The Sierra Leone Telegraph
Home Archives Links to Sierra Leone News

World Bank's Chief Zoellick In Town

Abdul R Thomas
Editor - The Sierra Leone Telegraph

23 January 2010

African leaders will be watching the P’s and Q’s of not only their economic policies, but their commitment to good governance, overcoming poverty, promoting peace, transparency, and above all - tackling corruption. The World Bank Group President - Robert B. Zoellick – will be in Town.

After enjoying unprecedented economic growth of above 5 per cent GDP in the last five years preceding the global economic recession, African economies have now gone into severe seizure, with a 2.8 per cent growth in 2009 - less than half the 5.7 per cent expected before the global financial crisis.

  Although Africa’s economic growth is anticipated to rebound to 4.5 per cent in 2010, however, urgent steps need to be taken to avoid Africa relapsing into the bad old days of political repression and dictatorship, as economic hardship and poverty worsens.

With rising government budget deficits, fall in levels of inward investments, and downward pressure on donor aid budgets, Africa faces enormous challenges. It is predicted that, only a handful of African countries are likely to meet the Millennium Development Goal of halving the share of their population, living on less than one dollar a day, by 2015.

Hence, it is hoped that the visit by the Bank’s Chief, will bring renewed impetus to reviving the fiscal and monetary policy reforms, economic restructuring and diversification programmes that most of Africa had been embarking on before the start of the global recession.

The World Bank Group committed a record $58.8 Billion worldwide in loans, grants, equity investments, and guarantees in 2009 - a 54 percent increase over 2008. $7.8 Billion was earmarked for Sub-Saharan African countries – an increase of 36 percent on figures for 2008. But it is not yet clear, what the actual spending in Africa by the World Bank was in 2009.

As the World Bank’s Chief starts his eight-day - three-nation Africa tour on Tuesday, 26 January, 2010, all attention will be focused on the work of President Koroma of Sierra Leone, Laurent Gbagbo of Ivory Coast, Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, development partners and private investors. The Bank’s Chief will call for ‘a renewed momentum in economic growth and overcoming poverty.’

“I am visiting Africa to learn about how its people have coped with the global economic crisis and to see how the World Bank Group can work with them to improve prospects for economic growth and expanded opportunity. Much of Africa has a solid record of economic growth, including in some of Africa’s fragile states, and it has the potential to be another pole of growth for the world economy,” Zoellick said.

The conclusions and recommendations of the 2009 Africa Economic Outlook (AEO) Report, published jointly by the African Development Bank, the OECD Development Centre and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, with support from the European Commission, will feature highly in the Chief’s talks with stakeholders.

Zoellick will discuss ‘the transformative impact that information and communication technology (ICT) can have on the continent.’

The 2009 AEO Report concludes that despite low penetration rates for new technologies, innovative application of ICT has been diffused in areas such as; e-banking, e-payments, e-agriculture, e-trade, e-government and e-education.

While many in Africa welcome the changes that ICT is helping to foster, there are doubts as to its real economic impact, with respect to job creation, job displacement and the social fragmentation of African communities.

Zoellick points out that “skeptics wondered whether Africa was ready for a revolution in telecommunications. But African entrepreneurs, with the help of supportive government policies, changed the facts on the ground,”

As a technology platform for business innovation, however, very few will doubt the potential ICT has in improving Africa’s business environment, developing new markets, overcoming poor infrastructure constraints and reducing the high costs of doing business in Africa.

African leaders will be urged by the Bank’s chief to lift barriers to private sector investment in the ICT sector and take advantage of the opportunities this technology platform can bring to advance agriculture, education and the health sectors.

Zoellick believes that ‘a combination of policy and institutional reforms and external resources are urgently needed to help build capacity, generate economic opportunities in fragile states, and lay the foundation for stability and overcoming poverty.’

A major concern of the World Bank is that after enjoying average rate of growth of 10% since the end of the war, Sierra Leone’s GDP growth has tapered off to 4% in 2009. The Bank believes that President Koroma’s ‘government must now develop new engines of growth in agriculture, energy, mining, private sector investments and tourism to bring Sierra Leone out of poverty.’

Zoellick will commence his visit with a trip to Bumbuna to see the 50 MW hydro-electricity plant - the development of which was partly financed by the World Bank. It is believed that the World Bank invested approximately $200 Million to assist President Koroma in realising his dream of electrifying the country.

Although Zoellick will meet with President Koroma on the second and final day of his visit to Sierra Leone, it is his first day’s scheduled ‘tete-a-tete’ with the Chairman of the Anti-Corruption Commission that will attract much interest.

The media and opposition parties in Sierra Leone have questioned the government’s sincerity in tackling corruption, especially amongst those that the President refers to as ‘sacred cows’. Critics argue that the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) is being arm twisted to avoid holding senior members of the government and relatives of the President to account for alleged misdemeanours.

The President of the World Bank will have a closed session with the Chairman of the Anti-Corruption Commission to discuss amongst other issues; the World Bank’s support for the ACC in its efforts at tackling corruption – while trying to maintain its independence and integrity.

The Bank’s Chief will also offer support in ‘leveraging Sierra Leone's strong ratings for voice and accountability, as well as political stability to develop the demand for good governance’. He will explore the role of the proposed Freedom of Information Bill and review work in progress in bringing the Bill to fruition.

Zoellick will meet President Koroma to discuss the ‘challenges of state and peace building in a post-conflict environment’. No doubt President Koroma will have plenty to say to the Bank’s Chief about good governance, as he tries to build confidence. Discussions will focus on the outcomes of the recent Investors and Consultative Group Conference held in London, in November 2009, as the country awaits the arrival of foreign investors.

President Koroma will also have the opportunity to discuss progress and challenges, in achieving his vision of the country’s development, as articulated in the Agenda for Change - Sierra Leone’s Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper 2.

Before ending his visit to Sierra Leone, the World Bank President will meet representatives of key development partners, hosted by the UN Special Representative. Discussions will focus on the ‘Challenges of a Post conflict state and the role of the International Community’.

Sierra Leone’s donors and development partners will brief the Bank’s Chief on the development challenges facing the country, including the security situation, donor coordination and aid effectiveness.

So, as the President of the World Bank embarks on his trip to Africa, expectations are very high, as the global recession continues to bite. Will the Chief’s visit herald the much needed impetus to revive the economic reforms, restructuring and diversification that will underpin Africa’s fight against poverty? Only time will tell.

Back to main list of articles

Email the Editor
The Sierra Leone Telegraph

©2009 – The Sierra Leone Telegraph – All Rights Reserved.