A World Bank for the 21st Century (and malaria elimination?)

By the end of this week someone will be nominated to replace Robert Zoellick as President of the World Bank.  Traditionally this nomination has been made by the United States, and it appears that this tradition is likely to be maintained.  The question is whether the traditional nominee – a white, older male of US citizenship – will be able to lead the World Bank in the Twenty-first Century.

The Washington Post today features two articles on this critical rite of passage. Howard Schneider raises, “The question now is whether the bank’s new leader, who could be named in the coming days, can enhance the institution’s role at a time when developing countries are emerging as the engines of world economic growth.” The mixed roles of the Bank – lender, donor, provider of technical assistance – and the emergence of other major and upcoming economic strong houses leads Amar Bhattacharya of the G-24 Secretariat to ask whether there is a clear goal for the institution at this point in time. His answer is ‘No.’

In contrast Michael Gerson sees a positive future because Zoellick’s leadership, he believes, leaves the “rarest of legacies: a multilateral institution with its reputation enhanced. Zoellick acted decisively to help stabilize the finances of struggling nations during the worst of the financial crisis, as well as to provide relief to countries hit hard by a worldwide spike food prices. He has increased transparency at the bank while successfully raising funds to recapitalize it.”

Gerson stresses the Bank’s need to listen to countries that receive its loans or grants since he sees no ‘silver bullet’ emanating from external development or aid experts. He traces as an example the evolution in country needs and requests from Rwanda which asked for emergency food aid in 2007, but a few years later sought investments to increase agricultural productivity and “Now is asking for help building storage facilities, so expanding crop yields are not wasted.”

Schneider does stress that the technical knowledge provided by the Bank is of equal importance as the financial resources it can mobilize. Who then is in the best position to marshal needed technical inputs while at the same time maintaining a humble leadership style that emphasizes that we need to learn from the low and middle income countries themselves?

According to the Washington Post, the current suspected nominees have ranged from Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sen. John Kerry to Susan Rice and Lawrence H. Summers, though for various reasons these have said they are not interested or are unlikely choices.

wb-booster-countries.jpgJeffrey Sachs has let it be known that he is interested in the job, though Schneider notes, “But he says the administration has not approached him.” Sachs is certainly familiar with the needs of low and middle income countries, but would he or the other US candidates take a learning, rather than a prescriptive approach to working with these countries?

Another name breaks the US white male mold – Nigeria’s Finance Minister and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala. CP-Africa recently reported that, “Dr. Okonjo Iweala reportedly recently told the BBC that it is time to open it up to competition and that top jobs at international institutions should be filled on merit.”  They also though that such an appointee would only be successful with support from China.

What is at stake for the malaria community? Currently the World Bank has commitments for malaria control in 21 African countries up to US$ 762.8 million.  This has been used to finance over 73.8 million treated mosquito nets and 25.3 million doses of effective malaria medication over the past five years, a major dent in the overall efforts to scale up malaria control.  Given the current questionable status of Global Fund support, efforts by all other partners including the World Bank are crucial.  Hopefully the new leadership at the Bank will sustain this in line with the commitments of each national malaria control program.

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