WASHINGTON, March 1, 2011 – With Africa facing an unprecedented opportunity to transform itself and improve the lives of its people, the World Bank is responding with a new, ambitious strategy which could help African economies take off, the way the economies of Asia did 30 years ago.
The new approach, endorsed by the Bank’s Board of Executive Directors today, marks a significant shift in the way the organization views Africa and its own role as a supporter of the continent’s progress.
Laid out in three main business lines, the program was crafted over more than a year through extensive research and international consultations, especially with the people of Africa.
"We are excited about Africa's future. Today's Africa is exemplified by the many success stories and stronger economic growth being driven by the dynamism of its people and economies. We therefore used the opportunity of our new Africa Strategy to listen, learn and define how we could better support the continent's aspiration as it maintains the momentum of economic reforms over the next decade,” said Obiageli Ezekwesili, the Vice President of the World Bank for Africa Region.
Continuing, Ezekwesili stated: "In implementing the Strategy, the World Bank Group shall remain fruitfully engaged with citizens as they demand greater participation in the benefits of improved economic performance, deploy our partnerships, knowledge and finance to work with governments, private sector, civil society and other partners and help countries to speed up the attainment of the MDGs, expand economic prosperity and reduce poverty."
The plan, titled “Africa’s Future and the World Bank’s Support to it”, shifts from a more general focus on seeking economic stability and sound fundamentals to emphasize the need for attention in three key areas:
1. Competitiveness and employment - The plan will assist countries to diversify their economies and generate jobs, especially for the 7-10 million young people entering the labor force each year. It will help to close the gap between infrastructure needs and investments -- currently about $48 billion annually -- and support efforts to make it easier for business to operate. In addition, the plan will focus on building the skills of workers.
2. Vulnerability and resilience - Africa’s poor are directly affected by shocks -- economic, health-related, natural disasters and conflict -- which keep them in poverty. By focusing on better health care, dealing preemptively with the effects of climate change through improved irrigation and water management, and strengthening public agencies to share resources more fairly and build consensus, the plan seeks to reduce the number of shocks and limit the damage from those that do occur.
3. Governance and public sector capacity - Critical services, in education, health and basic infrastructure, are too often either not delivered or delivered badly because of weak management of public funds. The Bank’s program of support aims to give citizens better information on what they should expect from their governments, as well as the capacity to report on instances when services are not delivered properly. The Bank will also work directly with governments to help them improve their systems and capacity to deliver basic services and manage accounts.
Significantly, the new strategy reverses the order of importance of the Bank's instruments to support Africa. The most important ingredient will be partnerships, then knowledge and finally finance. The goal is to make sure that the Bank's interventions complement what others, including the African governments, the private sector and other agencies, are doing.
“This strategy is as much a reflection of what we heard from Africa’s people and leaders as it is the thinking of the World Bank,” said Shantayanan Devarajan, the World Bank's Chief Economist for Africa. “Though we are confident it is the right approach at this time, we also want to make sure that we are ready to adapt as Africa continues to change and progress. That is what makes this such an exciting time for Africa. The continent has surprised naysayers, with more than a decade of solid economic growth and sustained reduction of poverty. It can seize this historic opportunity. Other regions have done it. So can Africa.”
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