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World Bank President says African poor still vulnerable to crisis

By Emma Ujah and Oscarline Onwuemenyi
The effects of the global food, fuel and economic crisis would be felt by Africa’s people for some time yet and it was important to persist with efforts to protect the most vulnerable while laying the foundations for future productivity and growth, World Bank Group President Robert B. Zoellick said Tuesday.

Ending an eight-day, three-nation trip to Africa, Zoellick, according to a statement from the World Bank Office in Nigeria, said success would depend on making the continent a more attractive destination for investment, on donors providing adequate support, notably to countries emerging from conflict, and working with Africans to ensure that each dollar spent has an impact on overcoming poverty.

Zoellick, who was accompanied by the World Bank Africa Region Vice President Obiageli Ezekwesili, said his trip was to listen and learn from African leaders, and a cross-section of African parliamentarians, representatives of local governments, the private sector, civil society, women and youth groups.

“We still face considerable risks in 2010 and must work to repair the damage to human lives from the global economic crisis,” Zoellick said, as he ended a visit which took him to Sierra Leone, Cote d’Ivoire and Ethiopia. “At the same time we must ensure that Africa’s robust growth rates of the past two decades are not a one-off event and that the basis for future productivity and growth are put in place to help overcome poverty on the continent,” he stated.

Zoellick said the World Bank had helped countries, working with partners at the U.N. and elsewhere, with targeted social safety nets such as school feeding programs and cash for work programs.

To address longer term challenges, he appealed for investments across Africa to expand its share of global and intra-African trade while fostering regional integration and building crucial infrastructure in energy, transport and irrigation needed to promote agriculture and manufacturing.

“I leave Africa impressed by the actions many governments have taken to cope with the global economic crisis but also aware that governments and their partners, like the World Bank Group and others, must work harder to expand opportunities and improve prospects for economic growth.

“The progress I have seen across the region, but also in fragile and post-conflict countries, has confirmed my belief in Africa’s potential to become another source of growth for the world economy,” Zoellick said.

During a breakfast forum hosted jointly on the sidelines of the AU summit by Zoellick and the African Development Bank President Donald Kaberuka, African leaders agreed on the need to do more not only to lift the many barriers to more private sector investment in the Information and Communications (ICTs) sector, but to expand the opportunities more generally for the private sector in their countries.

The private sector has driven technological progress across the continent, investing about $60 billion from 1998-2008 in ICTs. Sixty-five per cent of Africans have access to wireless voice networks and some 400 million mobile phones are now in use.

The World Bank signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Micro-soft in Addis Ababa to help Africa keep pace with fast-changing technology systems, increase access by African small businesses to ICTs, and expand support for affordable remittance transfers to Africa.

African leaders attending their bi-annual summit meeting in Addis Ababa received reassurances of the World Bank Group’s continued support to initiatives they are taking to stimulate their economies and take advantage of a rebound in global growth and trade.

Support would also be provided to projects aimed at providing reliable, clean and affordable electricity to homes and enterprises, while harnessing renewable forms of energy like hydro, solar, and wind, and improving efficiency in thermal generation and addressing climate change. Zoellick told leaders the World Bank was pioneering new ways to draw private investors to Africa. IFC’s Asset Management Company was raising and managing private equity funds to co-invest on the continent.

IFC was expecting in the next months to close on a $500 million sub_Saharan Africa, Latin America, and Caribbean Fund that will take equity positions in companies in these regions. It was also expecting to close on a $200 million Africa Capitalization Fund that invests in systemically important banks.

Throughout the trip, members of government, representatives of the private sector, other donor agencies and civil society stressed the need to create jobs especially for youth and women; to build capacity for entrepreneurship; to foster reconciliation and help encourage stable and capable institutions.

This was especially needed in post_conflict settings, where more inclusive political, social and economic initiatives are key to expanding opportunities for overcoming poverty.

The World Bank Group has committed a record $88 billion worldwide in loans, grants, equity investments, and guarantees since the global economic crisis hit in the middle of 2008. IDA, which provides grants and low_interest loans to the world’s 79 poorest countries, half of which are in Africa, committed $7.8 billion to sub_Saharan African countries in the fiscal 2009 year, a 36 percent increase over the year before. The Bank’s private sector arm, IFC, which provides investments and advisory services to build the private sector in developing countries, has seen its commitments in Africa grow to $1.82 billion in 2009 from $445 million in 2005.


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