August 14, 2009 / 5:46 AM / 10 years ago

Africa's century for development: World Bank chief

KAMPALA (Reuters) - World Bank President Robert Zoellick concluded a visit to Africa on Thursday, saying he was still convinced this century belonged to Africa’s development despite damage to their economies caused by the global financial crisis.

World Bank President Robert Zoellick meets Mozambican President Armando Guebuza in Maputo February 4, 2008. REUTERS/Grant Lee Neuenburg

He said Africa’s needs deserved more attention and should be made a priority at a meeting of the Group of 20 developed and developing countries in the United States next month.

The World Bank chief said his travels to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda had reinforced his belief that the immediate challenge to keep Africa growing required more resources to bolster regional integration as well as investments in energy, infrastructure and agriculture.

He said it was clear from his visit that the financial crisis has affected African countries differently and that those with sound economic policies had fared better than others, while countries emerging from conflict, such as the DR Congo, required special attention.

If a decade of strong economic growth in Africa was to be sustained, Zoellick said it deserved additional support from donors at the G20 meeting of member countries in Pittsburgh on September 24-25, as well as increased efforts by international institutions like the World Bank, which recently reported record levels of lending to developing countries hit by the crisis.

“As we look toward the G20 meeting in September and others, we need to put developing countries higher on the priority list, particularly those in Africa,” Zoellick told a news conference in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, at the end of the five-day tour.

But to make the case for more resources from donors, whose budgets are being strained by the financial crisis, Zoellick said Africans need to demonstrate that they can use aid effectively and improve governance.

“I still believe this can and should be the century of Africa,” Zoellick said, noting that a more balanced global economy will require Americans to consume less and save more, which will shift global growth more toward emerging economies.

“We need multiple poles of growth and that will make for a more solid and balanced international economy, and there is absolutely no reason that Africa can’t be one of those multiple poles of growth,” he added.

Over the past decade, Africa’s economies have grown on average 5 percent to 6 percent a year.

Meanwhile, its wealth in natural resources and need for infrastructure investment has attracted increased investment from China, whose economy is starting to resume strong growth while industrialized economies are expected to emerge slowly from a deep recession.

With some international investors uneasy about the ability of the United States and Europe to recover quickly from the global crisis, Zoellick said government-controlled sovereign wealth funds and pension funds are now looking more closely at high-growth regions like Africa.

The World Bank would create a new asset management unit by the end of the year through the International Finance Corp, the bank’s private-sector lender, to work with these funds to invest in developing countries where rates of return on investments are high and there are opportunities waiting to be tapped, Zoellick said.

“Our IFC colleagues are finding interest in investors from sovereign funds and pension funds to invest through us into African economies,” he said.

“The idea we had is to create a separate asset management corporation so these investors who might be interested in long-term investments in countries like Uganda but don’t have the information, can leverage off our platform,” he said earlier.

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