Of IMF, ‘small houses’ and African stereotypes

As the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is rocked by a sex scandal, some in Africa and other Third world countries seem to have seized the opportunity to push for reforms.

For many outside the Western bloc, it is time to break the duopoly of Europe and the US on the IMF and the World Bank respectively.

Some went as far as suggesting that a replacement for Dominique Gaston André Strauss-Kahn must be an African, perhaps in the mould of South African National Planning minister Trevor Manuel.

For once, South Africa and Australia, rivals in many aspects, joined hands at the G8 summit to call for Strauss-Kahn’s replacement to be based on merit.

Pushing for an IMF head outside Europe is just pie in the sky, as the world we came to realise that a 1940s convention only accommodates a European to lead this global lending institution.

As this debate rages on, the shallowness with which this discussion has been handled is not only myopic but appalling.

Suggestions for a change of a face at the IMF for someone from another continent are incomprehensible, given that a head is only responsible for executing and implementing policy.

Policy formulation is a preserve of the board which in my view is where we should direct our energies towards IMF reforms.

That process of reforms has to start now than wait for another ‘small house’ scandal to rock the fund.

History is full of examples of such cosmetic appointments where black faces have been used to implement Western policies and the results, especially in Africa, have been a disaster.

Examples include Boutros Boutros-Ghali and Kofi Annan. When the IMF was prescribing the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme, an economic policy that is known for having aggravated poverty among millions of people in Africa, Boutros Boutros-Ghali was the head of the United Nations from 1992 to 1996.

That there are twice as many poor people living on less than a dollar daily, over 300 million, compared to twenty years ago is largely blamed on IMF’s structural adjustment programmes.

Annan (1997 to 2006) played midwife to the birth of the Millennium Development Goal, another double-edged instrument by the West to create a demand for IMF lending packages among developing countries.

Nevertheless, what is most striking is that the IMF impropriety has been unleashed to the fore by a “small house” project that went wrong. There is no doubt that the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case invoked profound corollaries in the politics of global finance and regulation and similarly on the “small house” concept and the world perception of women and Africa as a continent. Space granted, many women out there would have loved to cause the same fate that befell Strauss-Kahn.

Some would have wanted to see reforms cascading down to the small house projects.

One female colleague forwarded me an interesting analysis of the Strauss-Kahn case, far distanced from the mainstream calls for IMF reforms and yet it was close enough to strike a nerve.

She first questioned why there was so much obsession with the unfairness of the IMF recruitment structure as if IMF was created two weeks ago in the luxury suite of a New York hotel where Strauss-Kahn’s demise was authored.

She also wanted to know why the head of the IMF position has become so important to Africa than a poor nameless West African woman who has been abused by one of the world’s most powerful men.

She wondered whether we have retrogressed to the era when it was the man’s world, given that all IMF heads so far have been men. Where are the women of this world, she questioned.

Perhaps, Christine Lagarde will break the jinx if she gets the position as head of the IMF but she will be the fifth French national to take the position.

My colleague still wanted to know why there is less noise around Strauss-Kahn’s case compared to that of Jacob Zuma during his rape trial. Their cases share a lot of affinities.

Zuma is a polygamist with four wives, while Strauss-Kahn marries them one at a time. His current wife, a journalist for that matter, is the third. Both were presidential aspirants when justice questioned their loose zippers. Both were accused of raping women believed to be HIV-positive, they never denied it.

Despite the fact that they both boast of impressive CVs on “small house” projects, only one of them, Zuma, a believer in Zulu culture, attracted a lot of media and NGO frenzy than the other.

In fact, Zuma was described as an example of a “typical African man” and yet Strauss-Kahn is treated as an individual of French nationality, so the French men are free from Strauss-Kahn stereotype.

Such is the world we live in.

Tapiwa Gomo is a development consultant based in Pretoria, South Africa

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