Doing It Africa’s Way

Working together and with outside support, Africans can and will address their own challenges—in their own ways—for lasting results. That, in essence, was the message 22 of the continent’s leaders delivered to World Bank President James Wolfensohn and IMF Managing Director Horst Köhler on an unprecedented joint visit to Africa in late February.

The week-long trip, which included stops in Mali, Tanzania, Nigeria and Kenya, was a follow-up to Wolfensohn and Köhler’s commitment at the Prague 2000 Annual Meetings to put Africa at the center of their institutions’ activities. The World Bank and IMF heads set out to listen to how African leaders plan to address these challenges and to discuss how their institutions can best support them in their efforts.

The Bank’s vice president for the Africa Region, Callisto Madavo, and his IMF counterpart, G.E. Gondwe, accompanied their bosses on the trip. “What’s new from this trip,” Madavo told reporters in Washington Wednesday (transcript), “is that for the first time we have African leaders taking ownership of what they want to do in Africa.” He added that “a new partnership is emerging in which African leaders are telling us what they want to do, and in turn they are asking the Bank and the Fund as their external partners to provide support.”

That sentiment was echoed by the IMF’s Gondwe: “This time, there was a very, very, very clear understanding of what the problems are as well as enthusiasm of taking responsibilities for what has to be done.”

Among the key African-led initiatives is the recently-announced Millenium African Renaissance Plan (MAP). This is a program that Presidents Bouteflika of Algeria, Obasanjo of Nigeria, and Mbeki of South Africa were asked to develop by the Organization of African Unity, the G-77, and the Non Aligned Movement. It is an integrated African-led business plan to address issues of economic growth, encourage private investment, and invest in people. Developed by Africans, the program comes with the advantage of local ownership and homegrown ideas. The World Bank and IMF heads discussed the program with the three Heads of State championing it, along with Malian President Alpha Konare, who hosted the meeting in Bamako. It is on the drawing board, and both institutions plan to follow its development closely.

Madavo said there was broad agreement on what needs to be done if Africa is to move forward: reducing poverty through sustained economic growth, combating AIDS and investing in people, strengthening governance, improving the investment climate, resolving conflicts, and linking African economies to the global economy.

In meetings with Wolfensohn and Köhler, African leaders stressed that some MAP programs called for special attention. “HIV/AIDS was seen as one area where they wanted really to fast-track action and activities,” Madavo said. Africa is home to 70 percent of the 36 million people living with HIV or AIDS worldwide. In some African countries, more than one-third of the population is infected or has AIDS, dealing devastating blows to overall development. The World Bank stresses that political commitment to fight AIDS is key to curbing the epidemic (see story).

Another pressing issue is outside support. According to the World Bank’s African Development Indicators, a report out last month, official aid to Sub-Saharan Africa has been falling from $32 a head in 1990 to $19 by 1998 despite evidence of its effective development results in those countries with sound social and economic policies (see story). “Official aid levels need to pick up,” Madavo said at Wednesday’s briefing. He also appealed to rich countries to open their markets to African exports. World Bank research shows that tariff barriers cost African countries more than the they receive in official aid.

“The leaders of our two institutions felt that they should act as advocates for Africa, in terms of market access, official aid floors and continued efforts on debt relief, so that we can put together the resources that would enable the Africans to do what they told us they wanted to do,” Madavo said.

Wolfensohn and Köhler agreed with the African leaders they recently met with to come together again in a year to review progress on the issues they discussed, and to to see how much of this is translated into action. “The challenge now,” Madavo said, “is the next steps: What is going to happen over the next twelve months? Are we going to see real progress? This is going to depend very much on the Africans, but we in the World Bank and IMF are quite willing to roll up our sleeves to assist Africa, to make progress.”