Attending MIGA’s seminar today in London on cross-border investment in conflict affected and fragile economies prompted me to think back on my days in the field—not only during my experience with the World Bank in southern Africa, but to two decades as a journalist in the same region.
I traveled in a number of African countries where I reported on fragile economies, on war and political violence, and on post-conflict rebuilding efforts. Some countries, to be sure, were more successful than others. Mozambique has always been singled out as among the miracles and it’s understandable. I went to Mozambique for the first time in 1984 to report on the civil war, which had already taken a heavy toll after seven years of intense conflict, and returned a number of times up until 1990.
I next returned in 1994 to report on the country’s first multi-party elections following the peace accord. By that stage so much of the country was devastated—and the capital Maputo was riddled with signs of conflict, from bullet-pocked buildings to the destruction of basic infrastructure. When I returned in 2008 what I saw amazed me. To be sure there were still signs of the past conflict—but the capital was vibrant, busy, and working. Yes this was partly due to donor funding and the work of mulitlaterals like the World Bank, but it was also achieved through private sector investment.
Which brings me back to the topic of today’s seminar discussion. It coincided with MIGA’s just-launched flagship report World Investment and Political Risk—focused on investment in conflict-affected and fragile economies. Anyone who has seen first-hand a country’s efforts to rebuild and create new hope for its people understands the value and importance of private sector investment. Delegates at today’s session heard an impassioned keynote address from the World Bank’s Managing Director Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on the topic. She urged the private sector to partner with development institutions and others to invest in countries. Her main message was that such investment gives a positive signal to the people of a country and gives them hope, while the investor can accrue rewards—both financial and in knowing that the investment has done a lot of good.
MIGA’s mission, as part of the World Bank Group, is to promote such cross-border private sector investment into developing countries to reduce poverty and improve people’s lives. We especially focus on underserved countries, many of which have been conflict-affected or are fragile. Our mission may seem naïve or even trite to some. But I have seen the impact and results of such investment—and they are real.