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New World Bank Strategy Shifts Focus To Building African Economies

A new World Bank plan for Africa aims to expand economies and increase job growth, “while also tackling problems of climate change, disease, food shortages and conflict,” Reuters reports (Wroughton, 3/3). The approach, which was endorsed by the bank’s board of executive directors on Tuesday, “shifts from a more general focus” aimed at improving economic stability and fundamentals to targeting “three key areas such as competitiveness and employment,” Xinhua writes (Mutai, 3/2).

“[T]he program was crafted over more than a year through extensive research and international consultations, especially with the people of Africa,” according to a World Bank press release, which also says the strategy marks a “shift in the way the organization views Africa and its own role as a supporter of the continent’s progress” (3/1).

According to the strategy, “returns on investment in Africa were among the highest in the world and there was a surge in private capital into countries. But the biggest obstacles to increased investment [were] the lack of infrastructure, skilled workers and conditions that were business friendly, it said,” Reuters reports. Despite the continent’s “unprecedented opportunity for transformation” and sustained growth, “the World Bank said Africa was beset by poverty and other development challenges,” the news service writes (3/3). 

According to the report (.pdf) detailing the strategy, “Africans have the lowest levels of human capital in the world: only 5 percent of the eligible population is enrolled in universities (the same rate as in Asia and Latin America 40 years ago); some 140 children out of every 1,000 births die before their fifth birthday. Despite progress in the last fifteen years, most African countries will fall short of most of the MDGs, largely because they started from further behind in terms of their capacity to reach these global goals” (February 2011).

To address some of these challenges, the strategy will focus on “vulnerability and resilience,” Xinhua writes. Africa’s poor “are directly affected by shocks, economic, health-related, natural disasters and conflict, which keep them in poverty,” according to the bank. “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,” it said.

“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,” said Obiageli Ezekwesili, the vice president of the World Bank for Africa Region, Xinhua reports (3/2).

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