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Unprecedented joint visit: Köhler, Wolfensohn meet with African leadersto discuss economic challenges facing region

Author(s):
International Monetary Fund. External Relations Dept.
Published Date:
January 2001
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During February 20-25, in an unprecedented joint visit to sub-Saharan countries, IMF Managing Director Horst Köhler and World Bank President James Wolfensohn met African leaders to discuss the pressing economic problems their countries face and endorsed the need for a new approach to achieving the objectives of stronger economic growth and poverty reduction.

Köhler and Wolfensohn joined in a meeting in Mali with heads of state from western and central Africa, and subsequently participated in a similar meeting in Tanzania for heads of state from eastern and southern Africa. They also visited Nigeria and Kenya for discussions with the heads of state of those countries.

Speaking at a conference on child poverty, education, and health in London on February 26, Köhler summed up his main conclusions from the meetings with African leaders, saying that “one of the strongest impressions I took away from the joint discussions…was that these leaders increasingly recognize their own responsibility to address homegrown causes of poverty.” He identified three main areas of progress in the region:

• “an awareness in Africa that any effort to reduce poverty must start with—and build upon—peace, democracy, and good governance at home.”

• “a recognition that the prospects for rapid growth

…will depend on the ability of these countries to unlock the creative energies of their people.”

• “an increasing awareness among African leaders that stronger regional cooperation and integration is indispensable to increase the competitiveness of their economies.” (For excerpts from Köhler’s London remarks, please see page 71.)

Bamako meeting

Opening their tour in Bamako, Mali, on February 20, Köhler and Wolfensohn discussed the pressing problems of African debt and poverty with 10 west African leaders at a meeting hosted by Malian President Alpha Oumar Konaré, the current head of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Other presidents attending the meeting included Omar Bongo of Gabon, Blaise Compaoré of Burkina Faso, Ahmed Tejan Kabbah of Sierra Leone, John Kufuor of Ghana, Antonio Mascarenhas Monteiro of Cape Verde, Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, Didier Ratsiraka of Madagascar, Mamadou Tanja of Niger, and Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal. After the meeting, Köhler said that the talks represented “a major step forward to define a new approach to fight poverty in Africa.”

The following day, Köhler and Wolfensohn met with Presidents Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria and Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, as well as Presidents Konare of Mali and Obasanjo of Nigeria to discuss the proposal for a “Millennium Africa Renaissance Program” (MAP). This proposal was developed by Presidents Bouteflika, Mbeki, and Obasanjo and presented in January at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. This program, Köhler said later in his London remarks, “is emerging as a distinctly African vision and work program for the future of Africa.” It is, he said, “aimed at achieving sustained economic growth of at least 7 percent a year, at doubling Africa’s share in world exports in the next five years, and at accelerating the achievement of the international development goals.” He noted that the program called for “fast-tracking” actions to combat AIDS and other diseases and to improve information and communications technology.

In Abuja on February 22, Köhler and Wolfensohn met again with President Obasanjo, other senior Nigerian officials, and leaders of the National Assembly. In their joint press conference at the end of this visit, they stressed that they recognized the importance of the Nigerian economy to Africa and wanted to support the country’s emerging democracy in coping with severe economic challenges. For its part, the government expressed its strong commitment to working with the international financial institutions.

Discussions in Tanzania

Speaking in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, following a meeting with 12 eastern and southern African leaders on February 23, Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa stressed that the African leaders accepted that the prime responsibility for the continent’s development rested with them. They agreed that they must improve their infrastructures to increase their countries’ attractiveness to foreign investment and work to remove regional trade barriers. The president asked the IMF and the World Bank to help open markets for African goods. Köhler and Wolfensohn indicated their strong support for this approach and their willingness to serve as advocates for Africa in the international community. Köhler underscored that “the willingness of the advanced countries to open their markets for poor countries will be a crucial test of their commitment to reducing world poverty.”

He also emphasized that the IMF is seeking to streamline the conditions associated with its lending programs and tailor them more to the circumstances of individual countries.

Goodall Gondwe, Director of the IMF’s African Department, emphasized, “Africa has not benefited much from globalization; and it has to reposition itself in order to maximize the benefits of globalization. Everybody would like to know the African point of view on how it will do that.” He said that in the course of the meeting, the African leaders had discussed issues of governance, conflict resolution, and ways of creating a climate that is attractive to foreign investors. While Gondwe noted that a total cancellation of all debts was not an option, he said that Köhler had emphasized that the IMF was undergoing a period of intense review of the conditionality of IMF-supported programs. “The purpose is to reduce the number of conditions, not to eliminate them completely,” he said. “We need Africa to do better than it has done. A redoubling of effort is necessary, and we want to see what each one of us can do to accelerate economic growth and reduce poverty in Africa” The World Bank’s Vice-President for Africa, Callisto Madavo, observed that both the Bank and the IMF “want to support programs that are really going to accelerate growth rates and reduce poverty.”

Besides President Mkapa of Tanzania, the meeting was attended by Presidents Issaias Afewerki of Eritrea, Frederick Chiluba of Zambia, Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, Festus Mogae of Botswana, Daniel arap Moi of Kenya, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Bakili Muluzi of Malawi, and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, and Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia.

Following the Dar es Salaam meeting, Köhler and Wolfensohn concluded their African visit by flying to Nairobi for a meeting on February 25 with Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi, who later said that the “very successful” meeting had focused mainly on economic cooperation between the two institutions and his government.

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