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Wolfowitz: Economics Without Good Politics Does Not Work

  • Nico Colombant

The new head of The World Bank, American Paul Wolfowitz, is on the second leg of his trip to Africa, the continent that he says will be his priority. He also says he is learning how unique each development project should be.

Mr. Wolfowitz went straight to a cotton-producing area, where he met textile factory workers and cotton growers when he arrived in Burkina Faso.

He said Africa may well be turning a corner with increased attention to its problems. Burkina's Finance Minister Jean Baptiste Compaore said Africans need all the help they can get.

During his trip, Mr. Wolfowitz has made it a point to show the work of World Bank officials should not just be in meetings in capitals, but in direct contact with people affected by development projects.

In Nigeria, his first meetings Sunday were with nomads outside Abuja while he spent much of the day Monday in remote Bauchi state.

The reception has been warm everywhere, and Mr. Wolfowitz says he is learning.

"The truth of the matter is I really feel that I have a lot to learn," he said. "I already believe that there is no one solution for all of Africa, the continent is much too diverse. I think one of the positive developments in the whole field of development economics over the last few decades is that there is a recognition that there is not a single solution that covers every country and for that matter the recognition that development is about more than just economics."

Mr. Wolfowitz says many economists used to evaluate success with economic statistics, but he says they now realize what he calls soft targets, like establishing good schools and health systems, must be reached.

Also, he says, economics without good politics just does not work. "When you talk about governance and accountability and transparency you are talking about something that affects both economic progress and political progress so I believe you have to look at development broadly, holistically," he said.

Finally, he says he will work to make sure each project is properly adapted to local realities.

"One misimpression about the World Bank that I have encountered, at least I think it is a misimpression and I certainly intend to make sure that it is not true, we hear from some people that the World Bank seems to come in telling people that we know how best to run their affairs or sometimes we do not even come in and tell them that," he said. "The complaint was we will sit in Washington or sit in Abuja and be telling them what's good for them… I do not think that is fair about the past but I certainly want to make sure it is not true about the future."

After Mr. Wolfowitz ends his two days in impoverished Burkina Faso, he will go to war-healing Rwanda, before ending his African tour in South Africa.