Reforming the Unreformable: Lessons From Nigeria

Okonjo-Iweala is a veteran senior official at the World Bank, and she is often mentioned as a likely choice to become the bank’s president if and when Western powers stop insisting that an American lead the organization. In 2003, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo asked Okonjo-Iweala to return to her native Nigeria to help the country deal with its massive foreign debt. Over the next few years, she helped persuade the country’s creditors to cancel 60 percent of the debt, making good use of her personal connections within the international financial community. But her attempts to enact economic reforms were less successful, at least in part because of the ambivalence of much of the Nigerian government. Fiscal and monetary reforms have played only a supporting role in helping Nigeria and other African countries achieve a level of economic stability in recent years: rising commodity prices, growing remittances from an increasingly wealthy diaspora, and the emergence of new investors, notably from China and India, have been at least as important. Meanwhile, Nigeria has made very little progress on other pressing problems, from its woeful infrastructure, to its dysfunctional agricultural sector, to its growing social inequality and persistent poverty. Those issues receive only passing references in Okonjo-Iweala’s upbeat account.

Latest Commentary & News analysis