Friday, August 14, 2009

The World Bank is Singing a New Tune in Africa

Brandishing an empathetic new tagline on its main website, "Working for a World Free of Poverty", the World Bank is obviously looking to address the main criticisms of its past performance and recast its formerly tarnished image. Yesterday, World Bank President Robert Zoellick finished a week- long visit to Africa in order to vocalize the Bank's committment to economic development despite the deepening recession. Among other things he emphasized that the Bank is... looking toward a world that is no longer dominated by the United States and other advanced economies?
"We need multiple poles of growth and that will make for a more solid and
balanced international economy and there is absolutely no reason that Africa
can't be one of those multiple poles of growth."
To label the call for a more egalitarian economic world-order by World Bank President Robert Zoellick as ironic, would be a supreme understatement. Zoellick, an appointee of George W. Bush, was one of the key signators of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), a neo-conservative document that believed the US "must have a secure foundation on unquestioned U.S. military preeminence" among other imperial objectives for the 21st century. Certainly, the world has changed enormously since the 1990's with agressive calls for reform in the world economy to empower developing countries in the 21st century. Zoellick proclaimed the Bank's support for an"African Century for Development" and the creation of a new asset management unit to work with government-controlled funds to invest in African economies with the highest growth potential to spur private-sector activity.

Like the Obama administration, (which has also been looking to reform the US image around the world and Africa in particular), the World Bank is clearly focusing on delivering a message of partnership rather than paternalism in relations with African governments. Whether or not the new World Bank rhetoric will match actual World Bank policy depends on the character of the conditionalities placed on African countries in order to receive support. Let's hope they can get it right this time and avoid reviving the "Washington Consensus" of privitization, liberalization, and strict political-economic managment that ruined the prospects of genuine poverty eradication and development in recent years.

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