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The BBC's Elizabeth Blunt
"They haven't so far seen much benefit for those living in poverty"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 20 February, 2001, 00:00 GMT
Protesters in Africa confront top bankers
IMF President Horst Kohler and Mali's Prime Minister Modibo Sidibe
Mali's Prime Minister Sidibe welcomes IMF chief
Protesters calling for debt relief confronted the heads of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in advance of talks with African leaders on development.


I know it is difficult, but we are here to help you

World Bank Chief James Wolfensohn
The protesters outside the main auditorium in the Malian capital, Bamako, held banners accusing the financial institutions of fuelling poverty in Africa.

Before a meeting with local officials, the World Bank Chief James Wolfensohn, tried to reassure the demonstrators.

''I know it is difficult, but we are here to help you,'' he said.

Mr Wolfensohn and Horst Kohler, managing director of the IMF, have said they had not come to Africa to tell anyone what to do, but to listen and see how best to support African initiatives.


As we see it, the IMF and World Bank are the source of poverty in our countries

Protester Aminata Toure Barry
They began the first round of meetings later in the day with 10 African leaders. They also plan regional summits in Tanzania, as well as visits to Nigeria and Kenya for talks with their leaders.

Countering criticism

They are also holding talks with a cross-section of Malian society, including businessmen and academics, to counter criticisms that their institutions are too remote from ordinary people.

However, the demonstrators wanted the financial chiefs to witness the poverty of their country first-hand.

World Bank Vice President for Africa Callisto Madavo
Mr Madavo says the World Bank is listening to Africa
''As we see it, the IMF and World Bank are the source of poverty in our countries,'' said Aminata Toure Barry, a member of the Malian branch of the debt relief organisation, Jubilee 2000.

A BBC correspondent in Bamako says the IMF and World Bank have not yet shaken off their reputation for being the people who impose policies, which make life more difficult.

Grinding poverty

The World Bank said the trip was a demonstration of support for the region, which suffers grinding poverty and endemic health threats including Aids.

Zambian aids patient
Africa suffers widespread Aids as well as poverty
But many Africans are sceptical about the value of the institutions.

Mahmoud Dicko, who heads an umbrella organisation of Islamic associations in Mali, said: "They could put the headquarters of the IMF here and it wouldn't do a thing to overcome poverty."

He said that, for people to understand the level of poverty in the west African state, they had to listen to the poor.

Good governance debate

Critics of the IMF and the World Bank say that the policies they press on countries seeking loans are partly to blame for Africa's problems, because they force cuts in social programmes that help the poor.

But defenders of the institutions say many African governments do not spend money on poverty alleviation anyway, with leaders preferring to enrich themselves at the country's expense or to fight expensive foreign wars.

Insistence on "good governance" - including reducing corruption and running responsible budgets - will help the poor, the IMF and World Bank say.

Partnership

A senior World Bank official said that there had been an evolution in the way the bank dealt with African countries.

"We are listening more. It has become truly a partnership," World Bank Vice-President for Africa Callisto Madavo said.

In recent years, Africa has loomed increasingly large in the two institutions' work.

While parts of Asia and Latin America have attracted large amounts of investment from the international financial markets, Africa has been largely ignored by the private sector.

Such foreign direct investment as Africa has received has been concentrated in countries with oil or other natural resources.

So the IMF and the World Bank have been heavily involved in providing loans and advice on economic policy reforms.

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See also:

10 Jan 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Mali
16 Feb 01 | Business
Africa's economy under spotlight
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