During July 2-8, in his first visit to sub-Saharan Africa since taking office, IMF Managing Director Horst Köhler met with government authorities and representatives of civil society in Nigeria, Senegal, Mozambique, Botswana, and South Africa. The purpose of his visit was, first, to hear from the authorities on the economic situations and challenges facing their countries and, second, to listen to the views of African leaders on the IMF’s role and its involvement in restructuring African economies. In his meetings, he emphasized that there is today a single integrated world economy and the development of Africa is an essential component in ensuring its health. At the same time, he agreed with the African leaders he met that the IMF should stay fully engaged in Africa and should not succumb to any mood of “Afro-pessimism.”
Following a meeting with Nigerian President Oluse-gun Obasanjo at the beginning of his African visit, Köhler said they had “good and constructive talks” on future IMF financial support for an economic program in Nigeria. He added that debt relief should be only one element of a comprehensive strategy to strengthen growth in the country. Nigeria has the potential for medium-term growth of 5-10 percent a year, he said, but what the country needs first and foremost is growth and investment in education, infrastructure, and institution building.
During his visit to Dakar on July 3, Köhler addressed Senegal’s Economic and Social Council at a meeting that included representatives of the country’s private business sector, labor movement, rural associations, and nongovernmental organizations. He also met with Charles Konan Banny, the Governor of the BCEAO (the Central Bank of West African States), and Abdoulaye Wade, the President of Senegal. In his remarks to the council, Köhler said that he is open to advice from both governments and civil society on how the IMF can best support development. Hecommented that reform of the IMF is being discussed within the IMF and that his talks in Senegal provided an opportunity to demonstrate the IMF’s openness to the views of civil society and willingness to improve its efforts.
At the end of his visit to Mozambique on July 6, Köhler emphasized that the IMF does not recommend conditions and policies for African countries that are not in their interest and do not help countries solve their problems. He stressed that the IMF is interested in building a stronger dialogue on policies and in providing the best advice with the best expertise it has. He subsequently had discussions with finance ministers from the 14-member Southern African Development Community.
Köhler concluded his trip to Africa with a visit to South Africa on July 7-8. He had discussions in Johannesburg with President Thabo Mbeki and explained that the IMF is in favor of bolder debt reduction and restructuring the voting powers of developing countries within the institution. He emphasized that the developing countries will need to work harder to build credibility and demonstrate that they are building economies based on legitimate democratic structures that are free of corruption and maladministration.
Köhler’s visit to Africa was the third in a series of visits he has made to developing countries of the IMF since taking office in May. He visited four Latin American countries on May 15-19 (see IMF Survey, May 22, page 161) and five Asian countries on June 1-6 (see IMF Survey, June 19, page 193).