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The BBC's Stephen Evans
"The immediate question is how to steer clear of serious economic slowdown"
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Saturday, 28 April, 2001, 19:07 GMT 20:07 UK
Africa pushes for more IMF reforms
African finance ministers in Washington
African finance ministers are in a positive mood
By BBC News Online's David Schepp in Washington, DC

Finance ministers from some of Africa's poorest nations have said they support reforms made by world finance organisations and look forward to further improvements that will allow their countries to engage in trade and have access to international markets.

Tanzania's Basil Mramba
Mramba: 'We have a new IMF and a new World Bank'
Speaking before reporters in Washington at the spring meeting of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, the African leaders generally expressed their appreciation for changes in requirements that now allow loans to be tailored to specific countries with far less stringent requirements.

"Many of our countries have not been able to meet certain conditionalities," said Tanzanian Minister of Finance Basil Mramba.

He said African nations welcome the institutions' new attitude in investigating impoverished African countries and tailoring aid packages to the needs of the population.

"We now have a new IMF and a new World Bank," Mr Mramba said. "The old IMF was extremely philosophical and strict. All of that seems to be altered."

Difficulties but progress

Finance Minister Emile Doumba from Gabon agreed with Mr Mramba's assessment of the changes at the funding agencies. "There is lot more attention being paid to us," he said, adding that Africa is a continent moving forward despite difficulties.
Sierra Leone's Peter Kuyembeh
Kuyembeh: 'Rome wasn't built in a day'

Said Niger's Minister of Finance Ali Badjo Gamatie, "Things are changing and there is hope." What is key is that what was missing from the programmes is now integral in their development, he said.

But even as the African leaders praised the IMF and World Bank for their changes, at least two of them supported the idea of 100% debt relief, as espoused by critics of the loan-making institutions.

Sympathetic to protestors

A number of organisations and hundreds of protestors have gathered in Washington for the spring meetings calling for 100% debt cancellation to the world's poorest nations.

Critics of the IMF and World Bank believe the policies of the institutions further impoverish poor countries and degrade the environment, among other things.

"We should listen to those outside," Niger's Gamatie said. "If they become violent, it is because we are not listening."

Mr Gamatie also said cancelling the heavy debt burden is just one issue that must be addressed. Resources being sent to Africa are not sufficient, and 100% cancellation would not solve the problem of resources.

Tanzania's Basil Mramba said he would welcome the idea of full forgiveness of debt but not if it meant the IMF and World Bank would become bankrupt, as the institutions have argued would happen if they were to forgive debts in total for poor nations.

Mr Gamatie added that African nations have to be enabled to trade to developed countries. "We want you to help us create opportunities," he said. "We don't want you to help us feed our people."

Looking to the future

The Africans leaders generally agreed the changes at the IMF and World Bank means a brighter future for nations on the African continent.

Mr Mramba said the reforms now produce loan programs that feature "conditionalit[ies] with a human face. We can now move forward more quickly with more flexibility."

But Mr Mramba added that much needs to be done in order for African nations to participate in international trade. So much of the infrastructure that is needed in order to access foreign markets is missing in Tanzania, he said.

The outspoken Finance Minister of Sierra Leone, Peter Kuyembeh, said the IMF and World Bank's efforts are a starting point. "Rome wasn't built in a day," he said.

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19 Sep 00 | Europe
Prague braces for IMF protests
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