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World Bank Hones Plan to Accelerate Progress in Africa

Emmanuel Ayomide Praise

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Two years ago, Africa seemed at a turning point.

Could it reverse a two-decade decline in economic and social progress? Could it end poverty and hunger in a decade?

The need to reduce poverty and speed up quality of life improvements in Africa will be on the agenda at the World Bank-International Monetary Fund Spring Meetings this week.

The World Bank’s key strategy for Africa—the three-year Africa Action Plan—is up for mid-term review April 15 at the Development Committee, the body that that advises the Boards of Governors of the Bank and the Fund on critical development issues.

While the Africa Action Plan has many successes from its first 18 months to report, it also acknowledges that if current trends continue, poverty in Africa will only fall to 37 percent by 2015—the target date for fulfilling the eight Millennium Development Goals that include eradicating severe poverty and hunger and achieving universal primary education.

With many countries at risk of being left behind, the Bank decided to amend its strategy to accelerate progress and work more effectively with countries and other development partners.

The result is a more focused and outcome-oriented plan that leverages the Bank Group’s strengths and seeks to improve the odds for all 48 African nations, says John Page, Chief Economist for the Bank’s Africa region.

Page says the revised plan does not affect the Bank’s traditional focus of working one-on-one with countries. Nor does it change the amount of financing each country receives from the International Development Association (IDA), the arm of the World Bank that provides zero-interest loans and grants and 90 percent of the Bank’s financing for Africa.

But an assessment of the action plan, first approved in September 2005, revealed it was “too wide ranging. " As a result it has been pared down from 14 focus areas to eight that now include:

Strengthen the African private sector
Increase the economic empowerment of women
Build skills for competitiveness in the global economy
Raise agricultural productivity
Improve access to and reliability of clean energy
Expand and upgrade road networks and transit corridors
Increase access to safe water and sanitation
Strengthen national health systems and combat malaria and HIV/AIDS

Each area was carefully selected for maximum impact in working toward achieving the MDGs and complementing the work of development partners such as the African Development Bank, United Nations, individual country donors, and foundations.

“We wanted to see what we could do as the Bank group to be the most helpful, " says Page. “In each case, we tried to give thought to what the Bank’s core competencies are, relative to other partners, in order to get the development outcomes that we need. "

The changes reflect a continuing effort “to position the Bank strategically to be most useful as a member of the development partnership in supporting growth and attainment of the MDGs in Africa, " he says.

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