The new president of the World Bank, Paul Wolfowitz, says his recent trip to four African nations opened his eyes to the growing opportunities in the region, long plagued by poverty and violence. Mr. Wolfowitz urged American and African business leaders to seek out investment opportunities on the continent.
World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz says changes in Africa, including stepped-up efforts to end corruption and government waste, are a sign that Africa is open for business.
"Corruption is a disease. … It's a threat to development everywhere in the world and I think in the past it has done enormous damage to Africa's development prospects," he said. "But to see African leaders saying it's a problem, and not just saying it's a problem, but doing something about it, is one of the major reasons for feeling we're in a new era and at a turning point."
Mr. Wolfowitz delivered his first public remarks about Africa after returning from his recent seven-day trip to the continent. The new president of the World Bank on Thursday addressed a gathering of U.S. and African business leaders and government officials at the Corporate Council on Africa's four-day summit in Baltimore, Maryland.
According to Mr. Wolfowitz, there is a growing recognition that Africa's success depends on more than development assistance from the industrialized world.
Instead, he said the continent's long-term success depends on African governments implementing the rule of law and good governance measures, which will encourage more foreign and domestic investors to take another look at Africa.
"Of course the real goal is not just foreign investment in Africa, it's domestic investment in Africa," he stated. "The real goal is not just foreign corporations operating in Africa. It's African companies growing from small businesses to medium size businesses to big businesses."
He added that there are critical things to be done that the private sector cannot do alone. Mr. Wolfowitz said the World Bank is ready to help African governments with the challenges of infrastructure such as roads and ports and reliable, affordable energy - some of the major obstacles for African businesses.
The World Bank president also spoke of the need to eliminate trade barriers to African goods.
"Unfortunately in too many cases the products that Africans are producing or could produce face enormous obstacles in the international markets, including the challenge presented by highly subsidized agricultural products from the United States and Canada and Europe," said Mr. Wolfowitz.
He urged governments to tackle the difficult issue of farm subsidies and come up with a solution at the upcoming World Trade Organization talks scheduled for Hong Kong this December.
Mr. Wolfowitz's remarks to the summit come at a time of increasing focus on the problems of poverty and the need for economic development in Africa. British Prime Minister Tony Blair met with President Bush in Washington earlier this month to urge a doubling of aid from the industrialized countries to Africa. Mr. Blair will press the issue further at the G-8 summit of the world's wealthiest democracies, which his government is hosting in Scotland next month.