World Bank Group President Robert Zoellick ended a three-nation African tour recently by affirming that despite setbacks to Africa’s steady progress as a result of the financial crisis, this could be a century of African opportunity and growth.
The six-day trip that saw Zoellick travel to DR Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda was an opportunity to see first-hand the impact of the financial crisis on Africa, assess progress on post-conflict reconciliation and reconstruction.
It was also aimed at exploring ways to stimulate investment and donor support to help the continent weather the crisis in anticipation of the Group of Twenty (G20) meeting in Pittsburgh, next month.
“We need multiple poles of growth and that will make for a more balanced international economy; and there’s no reason Africa can’t be one of those poles,” Zoellick told journalists in Entebbe, Uganda at the end of his trip.
The World Bank boss’s visits also wanted to assess the region’s infrastructure needs, spotlight the importance of regional integration, and better understand opportunities for enhancing agricultural productivity and food security.
In Rwanda, Zoellick took a short boat ride on the scenic Lake Kivu, bounded by undulating hills and the active Nyiragongo volcano, to a floating plant that produces 2.5MW of electricity from methane gas drawn up from the lake.
“This is just a fascinating example of the innovation we have seen throughout the Rwandan government and a good example of regional cooperation,” he observed.
The government-funded pilot has proven the viability of the process and already has attracted a private investor who will produce 25MW of electricity and quadruple this output in the second phase.
Rwanda is also negotiating commercial production contracts designed as Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) with other investors to tap into the lake’s power generation potential, estimated at 500MW of continuous production over 50 years.
Zoellick, who pledged to help Rwanda meet its development target highlighted that the private sector can tap on the International Finance Corporation’s (IFC) asset management facility— the index for local currency bond markets, and the trade finance facility.
According Zoellick, the proposal to tap one percent of sovereign wealth funds, can generate $30 billion.
This can partly address the private sector concerns that growth was being held back by inadequate energy supply, poor infrastructure and transportation, high taxes, and limited access to finance
“On issue after issue this is a country on the move and it is a country that brings great momentum.
It recognizes the need to develop regional integration and it has a president and a team that has garnered respect,” Clearly impressed by the progress on the path of reform, Zoellick said at a press event after meeting President Paul Kagame.
He told the ministers of the East African Community in Kigali to get ready to tap into the money that will be set aside by rich nations for low carbon energy sources.
One of the most moving stops in Zoellick’s itinerary was at a Bank-assisted program to provide homes and vocational training for severely disabled ex-combatants and their families on the outskirts of the capital, Kigali.
“All of you provided valuable service; you are people of courage and strength and, given help, we know you can help others,” he told the wheelchair-bound men and their families.
“My conclusion after leaving Rwanda is that this is a very ambitious country.
We at the World Bank, including the IFC, need to act with the same ambition that Rwanda acts with,” He stated.