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 My Opinion  
   
 

An African Opportunity?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Great Lakes region of Africa reveals the continent's challenges. I went there recently to see the effects of the economic crisis, countries coming out of conflict,   and integration. In the Congo, I crossed paths with Secretary Clinton. Now we need to translate impressions into action.

The financial crisis has wounded Africa. But Africans' vision for the future has remained resilient: They seek energy, infrastructure, agricultural development, regional integration linked to global trade and markets, and a dynamic private sector. It is a list one might have heard in Europe 60 years ago, as that continent sought to rebuild and develop. 

For states coming out of conflicts, the challenge is "securing development" - through a reinforcing mix of peace and order, governance, economy, and legitimacy.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda, only six per cent to 10pc of the public has access to electricity. Rural electrification, as experienced by parts of the United States in the 1930s and by Vietnam in the 1990s, would transform lives and livelihoods for hundreds of millions of Africans, especially for women. The means are there for Africa: In the Congo and Uganda, hydro projects could eventually multiply low carbon energy some 15-fold and supply Southern and East African power pools.

Approximately 80pc of the people live off the land in these countries, so agriculture development is critical. In Uganda, I visited a rice growing and processing operation - built by Indians who once fled Idi Amin - that processes about 15pc of the country's rice, a third of which is supplied by smallholder neighbours. Rwanda is developing the full value chain of agriculture - land tenure, seeds, fertilizers, infrastructure, storage, transport, and finance.

New roads, river transport, and railways are vital to building national cohesion and regional integration, as well as access to the sea for land-locked countries.  This "hardware" needs to be complemented by the "software" of systems for maintenance, pricing and financial management, and clean administration. It used to take two days for trucks to clear the border between Kenya and Uganda.  Today, a one-stop border post has cut down the transfer time to two hours or less. Officials who used to exercise petty powers to delay now take pride in moving more cargo faster.

Secretary Clinton's stop in the eastern Congolese town of Goma illustrated the human and physical destruction of ongoing conflict. But literally one step away, across the border, is a peaceful, clean Rwandan village. President Kagame of Rwanda highlighted that a core problem with the Congolese troops [a mix of army and militias] is they often are not paid. As Rwandans started again after genocide, they built a relatively small military of about 20,000 troops, which is among the best in Africa.

If outsiders want to stop lawless rampages in the Congo, they do not need foreign interventions - they need to help pay and train a smaller army while assisting demilitarization and reintegration of others.

Rebuilding security - and a country - requires restoring dignity. In Rwanda, I visited a housing project for disabled veterans. The retired officers who serve as trustees and the men in wheelchairs were from different sides, but they all contribute to one Rwanda.  

Later this year, the United States will host a G-20 Summit, and Denmark will convene the U.N. Conference on Climate Change. Both the economic crisis and climate change have highlighted the importance of developing countries: Africa needs to be on the agenda of these meetings.

The G-20 should be building multiple poles of global growth as part of the "New Normal" for an international economy that has been too dependent on the American consumer. We can look to growth from China and India, but need to reach beyond. Over time, investments in Africa can also expand sources of demand, including for the capital goods and services of developed countries. IFC, the World Bank Group's private sector arm, is finding interest among sovereign and pension funds to invest with us in equity in Africa.

Major developing countries - China, India, and Brazil - are also now investing in African infrastructure, resources, agriculture, and perhaps basic manufacturing. The G-20 Summit should push this transformation ahead by ensuring that poor countries get financing, backing private sector investments, and opening markets to African goods. The Summit could also operationalize the 20 billion dollars pledge for food security made at Italy's G-8 meeting with President Obama's leadership.

The Copenhagen Climate Change negotiations should support Africa's hydropower, clean energy development, and forestation. The forests of Africa offer lungs for the world - or more smoke to the skies. 

Globalization needs to be both inclusive and sustainable. The Summits this fall should connect globalization with an African Opportunity.

 

By Robert B. Zoellick

Robert B. Zoellick is President of The World Bank Group.

 
 
   
   
   
 
 
 

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