Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The African Economy Isn't Actually So Dark

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The African Economy Isn't Actually So Dark

Article excerpt

WESTERN perceptions of Africa are outdated and fail to recognize the dramatic changes on the continent.

That's the charge of Edward Jaycox, the World Bank's vice president for Africa. "There's a political revolution going on all over the continent," he says. "Five years ago only four countries were legitimized by popular multiparty elections ... today, that number is 30. Government monopolies are being destroyed, privatization has grown, and the press is freer."

But many in the United States and other wealthy countries still see Africa as stuck in abject poverty, notorious for corrupt governments and damaging economic policies. They speak of the 1980s as "the lost decade" for the continent.

In many African countries, however, the political changes have improved prospects for economic recovery. Echoing an often-heard World Bank maxim -- democratization breeds economic reform -- Mr. Jaycox predicts a greater "demand for transparency, accountability, and results," from national policymakers.

Despite these strides, it will take a lot more to persuade those with deep pockets to have confidence in the region. "To the outside world, Africa is still seen as a monolithic problem," Jaycox says. It's a view that he rejects, and blames for the negligible foreign investment and falling aid to the region.

During the cold war, "there was practically no African state that wasn't propped up by the East or West for its legitimacy," Jaycox says. "Every one of those regimes was destabilized in the past five years, and most went the way of free elections."

The World Bank puts between $2 billion and $4 billion into Africa every year in the form of concessional loans and development-project financing. In May, for example, the bank's board considered funding for water-supply and sanitation improvements in Zambia, secondary education in Nigeria, and agricultural processing in Mali.

Jaycox says there are African success stories, where better governance coupled with the World Bank's investments are paying off in improved living standards. …

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