NewsNorth AfricaWorld Bank and Africa: Sorry is the hardest word


Posted on Friday, 23 November 2012 18:25

World Bank and Africa: Sorry is the hardest word

Hannibal, for one, must hold up a hand and say that he did not believe the appointment of Jim Yong Kim as World Bank President in July was a good idea.


On hearing that US President Barack Obama had appointed a South Korean-born and US-raised doctor who had run the World Health Organisation (WHO) to the job, Hannibal joined in the doubting chorus, arguing that someone running a financial institution should have, well, a financial background.

But Kim impressed at the Bank and International Monetary Fund meeting in Tokyo on 11-13 October and gave a hint of how it may, in fact, be preferable to have a non-banker at the helm.

No doubt in a bid to seduce the sceptics, Kim put on a show with several set-piece speeches.

The centrepiece was an hour-long interview where he laid out his vision in an unfussy and informal manner.

Much of it is not new – fighting poverty, boosting agriculture, supporting fragile states. But one moment electrified Hannibal, and indeed the rest of the audience.

"When a doctor kills a patient, at some point he has to stand up in front of a board and explain what happened, not to be blamed, but so that future generations of students and doctors can learn what went wrong," said Kim, who will set up a panel into World Bank failures that he will personally chair.

Given the litany of Bank failures in Africa – from agricultural projects to expensive white elephants and ideological rigidity – this is a revolutionary departure.

When Kim talks about the "science of delivery", it can sound a little like management speak.

But he does have a track record and believes in the power of setting targets with regular reporting on progress.

This was, he explained, the basis of his success at the WHO with the '3 by 5' vision of 3 million people on anti-retrovirals by 2005. Bank staff have responded positively.

"He's given us a great deal of energy, and that speech really helped," says one Bank insider.

For another, "It's been getting better and better. With Paul Wolfowitz [a trenchant hawk of George W. Bush's administration], we were really imploding."

Robert Zoellick, another Bush appointee, was an improvement on Wolfowitz and forced trans- parency into the Bank.

Kim comes into the game at an important time. African governments will seek to reap the benefit of his transformative effect and continue the important task of pushing long-term finance into African infrastructure●

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