African unity is necessary for continent’s economic growth – Wolfensohn

James Wolfensohn - Former World Bank President

The former President of the World Bank, Sir. James Wolfensohn has asked African countries to unite, because it is the only way the continent can achieve economic growth.

He said the diversity of the continent of 53 countries puts Africa at a disadvantaged position when the continent has to negotiate for funds for projects.

He made these remarks Thursday May 15, 2008 when he gave the final part of a two-day Aggrey-Fraser-Guggisberg Lecture, under the title “Africa in the Global Century: Partnerships for Success,” at the University of Ghana, Legon.

Wolfensohn re-echoed the relevance to today of what Dr. Kwame Nkrumah in 1963 at the inauguration of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) now African Union (AU).

Dr. Kwame Nkrumah said, “No independent African state today by itself has a chance to follow an independent course of economic development, and many of these who have tried to do this have been almost ruined or have to return to the fold of the former colonial rulers. The position will not change unless we have a unified policy for the continent.”

He argued that presenting the case of the continent as individual countries does not help Africa, despite the fact that conditions on the continent have improved considerably.

He noted that the continent has been bedevilled with conflict, but admitted that these conflicts have reduced.

He also said there has been an improvement in democratic governance in Africa, saying that since 1989 the number of democratically elected governments have improved from four to 18.

He added that the continent has seen improvement in economic freedom as a result of debt relief.

Wolfensohn said 32 African countries were indebted to the international community to the tune of US$ 106 billion. But these debts have been reduced to US$8 billion. He therefore, argued that this debt relief must be properly utilised so that Africa does not get back into the bad situation of the past. One of the areas he suggested was that Africa should see education as the first line of attack. He urged African countries to invest in education and into its people.

Wolfensohn criticised the Africa Development Bank for allocating only ten per cent of its resources for cross-border activities on the continent.

Citing the cost of attending conferences by African countries he said the continent could make a huge savings if it makes a single representation at conferences. He said African countries altogether spend US$1 to US$5 billion a year attending conferences while India spends only US$20 million a year.

The former World Bank President implored Africa to consider a partnership with itself and the private sector. He believes that a partnership with itself, led by NEPAD, the African Union and its leaders would yield great benefits to the continent.

He said Africa must also consider a partnership with the private sector that goes beyond borders and it must re-invent old partnerships with old colonial masters, the World Bank, IMF and the ADB, and this partnership he said must be done not in terms of individual countries but on a continental basis.

He was of the view that this approach will reduce the cost of governance and governments and integrate the continent and create a better market for the continent.

He said African countries must give attention to the issues of HIV/AIDS, climate change, and the food crisis. He suggested that African governments must increase agriculture productivity to address the current global food crisis which has put about 33 countries and about 100 million poor people of the world at risk.

Wolfensohn’s position is that Africa can make the best of the opportunities and wealth available to it to grow its people and economy if it unites.

This call is even more urgent now in the face of the global financial crisis staring the world. Forecasts by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank indicate that the full impacts of the global financial fallout are not yet known, but stated that 2009 could be a gloomy year for most countries of the world.

And Africans cannot wait; the time is now to work together to grow the continent’s economy and people.

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

Email: [email protected]

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