‘SA can drive Africa’: Wolfowitz

20 June 2005

New World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz has come out in strong support of South Africa playing a leading economic role in Africa, Business Day reports. He said South African business and the World Bank should form a partnership to boost African development.

Speaking in Pretoria after a week-long African trip, Wolfowitz also praised the “new generation” of African leaders for their commitment to tackling corruption.

The former US defence secretary met President Thabo Mbeki and South African business leaders over the weekend at the end of a four-nation visit – his first foreign trip as World Bank president – that included stops in Nigeria, Rwanda and Burkina Faso.

After the meeting, Wolfowitz told journalists that South African firms were already in position for public-private infrastructure projects in Africa. According to Business Day, South Africa is now the largest source of foreign direct investment in Africa, far outstripping the US, the UK and France.

South African companies are involved in construction, mining, financial services, telecommunications and retail on the continent.

Wolfowitz’s call for a partnership between South Africa and the bank on the continent is likely to be warmly received by the government, which is increasingly placing the country’s economic interests at the heart of its foreign policy, Business Day reports.

Mbeki is also keen to align SA’s economic needs with those of the rest of the continent, and has been at the forefront of efforts to improve governance and boost trade links across Africa.

“Clearly in this part of the world if you are looking for private partners, a lot of them will be South African,” Wolfowitz said.

According to Business Day, Wolfowitz had lunch on Saturday with a number of prominent business figures, including Lazarus Zim, CEO of Anglo American in SA, Safika group chairman Saki Macozoma, AngloGold Ashanti CEO Bobby Godsell and Transnet CE Maria Ramos.

Praise for new African leadership
According to News24, Wolfowitz also praised the new generation of African leaders for their commitment to tackling corruption.

“I take my hat off to the leaders of Africa, and Mr Mbeki in particular,” he said after his meeting with the President on Saturday.

Mbeki removed his deputy, Jacob Zuma, from office last week after the Durban High Court found that a “generally corrupt” relationship had existed between Zuma and his financial adviser, Schabir Shaik.

“There is a new [African] leadership now that is taking responsibility to get rid of corruption,” Wolfowitz said. “Africa is on the move.”

Wolfowitz’s six-day African trip came just days after the Group of Eight (G8) industrialised countries agreed to write off over US$40-billion (R265-billion) in national debt owed by 18 of the world’s poorest nations.

The World Bank chief said he hoped that next month’s G8 summit in Scotland would give added impetus to the region’s development.

The appointment of Wolfowitz, a close political ally of US President George W Bush, as World Bank chief was a controversial one. According to the BBC, however, Wolfowitz signalled that he was prepared to put pressure on the US administration to increase aid to Africa.

“I’d like to see increased levels of US assistance by whatever means we get there, particularly for Africa,” the BBC quoted Wolfowitz as saying.

Wolfowitz also spoke warmly of the people he had met in Burkina Faso, Rwanda, Nigeria and South Africa, saying the more he travelled through Africa, the more he felt a sense of opportunity and a “can-do attitude”.

In Rwanda, he told the BBC, a woman who has set up a successful flower-exporting business said to him: “I came here to grow beautiful flowers on the ashes of genocide.”

‘Africa is the bank’s first priority’
In an interview with the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) in early June, at the start of his African trip, Wolfowitz stressed that the continent was the World Bank’s first priority.

“While the bank is a global institution, and there are many priorities for the bank, the first priority has to be Africa,” he said. “Africa needs the bank in a unique way and I think the bank has a unique role to play in Africa.

“I think this may be an extraordinary moment in history, where Africa can become a continent of hope, and the bank can play a role in that,” Wolfowitz told the SABC.

“I think a message of modern history is – it’s a very small world, it is a single world … Many parts of the world have made progress, and for that matter South Africa is a piece of progress that many of us never thought we’d see in our lifetime – the end of apartheid.

“But that Africa as a whole has not progressed in a way other places have is both morally wrong and … not good for the rest of the world.”

SouthAfrica.info reporter