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World Bank's Wolfowitz Hails Debt Deal on Africa Visit

  • Nico Colombant

The new head of the World Bank, American Paul Wolfowitz, is hailing a deal reached by the world's wealthiest nations to alleviate the debt burden on the world's poorest countries. Mr. Wolfowitz is visiting Nigeria, the first stop on a tour of Africa to assess assistance needs there. Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, also wants debt relief, but has not gotten it yet.

Mr. Wolfowitz said he was delighted with the arrangement reached by finance ministers of the world's wealthiest nations. He called it an important and successful outcome.

The ministers from the so-called G8 nations gave preliminary approval to cancel $40 billion in debt owed by 18 of the world's poorest nations, most of them in Africa. That's if they use savings for health, education and infrastructure. A lot of that money owed initially came through loans from institutions like the World Bank.

The ministers also said Nigeria's foreign debt of $35 billion will be considered by the Paris Club of international lenders. They added an arrangement would be found this year to help Africa's impoverished top oil producer.

To that, Mr. Wolfowitz, who arrived in Nigeria Sunday from those meetings in London, said he was positive something serious would happen.

But a World Bank spokesman, Tim Carrington, said Nigeria also needs to put in assurances of good governance and a persistent fight against corruption.

"The bank's keenest interest here is to work with the government in Nigeria to improve governance, and bring about a situation where available resources are being better managed, and are being more transparently managed. That's what I think will be needed to provide the foundation for some restructuring on the debt side," said Mr. Carrington.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has said he needs the debt relief first, to be able to improve governance and social services. He is expected to meet Monday with Mr. Wolfowitz, formerly the Number Two in the U.S. Defense Department, who guided some of the strategy leading up to the war in Iraq.

He started his Africa trip as World Bank chief by meeting nomads outside Abuja, and then going to visit a pilot project to improve electricity supply to small businesses.

Mr. Carrington says the visit's timing is crucial ahead of the G8 summit in July in Scotland, where important decisions will be finalized on helping Africa.

"Part of the urgency of getting to Africa is that, with the G8 summit coming up in July, he wants to have seen and talked to his senior people in Africa and have some experiences and insights to bring to the table, because he will be there at Gleneagles, and there will be, as you know, a lot of important discussions," said Mr. Carrington.

During his Africa trip, Mr. Wolfowitz will also go to Burkina Faso and Rwanda, two of the 18 countries on the new debt forgiveness list, and South Africa, the continent's most successful economy.

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