Wolfowitz To Make African Issues, Including HIV/AIDS, Priority of World Bank Presidency
Incoming World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz plans to make Africa the "top priority" of his term, saying that the organization has a "uniquely important role" in "overcoming the troubled continent's development challenges," including HIV/AIDS and widespread poverty, the Wall Street Journal reports. "I can't stress enough how important it is that the first priority of the bank is Africa and the poorest people of Africa," Wolfowitz, who assumes the bank presidency on June 1, said. He added that although he is "aware" of the "large numbers of poor people" in Asia and Latin America, Africa is "an area that has been left behind by the progress that has touched other parts of the world" and that "two important differences" make the continent an "immediate priority," according to the Journal. "In Africa, you have this combination of real degrading poverty, combined with the most appalling health conditions," Wolfowitz said, adding that the "epidemics of AIDS and malaria, which are problems elsewhere," are "nowhere on the same scale as in Africa." Wolfowitz's comments put him in "close alignment" with European leaders, who recently have been focusing on "addressing Africa's stubborn problems," according to the Journal (Hitt, Wall Street Journal, 4/28). British Prime Minister Tony Blair recently formed the Commission for Africa, which in March released a report that aims to put Africa at the forefront of the international agenda during the United Kingdom's year as chair of the G8 and during its presidency of the European Union. The report calls for a doubling of international aid to Africa to $50 billion annually, the removal of trade barriers, debt forgiveness, and increased efforts to address poor governance, corruption and war throughout the continent. It also calls for funding for HIV/AIDS to be increased to $10 billion annually within the next five years (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/14).
Development Aid, Debt Relief
Wolfowitz also suggested that the World Bank might increase funds directed to Africa, according to the Journal. As of June 30, 2004, the bank had $16.6 billion in outstanding loans and grants to sub-Saharan African countries, most of which are 40-year, interest-free loans. The United States and other wealthy nations also provide billions of dollars in direct aid annually, the Journal reports (Wall Street Journal, 4/28). Finance ministers from the Group of Seven industrialized nations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund earlier this month at their biannual meeting in Washington, D.C., also pressed ahead with efforts to forgive the debt of the world's poorest nations -- including those in Africa -- saying that they hope to come to an agreement later this year (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 4/18). However, Wolfowitz said any "comprehensive solution" would include not only debt relief and increased aid but also would address how to prevent corruption, strengthen governmental commitment to transparency and accountability, develop the private sector and promote trade by opening world markets. "I do think making more resources available has definitely got to be part of the answer, but it takes more than that," Wolfowitz said. He added that it would be "presumptuous to assume" that his connections to the White House could "benefit" the bank, according to the Journal. However, his role as former U.S. deputy defense secretary "inevitably" will "present opportunities," and Wolfowitz has said that President Bush is "already open to the development agenda," the Journal reports (Wall Street Journal, 4/28).