Korean-born academic is US choice to head World Bank

Jim Yong Kim nominated by White House in bid to address concerns about US monopoly on post

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The Independent Online

A Korean-born American academic is President Barack Obama's surprise nomination for the next president of the World Bank. The US President said yesterday that Jim Yong Kim, the head of Dartmouth College, is "ideally suited" to replace Robert Zoellick as the head of the multinational lending institution in June.

Mr Kim, who was born in Seoul and moved with his family to the US at the age of five, is a former medical doctor and an expert in development. He is also a former director of the HIV/Aids department at the World Health Organisation. In 2009 he became the first Asian-American head of an Ivy League college when he was appointed president of Dartmouth.

"Jim has truly global experience," said Mr Obama, appearing alongside Mr Kim in the White House's Rose Garden yesterday. "His personal story exemplifies the great diversity of our country ... and his experience makes him ideally suited to forge partnerships all around the world."

Since the World Bank was founded in 1944 it has been run by a citizen of the US, which has a majority of votes on the institution's board. Developing nations have been calling for an end to the tradition of appointing an American to the post and demanding a purely merit-based system. The White House's selection of Mr Kim, with his ethnic minority background and expertise in the developing world, has been interpreted as an attempt to address some of those concerns.

But Mr Kim will not run unopposed. Three African countries have endorsed the nomination of the Nigerian finance minister and economist Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Nigeria, Angola and South Africa said in a joint statement yesterday that "the appointment of the leadership of World Bank ... should be merit-based, open and transparent".

The World Bank has a lower profile than its sister multinational lending organisation, the International Monetary Fund, but it has a much larger footprint in the developing world. It was responsible for $43bn (£27bn) of new lending in 2011, which was spent on 303 projects.

The renowned US development economist Jeffery Sachs, whose name had been put forward by some developing nations, yesterday announced his withdrawal from the race and his support for Mr Kim. The Korean-American's tenure at Dartmouth College has been controversial, with some academics complaining about his leadership style. A blog run by alumni and students of the college yesterday said that "Kim knows as little about finance as he does about running an institution of higher learning". It added the observation that "President Obama is trying to make our problem the world's problem".

Developing world politicians are not the only ones who have been calling for a non-American to head the World Bank. Three former chief economists at the World Bank – Francois Bourguignon, Joseph Stiglitz and Nicholas Stern – recently wrote a joint article arguing for an end to the US "monopoly" on the institution's top job. They observed: "To say it is merit-based and to choose an American repeatedly shows scant respect to the citizens of other countries."