Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Africans for Wolfowitz

Africans for Wolfowitz Third World reformers resist a coup by rich Europeans.

One of the most revealing subplots in the Europeancoup attempt against World Bank President PaulWolfowitz is who is coming to the American's defense.The rich European donor countries want him to resign,while the Africans who are the bank's major clientsare encouraging him to stay.

You wouldn't know this from the press coverage, whichcontinues to report selective leaks from the bankstaff and European sources who started this politicalputsch. The latest "news" is that the EuropeanParliament has asked Mr. Wolfowitz to resign, thussustaining that body's reputation for irrelevant butpolitically correct gestures. If Mr. Wolfowitz leaves,no doubt some of the europols will angle for the job.

The more telling story is the support for the bankpresident from reform-minded Africans. At a pressconference during this month's World Bank-IMF meetingsin Washington, four of the more progressive Africanfinance ministers were asked about the Wolfowitz flap.Here's how Antoinette Sayeh, Liberia's financeminister, responded:

"I would say that Wolfowitz's performance over thelast several years and his leadership on Africanissues should certainly feature prominently in thediscussions . . . . In the Liberian case and the caseof many forgotten post-conflict fragile countries, hehas been a visionary. He has been absolutelysupportive, responsive, there for us . . . . We thinkthat he has done a lot to bring Africa in general . .. into the limelight and has certainly championed ourcause over the last two years of his leadership, andwe look forward to it continuing."

The deputy prime minister for Mauritius, Rama KrishnaSithanen, then piped in that "he has been supportiveof reforms in our country . . . . We think that he hasdone a good job. More specifically, he has apologizedfor what has happened."

Sub-Saharan Africa is the world's poorest region, andMr. Wolfowitz has appropriately made it his toppriority. On his first day on the job, he met with alarge group of African ambassadors and advocates. Hisfirst trip as bank president was a swing throughBurkina Faso, Nigeria, Rwanda and South Africa. Healso recruited two African-born women vice presidents,a rarity at the bank.

If you're surprised by that last fact, then you don'tappreciate that the World Bank has always been asinecure for developed-world politicians. They gethandsome salaries, tax free, and their performance ismeasured not by how much poverty they cure but by howmuch money they disperse.

Mr. Wolfowitz has upset this sweetheart status quo byfocusing more on results, and especially on thecorruption that undermines development and squandersforeign aid. Yet many of the poor countries themselveswelcome such intervention. At the same April 14 pressconference, Zambian Finance Minister N'Gandu PeterMagande endorsed the anticorruption agenda:

"We should keep positive that whatever happens to thepresident, if, for example, he was to leave, I thinkwhoever comes, we insist that he continues where wehave been left, in particular on this issue ofanticorruption. That is a cancer that has seen quite alot of our countries lose development and has seen thepoverty continuing in our countries. And therefore . .. we want to live up to what [Wolfowitz] made usbelieve" that "it is important for ourselves to keepto those high standards."

The real World Bank scandal is that Mr. Wolfowitz'senemies don't care much about Africa. The French andBrits who want him ousted have never entirely shakenthe paternalism they developed during the colonialera. Their real priority is controlling the bankpurse-strings and perquisites.As for the coup attempt, Mr. Wolfowitz's fate nowrests with the 24-member bank board. Europeansdominate, while we saw only two Africans listed on thebank's Web site. These profiles in buck-passing haveasked Mr. Wolfowitz to meet with them on Monday; hislawyer can join him but won't be allowed to speak.

The noisy leaking and staff protests are aimed atgetting Mr. Wolfowitz to make their life easy byresigning. But that would only validate their campaignto oust him for giving his girlfriend a raise that thebank's own ethics committee advised him to deliverafter he had tried to recuse himself. Since oureditorial reported on all of these "ethics" detailstwo weeks ago, no one has even tried to dispute ourfacts. The critics have shifted to a new line that,because his "credibility" has been damaged by theseselective smears, Mr. Wolfowitz must now resign "forthe good of the bank."

Let's hope the White House doesn't fall for this rot,and, by the way, it's about time Treasury SecretaryHank Paulson spent some of his political capital anddefended Mr. Wolfowitz. He'd be in good company amongAfrica's progressive leaders.

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