awkward after his praise of Kim.
Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs, who was lobbying hard for the job, is a friend of Kagame. And, my sources told me, he had asked Kagame to help campaign for him, including “putting in a word for me with your friends at the White House”. Traditionally the World Bank president is nominated by the US.
However this time, there has been a challenge to the tradition by, especially, Developing countries who are fed up with American domination of the World Bank leadership – and Europe’s hold on the related IMF top job. This challenge opened up some competition, and Sachs threw his hat in the ring fairly early.
Kagame, the sources, say kept his word and called the White House to say Sachs is “a friend of Africa”—which he is. Some hours after that call, the White House (sources suggest Obama himself) called Kagame about the World Bank job; but about a different candidate – Kim.
Kim is Kagame’s friend too, and my sources say the Rwanda president figured that if the US wants Kim, then he would get the job and Sachs’ quest was effectively over. The White House told Kagame it would help if leaders from
the developing world like him who knew Kim wrote short notes commenting on his suitability.
Kagame wrote the note that, the flies on the wall in Kigali suggest, was quoted in the AP. Apparently Kagame was under the impression that it was a private letter. However, the White House allegedly “leaked” it to help bolster Kim’s case.
I have not been able to establish whether Kagame spoke to Sachs, but I suspect he did because in the same story, the Columbia University economist said nice things about Kim: “He’s an outstanding choice,” Sachs said.
“For the first time in the bank’s history, it will have a president whose life mission is what the bank aims for: the elimination of poverty … It’s a brash decision which breaks the standard practice of going with a banker or a political insider.”
If Kagame thought the matter was settled, he was wrong. A few hours after he sent the letter backing Kim to the White House, it was announced that Nigerian Finance Minister Ms. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was also in the running for the job; and she was Africa’s candidate.
Rwanda’s former Finance minister, Dr Donald Kaberuka, is president of the African Development Bank (AfDB), a job he was voted into in 2005 at a time when Olusegun Obasanjo – and a close friend of Kagame – was still Nigeria’s president. Kagame would be seen as a traitor if he didn’t back an African for the World Bank job, particularly a Nigerian.Until that point, apparently Kagame didn’t know that Africa was going to enter a horse in the World Bank race.
Kagame is a man whom Dr Richard Sezibera, the Secretary-General of the East African Community (EAC), from Rwanda, said early this year in a Twitter post, “never goes back on his word”.
It is a view shared widely in Kigali, so he is unlikely to publicly back away from his written endorsement of Kim.
Kagame is a man who has fought and won big wars. However, this small problem of the World Bank chieftainship has become a headache for which he struggling to figure a cure for.
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