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World Bank under fire over Uganda

By independent team

Obiageli Ezekwesili, Vice-president, World Bank’s Africa Region on June 11 spoke to BBC Hardtalk’s Stephen Sucker. Excerpts from the interview:

The World Bank has a big relationship with Uganda. Museveni, the President of Uganda just won a big election in February. The African Union observers who were there said the polls suffered from severe shortfalls and could not be described as free and fair. But the World Bank country report, political context chapter states that Uganda has progressed towards multiparty democracy, they now hold regular free and fair elections. In February Museveni was re-elected for another five year term garnering 68 percent of the vote. Not one word in that WB report reports about grave doubts about legitimacy of that victory.

Well, there is something called division of labour, the WB is not partisan in terms of the approach to politics but…

But this is not a question of being partisan; it is a question of reflecting whether political stability can really be delivered. Whether economic growth can be delivered by a leader who has been put on the spot by a number of reports for rigging, torture – you would surely need to factor in all that?

We do, that is why we talk of political economy and governance issues. So as part of the bilateral and multilateral partners that work with Uganda, these are issues that we normally raise with the government.

But how does that square with again -from your own website- WB is happy to commit to 2 billion dollar support for a five year contract   to a system. Will the WB support the government efforts to promote inclusive and sustainable economic development to harness public infrastructure and improve both growth and governance?

We certainly will.

You have already committed to giving them $2 billion and from all the reports that I have read there is no proof that you are committed to improve governance at all?

When WB engages in a country, it is not because of the leaders of the country, it is because the mission of the WB is a world free of poverty and what we try to do is to diversify the approach of that engagement to work with the private sector, the citizens, then of course we work with government to enable the process of growth and I see the point you are making. The political economy issues have to be even much more integrated in the way that development institutions can work.

The problem madam VP is that people may conclude that you would have said the very same things about Ben Ali’s Tunisia or Mubarak’s Egypt only a year ago. You would have defended the WB’s role, you would have said that you know we are working with the people not just the leaders to ensure that good governance happens and we have seen what happened since?

No, I think that in a way it is important for nations to take absolute control of their development. No nation has developed on the basis of external drivers and the WB is a partner to these countries, what we try to do is to focus on how the seed of change in countries can be internally driven and Steven, you must urge for that.

Am just trying to find a coherent pattern from the words you issue on good governance and leadership now at the very heart of Africa’s economic phase and matching that with the reality.

David Shaman, the author of The World Bank Unveiled says that there is very little track record of the Bank disengaging from a country client over human rights issues, is that true?

Well, I do not know how much you follow but we just had a programme with the government of Chad on the Chad-Cameroonian pipeline. When the governance outcomes that were expected – the kind of privatization of pro-poor investment and polices- were not happening we dismissed the programme.

Well, you know African politics very well because you were a minister in the Nigerian government not long ago. You know the realities of African politics, aside from your great optimism about growth rate and investment in Africa, do you think that there is a possibility that Africa could see the sorts of political instabilities led by demands of freedom and democracy that we have seen in Asia and North Africa?

Yes, very much. In fact when Egypt and Tunisia happened I basically began to speak to African leaders and I told them that if you do not open up space for citizen participation, you basically are sowing the seed for the destabilization of the economy. And every economy that gets trapped in these situations loses 20 percent in terms of its Gap of tackling poverty.

Did you say that to Museveni?

I would often say that to Museveni as often as I get that opportunity. I can assure that when we speak to the leaders, we do not spare on the question of good governance.

Well, who have you told?

My Goodness! Who have I not told?

Just tell me the Presidents who have heard the sharp end of your tongue?

I would not mention names but I have a case of the president who told his colleagues that every time he heard that Obiageli Ezekwesili is on the line, his heart skips a beat because he is imagining that the conversation is going to be about the good governance issues, the business environment, not for foreign Direct Investments but for the citizens particularly for the women.

I wonder what conversation you would have with Paul Kagame of Rwanda who has said that “the rich world still looks at Africa with absolute contempt as being poor; aid and human rights are just arrogance that comes in a white SUV for the fresh manifestation that Africans cannot take care of themselves”.  When Kagame says that, which is extraordinary dismissive of the role of WB, what do you say to him?

May be he was saying that towards another offer to him but if you did another Google search, you would hear what President Kagame has said before.

I do not have to google President Kagame, I have heard him on Hard Talk. He is so against many of the attitudes that donors bring to Africa. And the money that you have to lend to Africa is predominantly white rich money?

You know what is important is to have the kind of leadership that has strong priorities. President Kagame for example is one of such leaders, he determines his priorities. He doesn’t have to engage with any of the donors as long as he doesn’t want to. What is critical is how President Kagame has been very acknowledging of the partnership and that basically defines the relationship that WB has with the continent today.

Well, it is interesting. I do not mean to belittle what he has achieved because from the economic terms he has achieved a great deal. I think WB described Rwanda as the biggest success story in Africa last year but it goes at the same time with questions about the freedom of the Press in Rwanda about freedom of public protest and the opposition political parties in the country.And it seems the same question as you have said that economic growth can only go hand in hand with the political freedoms and a real commitment with accountability and transparency?

Yes that is exactly what I said but every society has a unique history behind it and it has to work through some of the challenges that it faces and all we do is to show analysis that when you open up space, you allow most voices of dissention in the process of decision making, there is a tendency that better policy gets made and more people will get the benefit of economic growth.

That is an interesting message that you are driving from the point of view of WB but other people that are lending money to Africa or directly investing in Africa are not saying that sort of thing, particularly China where they do not get on the phone and give them a sharp end of the tongue when it comes to governance issues. Is the WB worried about losing to China?

We are not worried about losing toChina.

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