In a keynote speech in Accra on May 3 at the end of his one-week African tour, IMF Managing Director Horst Köhler said the IMF planned to establish five regional centers in Africa to beef up locally based technical assistance and training. It was often not lack of political will but lack of capacity, he said, that blocked progress in economic reform. The IMF—responding to a request from African heads of state last year—had been working to enhance its assistance for capacity building in Africa.
It was often not lack of political will but lack of capacity that blocked progress in economic reform.
Köhler’s visit to Africa took him to Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, and Ghana. During theour, he signed memorandums of understanding with President Benjamin Mkapa of Tanzania and President Laurent Gbagbo of Côte d’Ivoire to open the first two African Technical Assistance Centers in Dar es Salaam and Abidjan. These centers are expected to be up and running later this year.
The capacity-building plan, carried out in close cooperation with the World Bank and other donors, would, Köhler stated, concentrate on the IMF’s core areas of expertise— including macroeconomic policy, tax policy and revenue administration, public expenditure management, macro-economic statistics, and building sound financial sectors.
He observed there was mounting evidence that the policy approach embodied in poverty reduction strategy papers (PRSPs) was helping to set the stage for stronger growth, faster poverty reduction, and economic development. The review of the PRSP process recently completed by the IMF and the World Bank had confirmed that the process was widely accepted as a promising way to tackle poverty. Köhler said the encouraging feedback from the PRSP review was corroborated during discussions he had held during his African tour. Governments were becoming more transparent and accountable and were listening more to the views of their citizens. With limited public resources, they were spending more on primary and secondary education and spending it more effectively. Moreover, an increasing number of donors were using the PRSPs in planning their own support for African countries.
While the progress so far has indeed been encouraging, a lot more work needs to be done, Kohler said. The IMF and the World Bank must do a better job of identifying the potential sources of sustained growth. The institutions should be prepared to discuss alternative ways to achieve agreed goals. Donors need to avoid unnecessary complications and delays in aid flows and give more weight to the needs and priorities of African countries in place of their own domestic political and commercial interests.
Köhler said that, at the end of this, his third visit to Africa since his appointment in 2000 to head the IMF, he was more convinced than ever that successful implementation of reform programs required national ownership. Countries must have room to select measures that they believe are in their best interest. He was also encouraged that the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, formulated by African leaders themselves with the goal of ending Africa’s marginal-ization, was emphasizing regional surveillance and “peer review.” Köhler hoped the time was coming when African countries would learn mainly from African success stories.