At the recent Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Legislative week held in Washington DC, African Diaspora was the focus. Economic development—supporting Africa’s priorities in the areas of jobs, education, gender, health, youth—was one of the main threads that ran through the week-long discussions.
At the session “Africa Rising: A Continent of Opportunity”, Makhtar Diop, the World Bank’s Vice President for Africa, was one of three panelists discussing “Africa’s Growing Economies.” Africa’s average growth has exceeded five percent per year and accelerated to six percent before the global economic crisis. Performance of the 22 non-oil exporting countries averaged higher than four percent annual growth for the decade between 1998 and 2008, all of which he attributed mainly to better macroeconomic policies.
As our sturdy Land Cruiser inched its way down a precipitous dirt track, trying to descend from a high ridge into the Rift Valley, I wondered what might happen if we had an accident here in the heart of Kenya’s remote Samburu County. Mobile signals had faded soon after we left the town of Maralal several hours before. We could have tried to walk back, but would have been very unlikely to make it before nightfall. Luckily, after a few mishaps and some serious jolting, we arrived at our destination in the valley—lonely Suyan manyata, whose distant circular outline we had seen from the ridge.
Talking to some of the women in the manyata, I realized that the ground that we had covered to get to them was nothing. We had done it in good health in a vehicle built for difficult terrain. As they told us what life was like in their village, my heart quailed at the thought of enduring a bumpy ride in a run-down van if one were pregnant or in labor with complications—if at all transport could be obtained. Just a few days ago, a child had died here of malaria, the women said. How did they usually get help, I asked. “We send our fastest runner 18 kilometers to the nearest dispensary,” said Ma Toraeli, a grandmother in the village. “From there someone comes to help us”. Health workers also visited the village from time to time, she said, to immunize babies and perform other routine checks.
Immunization seemed high on people’s minds in Samburu. Later that day, we visited Barsaloi, a larger village with its own government dispensary and another run by Catholic nuns. The two stood side by side, with a well-worn path between them. There I met another grandmother, Agnes, who had brought an infant girl, Salini, to be immunized, although her record showed that she was early and didn’t need this service yet. But while Stephen, the clinical officer at the government dispensary, was examining the baby and we were on the subject of immunization, the district head nurse showed us how vaccines were stored at the required temperature in the two-room government dispensary without power supply.
I’m in Tokyo this week for the World Bank-IMF Annual Meetings and on Friday I will open the Bank’s global conference to look more closely at the serious energy challenge facing Africa.
Consider this stunning fact―only 1 in 3 Africans has access to electricity on the continent.
And that is why too little electricity is one of the biggest challenges I see standing in the way of Africa achieving steadily higher growth rates, better education for its children and teenagers, good quality health services that work, farms and agribusinesses that can grow enough cheap nutritious food for Africans to eat, just to name some of the transformational priorities which can happen when we turn the lights on across Africa.
I confess I am passionate about lighting up homes, schools, businesses, clinics, libraries, and parliaments across the continent. As a child growing up in Senegal, I knew first-hand about power shortages. More power for Africans will allow them to transform their living standards and turn the continent’s growth into tangible benefits for all.
Energy security is a key priority for my work as World Bank Vice President for Africa, and my team is moving ahead relentlessly to put power infrastructure in place to plug regional communities into cross-border power pools, more irrigated land to grow food and create jobs, galvanize more trade and commerce within the region, and to unlock all the other development potential that electrical power makes possible.
In Sendai, Japan, on Tuesday at the Sendai Dialogue, a high-level forum focused on mainstreaming disaster risk management into international development assistance, the Africa angle quickly dominated what already was a lively debate.
What can Africa learn from Japan in terms of disaster risk management? What can Japan and the rest of the world learn from Africa? Are disaster prevention and fast development at odds with each other? Are Africa’s disasters more difficult to tackle?
I always say, environmental management is woven into something bigger, much bigger than simply saying “Let’s do some good, let’s not pollute.” For me, it’s a question of how we encourage the development boom underway in Africa today, while still keeping our eyes focused on environmental management.
In the World Bank’s Africa Region, we are working on the belief that we can find a way to support sustainable development that combines the least amount of environmental damage with the best desirable outcome possible. Put simply, we can “green” growth and make it more inclusive.
The way to do this is to weave environment into all development programs. We believe that development is key to reducing poverty and improving livelihoods in Africa.
For example, let’s say that you are planning to build a really big road going through a national park. This is an opportunity for all stakeholders, government officials, community members, donors, NGOs, and others to gather and ask themselves not just how this road will improve economic growth, but what is the future of this national park? Will this road provide poachers with new access to pristine woodlands and endangered wildlife?
In a new report, "Enhancing Competitiveness and Resilience in Africa", we lay out a new approach to environmental management that makes it the core of everything we do. This means that when we think about a project or program in any sector, we also think about how it will impact the environment.
Young men from four formerly war-torn African countries put years of conflict and hardship behind them last weekend as they played each other in the finals of the Great Lakes Peace Cup.
I did not expect Burundi to win, but they did! And what a beautiful victory it was. The team came from Bubanza, a small town about an hour north of Burundi’s capital Bujumbura. The players had journeyed more than 18 hours by bus, including about three hours to cross the border into Uganda.
Football players from across East and Central Africa will gather in the Ugandan capital of Kampala on September 21 and 22 to take part in the finals of the Great Lakes Peace Cup, a tournament organized to help former combatants – many of them abducted child soldiers – become part of their communities through the healing power of sport.
As we drive along the semi-paved roads leading out of Juba, I wonder somewhat despondently how this one-year-old country that has been so deeply affected by conflict can prosper and grow with a literacy rate of just 27 percent. When we reach our destination—a tiny school that caters to poor children who are orphaned or with no family support, we are greeted by a loud welcome song. Children chant in a colorfully decorated hut led by a swaying young teacher whose baby sleeps peacefully on her back.
The vibe in the hut energizes me, and I begin to realize what the resilience of this nation is all about. Some of the facts in a new report on education in South Sudan start to come alive to me. This country has come a long way within a short period of time, but still has a very long way to go to catch up with the rest of Africa. Some of the children in this hut are among the 700,000 more students who were able to enroll in school between 2005 and 2009.
At a fishing enclave called Baie des Anges on Guinea Conakry's Atlantic coast, the country's development challenges are laid bare. In this make-shift settlement shrouded with blue tarpaulins and weighted down with stones and old tires, families battle the constant threat of flooding while they struggle to make a living from fish they smoke on cinder-block stoves. For the poor people of Guinea, better times can't come fast enough.
The statistics are tough to read. Here in Guinea, it rains for six months a year and yet drinking water is hard to find. The country has some of the world’s largest deposits of bauxite and iron ore, and still one in two people lives in grinding poverty. And it’s getting worse. The poverty rate has jumped from 53% of the population in 2007 to more than 55% in 2012. Blessed with some of Africa’s most significant agricultural and hydro-electric potential, few homes outside downtown Conakry have power at night unless they run generators; and food is often in short supply.
I joined the World Bank’s Vice President for Africa, Makhtar Diop, on a recent trip to Guinea where he held development talks with the President, Professor Alpha Condé, the Prime Minister, Mohamed Said Fofana, Cabinet Ministers, and local business leaders. In his discussions Diop was optimistic about the country’s development future and its potential to tackle its energy shortages, boost its agriculture production, and use its rich mining resources to transform the economy and development prospects of some of Africa's poorest people.
Never mind that it is drizzling throughout the opening ceremony, forcing many people under a undulating roof of red, green, blue, and pink umbrellas. The re-opening of Cote d’Ivoire’s leading university here in Abidjan’s Cocody district, after its closure two years ago because of the long political crisis which culminated in the disputed results of the 2010 presidential election, isn’t going to be deterred by the last fading days of the rainy season. Academics in their green robes sit good naturedly under tents. Student reps wait nervously by the entranceway for Cote d’Ivoire’s President Ouattara to arrive. The music is loud and exuberant. The place is humming with expectation and excitement. It’s a new start for higher education.
The government has been planning for this moment for the last eight months, hiring legions of workmen, builders, and gardeners to refurbish the old University of Cocody, one of Africa’s longest-running and best-known tertiary institutes which opened before the country won its independence in 1960.