Africa Will Miss Mr. Wolfowitz

Even though his presidency of the World Bank Group has come to an abrupt end, Mr. Wolfowitz’s energy and commitment to paving the way for Africa to take control of her destiny will always be appreciated.

20.06.2007

Paul WolfowitzThis hurts. In the next few days, the President of the World Bank Group, Mr. Paul Wolfowitz, will leave office having resigned with effect from the end of the Bank’s fiscal year (June 30, 2007). His departure will be a loss for Africa and we will surely miss him. Mr. Wolfowitz was a friend that stuck closer than a brother to the people of the continent. Before he assumed the office in 2005, Africa was simply the international development community’s basket case – a continent that was a mere laboratory of ideas for ineffectual development engagement.

During that time, aid to Africa was just designed and delivered to make good on pronouncements made at summits of western Heads of States and Governments. In other instances, they were just token gestures from multilateral financial institutions like the World Bank that tie the poorest countries to their apron strings. The quality of aid to Africa also created a multiplicity of leadership and governance deficits in African nations whose leaders just fed fat on western pittance. The result is the lack of infrastructure and institutions, high mortality and illiteracy rates, abject poverty, corruption, a total collapse of the state, among other sordid ink spots that litter the continent.

The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, IBRD, now more commonly known as the World Bank was created (alongside the International Monetary Fund) towards the end of the Second World War by the United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference held in July 1944 at the Mount Washington Hotel in the New Hampshire resort town of Bretton Woods. Although the 730 delegates from all the 44 allied nations founded the World Bank to finance reconstruction in Europe, over the years following its creation developing countries and economies in transition have become the principal users of the Bank. The World Bank has also expanded beyond the IBRD which is now just the central member of what is now known as the World Bank Group. The other members of the Group are the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the International Development Association (IDA), the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSUD), and the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA). Most development commentators surmised that the World Bank Group whose mission is to bring hope and opportunity to the world’s poor has failed Africa. Working for a world free of poverty

Enter Mr. Wolfowitz in 2005. One of his first pronouncements was to declare that Africa would be his first priority. He had held a meeting with African governors of the Bank (finance ministers of African countries) soon after he was confirmed but before his official installation as President. He also made a point to make his first trip out of Washington to Africa visiting Nigeria, Rwanda, Burkina Faso and South Africa. With less than two years in office, the Wolfowitz testimonial is glittering.

From his first year in office alone, the Bank Group lending set records with IDA providing over $4 billion in support for Africa. The Bank also provided $67 million as grants to Liberia for use in rebuilding roads, ports and airports and restoring electricity and water supplies. During that same period, the Bank’s investments in closing the infrastructure gap in Africa increased by 15% under the Africa Action Plan. Also through the new Malaria Booster Programme, over 10 million mosquito bed nets and 15 million doses of anti-malarial drugs will be distributed to Africans because in the last 18 months the Bank approved $360 million in assistance for anti-malaria programmes compared to just $50 million between 2000 and 2005. The Bank also increased support to the poorest countries of the world, most of them in Africa, through the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative which cancelled $38 billion of debt owed by the HIPC countries to IDA. The Bank’s Education For All Fast Track Initiative will help African countries develop strategies for increasing primary school enrolment. In April 2007 alone, the Bank delivered $1 billion of support for Africa.

It was also during his presidency that the Bank adopted a new Rapid Response and Fragile States policy to enable the Bank engage more efficiently with fragile states. Just recently, he collaborated with Nigeria’s former finance minister, Dr. (Mrs.) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to launch the Stolen Assets Recovery (STAR) Initiative to put a halt to the illicit emission of money from poor countries to rich ones. As Mr. Wolfowitz eloquently put it during last year’s Annual Meeting of the Bank Group in Singapore: “… rich countries have a vital responsibility in the fight against corruption. They need to take action against bribe givers who often come from their countries and they need to help our developing country partners recover stolen assets.” At various international fora, he has shown open support and admiration for the work of Nigeria’s Nuhu Ribadu at the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). He even got the Bank to give the EFCC a $5 million grant to assist the Commission in the fight against elite corruption.

Perhaps his greatest demonstration of understanding Africa’s path to prosperity was in his appointment of two African women as Vice-Presidents in key positions of the Bank – one of whom is Nigeria’s Oby Ezekwesili. According to Wolfowitz, “only when African voices with African experiences are fully empowered at the Bank, will the Bank be seen as a center for solutions in that part of the world.”

Indeed, Mr. Wolfowitz struck the right tone in tackling Africa’s myriad of problems as President of the World Bank. He reshaped the international development community’s attitude towards Africa. He prodded (and some might say harassed) governments of the Group of 8 industrialized countries to meeting their Gleneagles commitment to ending poverty in Africa. He spoke out to the developed world to ensure that the poorest countries, mostly in Africa, come out as winners of the Doha Round of trade talks and has consistently called for an early completion of the talks. He encouraged champions of reforms in Africa like President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf to make progress on the difficult path of reforms. He attached the good governance and anti-corruption sticks to the development aid carrots to make African leaders more accountable to their people. Simply put, he was Africa’s eyes, ears, mouth, hands and legs at the World Bank.

Even though Mr. Wolfowitz’s presidency of the World Bank Group has come to an abrupt end, his energy and commitment to paving the way for Africa to take control of her destiny will always be appreciated. In truth, Africa will miss Mr. Wolfowitz and we can only hope that when confirmed, his successor-designate – Mr. Robert Zoellick – will continue the good work his predecessor has done for Africa. But even more importantly for Africans, just like Mr. Wolfowitz said at the last Leon Sullivan Summit, we also “really do look forward to the day when the World Bank is trying to keep up with Africa like (the Bank is) trying to keep up with China today, and Africa don’t really need (the Bank) as much as (the Bank) needs Africa”. When that day comes it will be, in the most part, because at some point in time in the history of the World Bank Group, Mr. Paul Wolfowitz was its president.

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