When I was teaching at the University of Indonesia, my country was the poster child for economic development. Indonesia was growing robustly – as high as 9% in the 1990s. Poverty was falling. But Indonesia was rife with corruption, cronyism, nepotism and fear under President Suharto’s authoritarian rule. Parliament had no checks and balances. There was no accountability or transparency. A few powerful families controlled the economy. The financial crisis in 1998 triggered the nationwide student protests — known as the "reformasi" movement. I joined the students demanding change. We protested until Suharto resigned.
When I was a teenager, I went hiking in the French Alps. When I arrived at the top, the view was magnificent. It was like a picture postcard with the sun glimmering off the snow under a clear, blue sky.
KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of Congo — For too long the people of the Great Lakes region of Africa have suffered from conflict and insecurity. We need to bring peace, security, and development to the region with great urgency to build on an 11-country peace framework arrangement. I am joining with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on a historic trip to the region — the first ever taken together to Africa by the heads of our organizations. Watch the video of my crossing the Congo River, from Brazzaville to Kinshasa, at the very beginning of the trip.
Development is about big systemic changes, complex tradeoffs, political choices and how the fruits of growth are channeled for the greater good. It is also about broadening opportunities – a goal that if neglected can result in frustrated citizens and tumult as we have seen in the North Africa and Middle East.
These were some of the many messages I took away from the ABCDE conference just held in Paris.
Africa's Infrastructure: A Time for Transformation
Yesterday in New York I attended a discussion on infrastructure in Africa. As co-author of the Africa Infrastructure Country Diagnostic, I've been talking with people for years about the importance of reliable infrastructure for economic and social activity in Africa. Today we're talking about how infrastructure can help achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
The core of the MDGs is poverty reduction and improved human development, but how can those goals be met without basic infrastructure to create economic opportunities and support public service delivery? This is a critical question when you think about the facts that 30 Sub-Saharan countries have a power supply crisis, their road freight moves as fast as a horse-drawn cart, and less than 5 percent of agricultural land is irrigated. Although Africa’s infrastructure needs may look daunting, countries like China have shown that it is possible to deliver on the requisite scale.
In Istanbul, World Bank economists taking a hard look at how the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are weathering the financial crisis are finding some good news. The World Bank and the IMF are holding their annual meetings in Turkey, and a status update on the MENA region shows some resilience.
Shamshad Akhtar, the World Bank’s new vice president for the region, said at a press conference today that MENA’s economy grew by almost 6.2 percent in 2008. But Akhtar says the region has been shaken by what she calls the “Triple-F phenomena”—food, fuel and the financial crisis. She says the food crisis has hit the region hardest, in part because of a growing population and a heavy dependence on imported food. But, she says, despite slowing growth, down to 2.2 percent, the region is faring better than many others.
Akhtar told reporters: “The key message we retain from all this is: the MENA region has weathered the triple crisis well so far.” But there is an “immediate danger of rising unemployment and resurgence of poverty.”