Why are African countries supporting the IMF’s Kristalina Georgieva?

A “true partner.”
A “true partner.”
Image: Pool via REUTERS/Ludovic Marin
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Early this month, 17 African finance ministers released a statement in support of IMF managing director Kristalina Georgieva in the wake of allegations that she instructed staff to manipulate data to favor China, while she was the chief executive of the World Bank.

Coming after a meeting involving Georgieva, representatives from the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA,) and the ministers on Africa’s response to the covid-19 pandemic and recovery efforts, the move raises concern about the engagement priorities of the African ministers.

In their statement, the 17 African finance ministers lauded Georgieva and the IMF’s work for poorer countries, including debt forgiveness, and provision of more than $30 billion to African economies last year. They describe Georgieva as a “true partner” who has “demonstrated integrity, energy, and progressive advice” and call for investigations on the data manipulation allegations against her to be fair.

“She has been an invaluable partner who has contributed to our collective successes,” the ministers wrote.

“The allegations surrounding the World Bank’s 2018 Doing Business report are serious and should be investigated. However, we also believe this should be done in a manner that does not undermine the integrity of the IMF and most of all, must allow for a fair and just process,” they add.

The ministers also said they are working with Georgieva on extending debt maturity and dealing with the climate crisis.

Sixteen African ministers backed IMF head Georgieva

They are from Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Mauritania, Nigeria, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, and Togo.

“It seemed to me that their statement was really very reactive and the discussions that they’re having are much more in response to what is happening on the international agenda, as opposed to them setting their own agenda and delivering statements that relate to their own agenda,” says Hannah Ryder, CEO of Development Reimagined, an African-led international development consultancy with headquarters in China.

Inquiry into World Bank’s Doing Business survey

Last month, an inquiry found that Georgieva had played a key role in interfering with the World Bank’s 2018 Doing Business survey. The allegations cast doubt on Georgieva’s future at the IMF, but after reviewing the claims, the fund’s executive board on Oct. 11 announced she was remaining as its managing director, saying their investigation “did not conclusively demonstrate” impropriety.

America’s treasury secretary, Janet Yellen, said the allegations raised “legitimate issues” but a there was no need for leadership change due to a lack of direct evidence.

The African finance ministers’ statement was one of several issued by SKDK, a public relations agency retained by Georgieva.

She also received support from Nicholas Stern, chairman of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change at the London School of Economics, as well as the governments of France and other European countries.

With the exception of Botswana, the countries that released the statement received millions of dollars in financial assistance and debt service relief from the IMF in 2020. Notable amounts include $8 billion to Egypt, $3.4 billion to Nigeria and $2.47 billion to Sudan as financial assistance.

In the Doing Business rankings, the 17 countries gained an average of 11 positions from the 2017 report, which was published in 2016, the year before Georgieva joined the World Bank, to the 2020 report, which was published in 2019, the year she left. For these African countries, Georgieva’s tenure both at the World Bank and IMF has been favorable to them.

Ryder, the Development Reimagined CEO, said that rather than pay attention to Georgieva, the African finance ministers could have engaged on issues that are “much more substantive” on questions raised about the Doing Business report, including bias and the need for reform.

“Why the African finance ministers didn’t engage on that, while focusing more on Georgieva, and the scandal itself, it just indicates – to me at least – that the coordination process is not yet in a shape in which the finance ministers can kind of be less reactive and more planned,” she said.

“I think it indicates that that coordination process really needs to evolve, and to some ways improve,” she adds.

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