Baltimore — Saying that Africa must be sold on the merits of its potential and not just on the basis of its needs, the World Bank's new president told an international group of business leaders meeting in the United States that reducing poverty and supporting economic development in Africa will be his top priority.
Paul Wolfowitz, speaking June 23 at the U.S.-Africa Business Summit in Baltimore, Maryland, said his recent week-long trip to Nigeria, Burkina Faso, South Africa and Rwanda had convinced him that despite heart-rending poverty, which must be addressed, Africa is a good bet for foreign investors.
"There is no question that there is an enormous, compelling moral urgency to the conditions of Africa and there is no question that there are needs," said Wolfowitz, who took office June 1. "But there is a lot more going on than just need," he said. "Africa may be on the verge of being a continent of hope."
Frank Fountain, DaimlerChrysler senior vice president and chair of the Corporate Council on Africa, which organized the summit, pointed out that Wolfowitz's first meeting outside the Bank was with a group of organizations working on African issues, that his first trip was to Africa and that his first public speech outside Washington was to the African business conference. He is giving substance, Fountain said, to his statement that African development will be his top priority as World Bank president.
Wolfowitz said his trip to Africa had exposed him to the growing economic opportunities in the region. He said progress towards good governance and against corruption were signs of a new spirit, and he urged both American and African business leaders to pour money into private sector development. Aid is important, he said, and can contribute to funding the necessary infrastructure, such as roads to bring goods to market, but he said the growth of businesses is needed to put Africans to work and to guarantee prosperity.
"The real goal is not just foreign investment in Africa," he said, "it's domestic investment in Africa. The real goal is not just foreign corporations operating in Africa. It's African companies growing from small businesses to medium-size businesses to big businesses."
Visibly delighted both by his African experiences and by the response he received at the conference - as various contingents cheered each time he mentioned their countries - Wolfowitz said that he still had much to learn and pledged that his door will be open to African ideas and concerns.
Following the speech, a panel of business and government leaders discussed the themes Wolfowitz introduced, the instrumental group Siya performed and Millennium Challenge Corporation head Paul Applegarth spoke. At the end of the long evening, delegates were visibly drooping, but Suzzana Owiyo and her Mama Africa band managed to halt the exodus from the hall with a spirited performance that had hundreds of people loosening ties, kicking off high heels and dancing energetically. "Too bad Wolfowitz didn't stay for the finale," said one flushed participant. "We would have had him dancing on the tables!"