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Nigeria Calls for Non-U.S. World Bank Head

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When Robert Zoellick steps down from his post as head of the World Bank on June 30, he may not be replaced by yet another American–if Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has her way. The former World Bank executive said that times have changed and that the way the institution fills its top slot should change as well.

In a BBC report, Okonjo-Iweala praised Zoellick, but also said that the constant succession of Americans to head the World Bank and Europeans to head the International Monetary Fund was outdated–and it was time to give someone from the developing world a chance.

“Times have changed,” she was quoted saying, “and I think the way the positions are filled should change along with it.” She added, “You need to change the weights within the institutions to reflect the modern world.”

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Traditionally since their founding, by informal agreement, the top slot at the World Bank has been allotted to an American as a European claimed the corresponding spot at the IMF. Votes at the World Bank tend to follow countries’ contributions to the body, with the U.S. providing 16% and the three largest European contributors offering nearly 14% altogether.

While the World Bank’s board has said that its process for selecting its next leader will be “merit-based and transparent,” Okonjo-Iweala believes that does not go far enough and says that there are a number of candidates from developing countries who have the qualifications and could do the job. A number of them were mentioned during the search last year for a new head for the IMF: Trevor Manuel of South Africa, Kemal Dervis of Turkey and Agustin Carstens of Mexico were among the names proposed.

However, the U.S. plans to nominate a candidate, and it has been speculated that the candidate will be current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Europe’s incentive to support her would be fueled by its desire for a U.S. vote in support of a European candidate to succeed Christine Lagarde, current head of the IMF. That could complicate matters for any developing world candidate who might be put forth to succeed Zoellick.