By Olumide Adeleye
Like many citizens of the developing world, I closely followed as events unfolded in determining the next President of the World Bank. When the final announcement was made, I could not but oscillate between amusement and irritation as I read comments on Twitter. A small percentage of the posts on my Twit feed came from people who were disappointed that our very own Aunty Ngozi had not been selected. But a much larger group- made up of some of the very vocal Occupy Nigeria activists- could not hide their delight at the news.
In at least one way, Okonjo Iweala was a depiction of the high-flying, lofty-dreaming, Nigerian in that contest. She was an example of the world’s rarest- a person who though from the developing world, had obtained the best of education, gotten a terrific career and risen very high in her chosen path due largely to hard work. She had broken barriers and had earned the right to be called a trailblazer. However, as far as her career as a World Bank Economist was concerned, she could not get to the top. The past few days have boldly articulated why: she wasn’t born in the “right” place! She was fighting to be selected for a post that was closed to merit but open to global tribalism.
Perhaps Iweala had hoped that in an effort to demonstrate leadership, America would actually walk the talk, and practice her (America’s) usual sermons on fairness and equality. Perhaps Iweala under-estimated the powers attached to being the largest investor in the bank. Her last minute statements of frustration showed that she had finally realized that this race was not to the swift, neither was the battle to the strong. It was in the hands of The Nation that owned the bank.
But I write, not to lay emphasis on her loss, but because her race (even on such a high level) is just a small representation of the African story. Her race for the World Bank presidency reminds me of many Nigerian youths, competing in a technologically advanced world they almost do not belong to (for no fault of theirs). Their “Silicon Valley” is Ikeja’s famous “Computer Village” where just like their US counterparts, they believe that all things are possible and in their own ways, they can create anything. It reminds me of the students in our over-populated universities, who read day and night with or without power supply and cope with long strikes only to graduate and fight with the monster called unemployment. It reminds me of the great minds who have all it would take to lead the nation to greatness but are not in power because the “bigger boys” simply install themselves. It reminds me of many poor Almajiri- trained from birth through poverty, oppression and indoctrination by the actions or inactions of the wealthy and powerful to be terrorists and a menace to the society.
The world is not a fair place. Africa is a huge embodiment of testimonies to that! But can things be different? Yes! It’s high time we realized as Africans that we are the cause of and solution to our continental “problem”!
Long ago, when India was in dire need of direction, Mahatma Gandhi did something incredible: he decided to lay aside his British education and success as a lawyer and actually get to know his own people. He visited round the country, consulting with all kinds of people- poor, rich, old and young. Finally, he realized that to tackle poverty, India had to become a producing nation. He led by example. For instance, he stripped himself of the expensive British suits and began to wear loin cloth (produced by his own people). Later, he taught the Indians to make their own salt and refused to allow mindless exportation to Britain. Within a short while, the world was feeling the impact of his actions. He was willing to personally sacrifice to elevate the global perception of his people. Today, Gandhi has a unique place in the history of the world.
Aunty Okonjo cannot achieve true success outside (not necessarily literally) of Nigeria. As she has found out, global perception is the connection between the poor Almajiri and the rich World Bank presidential aspirant. She has a unique opportunity as Nigeria’s “Prime” Minister to transform the economy and the lives of her people. When she becomes a true hero at home, it would no longer matter whether she gets to head America’s “World” Bank. Her place would be settled in the history of the world. And perhaps most importantly, many Nigerians who would have received some form of hope would remember her in their prayers and appreciation.