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EAC leaders caught in global diplomatic dance over top World Bank job 0

Rwanda President Paul Kagame is in a dilemma over who should replace Robert Zoellick at the World Bank, when he steps down in June. As the campaign to elect the next president of the Bank heats up, Kagame is caught in a complex diplomatic dance step that has seen both Kenya’s Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni play a central role from opposite ends.

Never before have two candidates — the US nominee, Korean American Jim Yong Kim and Prof Jeffrey Sachs — used their experience in helping to fight poverty and disease in East African nations and exploited their friendships with regional presidents to influence international politics.

Now these leaders must decide whether to back an African candidate, Nigeria’s Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and strengthen the continent’s voice in world affairs, or simply flow with President Barack Obama’s wishes.

Behind the scenes, a backroom deal could be in the making that would see South Africa support Okonjo-Iweala, in return for Nigerian backing of President Jacob Zuma’s bid to chair the African Union.

Obama’s call

Shortly after Obama’s surprise nomination of Jim Yong Kim to head the World Bank two weeks ago, Kagame was quoted as saying: “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 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 Zoellick.

AP said Kagame “quickly praised” the nomination of the Dartmouth College president.

Informed sources in the capital Kigali said that the endorsement left Kagame in the awkward position of having to choose between three friends who all want the World Bank job.

Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs, who was lobbying hard for the job, is a close friend of Kagame. Sources confirm that he 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.

Sachs had on March 8 secured an official endorsement from Kenya’s Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who has been his friend for two decades. In addition to Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, Costa Rica, Honduras, Bhutan, Jordan, Guatemala, Haiti, Namibia, Malaysia, Namibia, East Timor, Chile, Uruguay, and Colombia also endorsed Sachs. He was also backed by 16 Nobel Laureates and intellectuals. Leaders from Brazil, Russia, India and China has also criticised the American, European and Japanese influence at the Bank, which represents 54 per cent of the vote.

However, this time around, there has been a challenge to the tradition by, especially, developing countries who are unhappy with American domination of the World Bank leadership — and Europe’s hold on the related IMF top job. This challenge opened up the competition to candidates who were not handpicked by governments, and Sachs entered the race fairly early.

Kagame, the sources say, kept his word and called the White House, speaking well of Sachs and his work on anti-poverty and anti-malaria programmes in Africa. In Kenya, the best known Sachs project is the Millennium Village in western Kenya. Some hours after that call, White House sources say that President Obama returned Kagame’s call to discuss the World Bank job, but this time with a twist, that he wanted Rwanda’s leader to back a different candidate – Kim.

Kim is Kagame’s friend too, and sources say the Rwanda president figured that if the US wanted Kim, then he would get the job, and Sachs’s 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.

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By Charles Onyango ObboThe East African

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