Saying that Africa is the World Bank's – and his – first priority, new president Paul Wolfowitz will travel to the continent later this month at what he calls "a unique moment of opportunity, when Africa can begin to become a continent of hope."
"I will be visiting four countries: Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Rwanda, and South Africa. I think those four reflect some of the diversity of sub-Saharan Africa, but by no means all, and I'm actually hoping to get back to Africa fairly frequently," he told journalists at Bank headquarters in Washington, D.C., yesterday. His visit would take place from 12 to 18 June.
Given the importance, size and influence of Nigeria and South Africa, he felt "it was really important to get their perspective early on," Mr. Wolfowitz said, adding he has had experience with North African affairs, but was making his first visit to sub-Saharan Africa.
"The Bank has a unique role to play in Africa, and there is a unique need for the Bank in Africa, he said, noting that he would learn from the leaders of the region, whose 300 million people formed "roughly half the population who live on less than half a dollar a day," what they needed to accelerate the implementation of such policies as their New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD).
Africa needed a holistic approach to development, he said. "I think development assistance is important, but by itself it's not going to do the job. And what is encouraging to me is that many of those other pieces are in place and I think that makes a case for more development assistance, not less," he said.
He drew hope from the fact that African governments had learned that they had to take responsibility for delivering results and had come to recognize that development could not be successful if development aid was siphoned off by corrupt officials, he said.
The willingness of several governments, especially the Nigerian government, to confront the issue of corruption in "a very brave way" was an important part of the picture, Mr. Wolfowitz said.
He also had "general intentions" to visit to Latin America, perhaps soon. Finance ministers from those countries had told him that they hoped the rest of the world would not take their economic progress for granted since they still needed help and support to sustain it, he said.
"I think one of the roles for the Bank in that regard, and I think it's also the Bank working closely with the IMF (International Monetary Fund), is to ensure that those countries have the right kind of access to international financial markets," he said.