“We will take a position together with the BRICS, making a common choice,” Brazil’s Minister of Finance Mantega announced last week, raising hopes that Okonjo-Iweala from Nigeria would win broad support among developing and emerging powers. Yet only little later, the Russian government declared its support for Jim Yong Kim, the US candidate, a decision that was “entirely uncoordinated with the rest of the BRICS”, as one Indian diplomat commented. According to him, the Indian government had heard about the Russian decision from the media. This shows that even on a relatively simple matter (the Nigerian candidate is widely seen as better qualified) the BRICS do not yet have the ability to coordinate their positions.
Some will argue that the World Bank no longer matters as much, and that emerging powers should pick other battles. Yet the Brazil’s announcement that it would coordinate its position with the other BRICS members, follwed by Russia’s unilateral move, raises the question about whether the commitment towards more cohesion in foreign policy matters is distributed evenly among the BRICS.
As I have argued numerous times before, the BRICS Summits are a useful idea to strengthen both political and economic ties between emerging powers, which are still underdeveloped. Yet even the most optimistic observer cannot deny that the BRICS’ internal division and failure to jointly support Okonjo-Iweala dampens hopes that the group can articule common and construtive visions on important geopolitical issues. The BRICS’ inability to support Augustin Carstens’ candidacy for IMF Director against France’s Christine Lagarde last year may have been understandable: Lagarde was seen as equally qualified as Mexico’s Carstens, and Brazil was reluctant to support a Mexican candidate. This year’s contest of a strong African candidate against a weak US-American candidate, however, would have provided a unique opportunity for the BRICS to show unity.
In the end, all this is unlikely to matter much. With support from both the United States and Europe, Kim Yong Kim is very likely to gather sufficient votes to succeed Robert Zoellick. Even a letter by 39 senior officials at the Bank supporting Okonjo-Iweala, and hundred of academics, the Financial Times and The Economist, who have argued in favor of Nigeria’s Finance Minister won’t make much of a difference.
The West’s control of the World Bank Presidency, however, is unlikely to last. As voting power slowly but inevitably shifts towards emerging powers, Jim Yong Kim may well be the last World Bank President pushed through by the United States. Okonjo-Iweala may still become the first African to head the institution. But it seems she’ll have to wait at least until 2017, when Kim’s first term ends. By then, perhaps, the BRICS will speak with a common voice and support a joint candidate.