By Raj Patel*
Paul Wolfowitz is the US nominee to head the World Bank, replacing Jim Wolfensohn, who retires this year. The US gets to pick the head of the Bank, the Europeans pick the head of the IMF, and it’s unlikely that the US will brook any criticism of its annointed candidate. (1)
FYI, Wolfowitz is the nice man who mops up the oil and starts the wars – Wolfensohn liked to see himself as the man who mopped up the wars and started the oil flowing again.
I’m having trouble seeing, though, why the nomination is a bad thing. The shrill and self-righteous end of the European NGO spectrum has put out a petition to denounce the US nomination, which I’m not going to dignify with a signature. They’re entirely correct that the nomination process is shrouded in secrecy, and that Wolfowitz’s career since being US ambassador to Indonesia during the Suharto regime has rendered him less than authoritative on the issues of good governance and probity on which the Bank prides itself. Wolf-2 is sensitive to this critique. In his words
"In order to develop my own vision, I intend to rely on a lot of listening and improving my understanding of the views of those who have served the world’s poor with skill, devotion and compassion."
(When he talks about "those who have served the world’s poor", he’s talking about the people at the World Bank.)
There are a number of reasons to think Wolfowitz’s appointment isn’t so bad. First, it’ll stop the people who think that the Bank can be fixed. They’ve long been a problem to the movement, and a comfort to [the current president] Jim Wolfensohn during his ten year stint: he has always been able to drape an avuncular arm over the nearest pasty white boy from London or Brussels or Washington, squeeze their shoulder, and make them feel the Bank was becoming a better place. I’m told Wolf-2 is a little too oleaginous to quite manage a firm grip. Either way, any NGO that tried to get too close would be much more widely seen for the parasites they are.
Second, it’s much easier to see how war and the Bank are linked if the man who’s good at one can move to the other without skipping a beat. This helps movement-building, and makes it harder for the media to ignore the links, though in this, I imagine ignorance will prevail.
There may even be reasons to think that the Bank’s budget may shrink under Wolf-2, with Bush preferring the direct imperial control that the US Treasury offers, and able to throw a bone to the non-passport-holding members of his party who wonder why they spend so much money on black people. If this is true, then this is again good. The governments of the global South need to wean themselves from the Bank, and there’s no time like the present to do it.
In short, the World Bank has a president that everyone knows and loathes, and this is going to make change easier. Welcome on board, Slick.
* Raj Patel is a post-doctoral fellow at the University of KwaZulu-Natal ‘s Centre for Civil Society. He is currently working on issues of agrarian change and struggle, is a member of the Land Research Action Network, and co-edits the online webzine The Voice of the Turtle www.voiceoftheturtle.org. This article first appeared in Voice of the Turtle http://voiceoftheturtle.org/raj/blog/2005/03/wolf-is-dead-long-live-wolf.html
(1) The World Bank Executive Board unanimously endorsed the nomination of Paul Wolfowitz on 31 March, 2005. He will take up the position on 1 June 2005.