ON Monday, a Regional Technical Assistance Centre for Southern Africa (AFRITAC South) was officially opened in Port Louis, Mauritius.
AFRITAC South began operating in June and is the fourth Regional Technical Assistance Centre established in Africa under the International Monetary Fund's Capacity Building Initiative for Africa. Three other centres are already operational in Tanzania, Mali, and Gabon, and another is planned in West Africa.
To the IMF, this is an important milestone in its response to the call from African leaders, including under the African Union's New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), to develop capacity building and help African countries to meet their economic and development challenges.
Since June 1, AFRITAC South experts have already visited Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Mauritius, Namibia, Seychelles, Swaziland, South Africa, and Zambia; the centre also covers Comoros, Madagascar, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe.
The centre's establishment was made possible by the financial support from donors and the hospitality and financial sectors and contributions in kind from Mauritian authorities. The IMF is most grateful to them. I encourage additional donors to bring their support to the centre.
The long-standing focus of IMF technical assistance is to help countries to design and implement sound macro-economic policies. In low-income countries, this aims to support sustainable economic growth and poverty reduction strategies; other countries face different challenges.
Building stronger institutions is crucial for economies to better resist shocks and allow governments to continue to spend in the most pressing areas - public infrastructure, social protection, education - even in bad times.
In recent years, IMF technical assistance has helped many countries tackle the global crisis and build institutions for the future by addressing fiscal, debt, and data challenges, and improving monetary operations, banking supervision, and liquidity management.
The establishment of AFRITAC South is extending a highly successful model of technical assistance delivery launched by the IMF in 1992 in the Pacific region.
With the AFRITACs, the IMF combines strategic technical advice from its headquarters with local expertise and on-the-ground capacity building. They are managed by a centre co-ordinator, and staffed by several resident advisors with substantial expertise who travel and deliver technical advice throughout the region.
AFRITACs also deploy short-term experts brought in to deliver targeted assistance in areas of very specific expertise. The centres have a co-operative and accountable governance structure: They are governed by a Steering Committee that includes representatives from recipient countries, donors, and the IMF, to ensure a co-ordinated approach.
Thanks to AFRITAC South, the IMF is scaling up its contribution to capacity building and regional integration in Southern Africa. The centre's 13 member countries generate about half of Sub-Saharan Africa's gross domestic product. But institutional capacity varies significantly across the region: AFRITAC South's members span a wide spectrum of economic development, from fragile and post-conflict countries through frontier economies, and include G-20 member, South Africa.
AFRITACs can harness this diversity and mine locally available knowledge. Centres typically develop local networks of officials involved in similar tasks and confronted with similar issues.
They also organise exchange opportunities, such as targeted workshops or training courses where members share their experiences and discuss their challenges with international experts.
Successful lessons from countries with more advanced capacities can be an important contribution to the centre's work. At the same time, the IMF's knowledge of best international practices enables staff to engage with countries according to their respective capacity levels.
We, at the IMF, both in Washington and in AFRITAC South, are fully aware of the scale of the task at hand: To deliver first-rate, relevant, results-oriented, and sustainable capacity-building assistance to the centre's membership.
With the support of the region and the international community, we are ready to meet the challenge.
Min Zhu is the deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund.