Surprise! The man who will become the next president of the World Bank is an American – to the increasing irritation of developing nations, it is always an American – but at least this time it is not a superannuated banker or politician. And at least he can rap.
The appointment of Jim Yong Kim, a South Korea-born, American-raised doctor turned academic was formally announced last night, though in truth the deal was sealed the moment US President Barack Obama nominated him to the post last month. Still, not everyone involved in the process was happy.
Dr Kim is currently president of Dartmouth College, the first Asian-American head of an Ivy League university, and will be the first president to come from the non-profit sector to run the Bank. Dr Kim, 52, established his professional reputation by founding a charity that pioneered intensive community healthcare projects in countries such as Haiti, and has advised the World Health Organisation on HIV and Aids.
His parents left Seoul when he was five and he grew up in in Iowa, where he showed a precocious academic talent. He has two Ivy League universities on his CV and returned to academia three years ago to run Dartmouth – which is where the rapping comes in.
At the annual “Dartmouth Idol” competition, a grinning Dr Kim was surely the first World Bank president to become a YouTube sensation performing the Black Eyed Peas’ song “The Time”, dressed in a glow-in-the-dark suit with space-age sunglasses and completing an accomplished “robot dance”. He then danced to “Thriller”. Danny Blanchflower, The Independent columnist and former member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee, who is a professor at Dartmouth, cites Dr Kim’s “infectious enthusiasm” as a quality he will bring to his new role.
At Dartmouth, he helped restore some balance to the university’s finances, though he has endured criticism for failing to stamp out the “hazing” culture that can lead to dangerous bullying of new students.
And there is another first for Dr Kim at the World Bank. He is the first president not to be elected unanimously.
Since the US contributes the most money to the World Bank, and since European countries always vote for the US choice as part of a reciprocal deal that gives them dibs on the presidency of the International Monetary Fund, the outcome was not in doubt.
Some new economic powerhouses – including South Africa, Brazil and, reportedly, India and China – voted for an alternative candidate, the first time there has been a serious challenger.
Nigeria’s finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, and former Colombian finance minister, Jose Antonio Ocampo, contested the election, though Mr Ocampo pulled out last week, saying the process had become too political. Ms Okonjo-Iweala claimed she had broken important barriers. “This thing is not really decided on merit… the United States will get it,” she said yesterday, adding that she had “shown we can contest this thing and Africa can produce people capable of running the entire architecture”, but that emerging market need to seize more control.