Christine Lagarde has started her campaign tour around the world, focussing on the emerging countries (Brazil, China, and India). However she has also announced that she will consult with her “African colleagues”. But what will they think of her?
Of course in the power games at the IMF, the African countries carry little formal voting weight at the board. But the perception of reaching out to Africa is important. Lagarde will use the African Development Bank annual meetings in Portugal from 9-10 June to meet with African finance ministers. But some African journalists are already making themselves heard against her candidacy. Beyond her belonging to an European country and the fact that the emerging countries are still cast-off in the governance of the Fund, the world view of Lagarde is criticized.
In La Depêche Diplomatique, a Pan-African monthly magazine, Jean-Pierre Béjot reminds us of the career of the current French Minister of Finance (she worked in the law firm Baker & McKenzie for 25 years), her love for the American spirit and her unswerving faith in the free-market globalization. According to his piece, “Christine Lagarde, for an assertive « pragmatic capitalism »”, the main problem of the Lagarde candidacy is her conception of development policy: free trade is good for all even if it means causing suffering to the most vulnerable:
“ Lagarde is purely liberal. She argues in favour of a pragmatic capitalism without restraint, promoting individual success. On her own world map, there are five centres : China, the United States, India, Japan and Russia. She has an ethnocentric view of the “South” : what is good for us (i.e. the West) will be good for you if you set to work and work like a dog. She explains that we all (citizens, workers, consumers, shareholders and companies) have to be “responsible actors of globalization”. We need strictness and transparency in the implementation of the free trade rules. Furthermore, in order to build a sustainable globalization, we must ease the adjustment and the restructuring of the working population. She calls that a ‘respectful globalization’. ” (translated from the original French)
Béjot highlights the two reasons why the appointment of Christine Lagarde to head the IMF would be bad. First, it would confirm the supremacy of the US and the EU in the IFIs’ governance. Secondly, Lagarde as a strong supporter of a free-market globalization, would not reform the current IMF political conceptions. If Christine Lagarde became the next IMF boss, the people would continue to suffer from the Fund’s policy prescription, especially in the poorest countries :
“ [According to Christine Lagarde], all the countries should follow the rules of the free-market globalization to enjoy the same destiny as Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea. And too bad for those who will not able to survive…”
The impact of the IMF in Africa was also the topic of a thoughtful piece in the UK newspaper the Independent on Friday. In it, Johann Hari says as important as Strauss-Kahn’s alleged crimes, are the crimes the IMF has committed, citing examples such as policies in Malawi, Kenya and Ghana in the 1990s:
“It is not only Strauss-Kahn who should be on trial. It is the institution he has been running. There’s an inane debate in the press about who should be the next head of the IMF, as if we were discussing who should run the local Milk Board. But if we took the idea of human equality seriously, and remembered all the people who have been impoverished, starved and killed by this institution, we would be discussing the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission – and how to disband the IMF entirely and start again.”
Will African finance ministers confront Lagarde and challenge her position and ask her to disavow the IMF’s policies in low-income countries? It isn’t likely. First, many of the finance ministers in Africa have got ahead by following the same intellectual traditions as Largarde, some even having worked at the IMF or World Bank over the years. And there is surely no chance Lagarde will disavow the IMF’s structural adjustment policies in Africa – they are the same policies she has been pursuing in the European-IMF demands of Greece, Ireland and Portugal.
And will Africa put up its own candidate? South African minister Trevor Manuel has been mentioned again and again, and has the backing of some South African business associations. But civil society organisations from his home country are less than impressed. And it is unknown if the BRICS will unite behind him as a candidate.
But maybe we should feel comforted by the transparency of Lagarde’s bid to be the head of the IMF head. It seems to be a one-way process. Lagarde’s Twitter account for her campaign (@Lagarde) follows no one. Will she answer difficult questions posed by African finance ministers? Possibly with deflection. But, will she answer difficult questions put forward by citizens of the countries affected by IMF policies?