Former Liberia’s Minister of Finance, Ms. Antoinette M. Sayeh. PHOTO/ Courtesy
Center for Global Development

Kemi Osukoya


February 25, 2020

The International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said Tuesday she has chosen former Liberia’s Minister of Finance, Ms. Antoinette Sayeh, to be the Fund’s next Deputy Managing Director.

If approved by the IMF’s executive Board, Ms. Sayeh, a veteran economist who previously chaired the Fund’s African unit from 2008 to 2016 before leaving to become a distinguished visiting fellow at the Center for Global Development— a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, will assume her new role at the IMF, starting March 16, 2020, and becoming the first African woman to assume the post. 

Ms. Sayeh’s appointment comes two weeks after the announcement of the Fund’s current First Deputy Managing Director David Lipton’s departure at the end of this month.

In a statement, Ms.Georgieva, who has worked with Ms. Sayeh at various points and capacities in both of their careers said she is pleased to have Ms. Sayeh rejoin the IMF and looks forward to working with her.

“Antoinette demonstrates a rare combination of institutional leadership, deep analytical capacity, and an unwavering commitment to fairness. I have always been impressed by her genuine care for the well-being of the people we serve and her ability to place them front and center in our efforts.,” said Ms. Georgieva. “I personally have known and worked with her for many years in a wide range of positions that she has held. I look forward to working closely with her again as she joins the management team.”

The announcement is part of a new management reshuffling by Ms. Georgieva to put in place a new team since taking the rein at the IMF in October 2019. It also marks a milestone for the Fund: It will be the first time in the IMF’s history to have two female leaders leading the organization, a notable representation that will have significant impact not only for female economists and women in other top leadership posts, it’s a major motivation for young girls around the world who are interested in Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics education.

“It is a terrific appointment,” said Nancy Birdsall, President Emeritus and Senior Fellow at the CGD.  “I saw Ms. Sayeh in action in Monrovia in the first years after that country’s civil war.  She was savvy, smart, heroic at a tough time for her country.  Her appointment is another indication that there are women fully prepared for these demanding jobs, as long as the leadership is looking.  It is a good sign too, for aspiring female economists interested in macro-economic and finance work, which have been traditionally heavily dominated by men, especially in developing countries. It is surely not a coincidence that Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the first female president of an African country, asked Antoinette Sayeh to be her first Minister of Finance.” 

Since her exit from the IMF in 2016, Sayeh has remained active in the international finance community through diverse activities and roles, including serving recently as the external Co-Chair for the recently concluded 19th Replenishment of the World Bank Group’s International Development Association.

As Minister of Finance in post-conflict Liberia, Sayeh helped steer the country through a special debt relief program, Heavily Indebted Poor Country , that led to the removal of the country’s long-standing multilateral debt arrears. She also advocated for funding to help West African countries battling the Ebola crisis in 2014-2015, experiences that experts say will come in handing as the Fund works to implement the IMF Managing Director’s vision for the African continent and developing countries.

“Antoinette brings to the IMF management team a unique appreciation of the challenges facing African policymakers and how the IMF can best support them in making sometimes difficult decisions,” said Masood Ahmed, President of CGD, the think tank organization where Ms. Sayeh currently serves as a Distinguished visiting fellow. “Her arrival [at the IMF] will help operationalize the new Managing Director’s stated focus on Africa and low income countries and translate it into more appropriate advice and conditionality in IMF engagement.” 

Before joining President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s Cabinet, Sayeh worked for the World Bank Group for 17 years, holding various senior positions. Prior to that, Ms. Sayeh worked in Liberia’s Ministries of Finance and Planning. She holds a bachelor’s degree with honors in economics from Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania and a PhD in International Economic Relations from the Fletcher School at Tufts University in Massachusetts.

*CORRECTION: A previous version of the headline misspelled Ms. Sayeh’s first name.