Nations that need help with infrastructure and alleviating poverty have faced a quandary with Donald Trump in the White House. They have been fortunate that China has spearheaded a push against the anti-globalisation espoused by the American leader and other populists, but there has nonetheless been pressure on multilateral organisations to change well-established practices. World Bank president Jim Yong Kim, although serving as an appointee of the United States, made cooperation and assisting developing countries his priority, for which he is to be applauded. His surprise resignation and the uncertainty about who will next helm the lender highlights why it needs to be more representative.
Kim will step down on February 1, more than three years before the end of a second, five-year term. Speculation abounds as to whether he has been forced out by Trump; he will move to a private firm involved in infrastructure in developing countries. The US, as the bank's biggest shareholder, has an unwritten monopoly over choosing the bank's leader. Should Trump's disdain for multilateralism be reflected in his choice and the bank's board blindly follows tradition, the world's poor will suffer.
The bank and its sister organisation, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), were formulated by the victors of the second world war to foster global peace, stability and prosperity. Western nations were the driving force and they divided leadership among themselves, with the US opting to helm the bank and Europe the IMF. Only in recent years, amid criticism that the bodies had lost direction and were not properly serving the interests of poor and needy nations, has momentum grown for change. Developing countries, China foremost among them, have been given a greater say through senior appointments, but leadership has remained in the same hands.
Kim's appointment by Trump's predecessor was an effort to appease critics. Although an American citizen, as an Asian, he broke the leadership mould. China nonetheless created the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the "Belt and Road Initiative", measures aimed at complimenting existing systems. Beijing's achievements over 40 years of reform were cited by Kim as being a model for others to follow; under him, the World Bank directed efforts towards fighting climate change and China and other developing nations gained greater influence at the bank through capital-raising measures that boosted financial contributions.
There are no rules that the bank's board has to approve whomever Trump puts forward. Its leadership and policies should better reflect the needs of a world that has changed much in the past seven decades. A non-Western candidate, who understands the needs of the bank's clients and has the necessary expertise, makes sense.
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