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Sunday, 28 April, 2002, 16:51 GMT 17:51 UK
IMF chief arrives in Africa
IMF chief, Horst Koehler
Horst Koehler will assess the progress being made in Africa
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By Andrew Walker
BBC economics correspondent
line
The managing director of the International Monetary Fund Horst Koehler is visiting five countries in Africa to assess the impact of IMF policies. Andrew Walker is travelling with him.

The IMF, as well as the World Bank and the G8 group of leading powers, say Africa is a key priority.

The current chairman of the G8, the Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, toured the continent earlier in April.

Africa can look forward to further visits from the US Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neil and the World Bank President James Wolfensohn in the next few months.

And the G8 propose to launch a plan of action for the continent at their summit meeting in the Canadian Rocky Mountains in June.

The IMF boss Horst Koehler says that poverty is the greatest threat to peace and security in the twenty-first century; and much of it is concentrated in Africa.

Signs of hope

But he told the BBC that there have been some encouraging developments.

African leaders have made a decisive step forward by recognising that they have the primary responsibility for themselves, he said.

They understand they need to work towards better governance, peace and respect for the rule of law.

But he also stresses that the developed countries have an obligation to provide deeper, broader and faster support so that there is a breakthrough in tackling poverty.

Self-interest

So what is that support? More aid is part of it.

And the rich countries should stop tying it down - requiring it to be spent on goods made by the donor country.

In deciding their aid priorities, he said they should think more of what it can do to help Africa and not so much how can it please domestic constituencies and companies.

In the last two years or so, the IMF and the World Bank have been following a new approach to the developing world which is intended to put poverty at the centre of the strategy.

It also emphasises what they call country ownership - encouraging countries to contribute to the policies themselves, and involve their societies in consultation on the best way forward.

Protests

It was a response to the often heard complaint that policies were imposed on reluctant countries wanting financial help.

This meant that the countries were less likely to implement what they didn't fell any commitment to.

One of Mr Koehler's aims in Africa is to see how the new approach is working in practice.

An IMF and World Bank review found that there had been improvements in procedures.

But it is hard to point to real progress in reducing poverty.

All in good time

Mr Koehler says there is a need to be patient.

Poverty won't be reduced in three or four years. He says that the United Nations goal of halving poverty by 2015 is ambitious enough.

But he thinks it's the right goal and that it's achievable.

Some of the IMF's critics say the more consultative approach is an improvement.

But many are very grudging. Njoki Njehu of the anti-IMF and World Bank campaign group Fifty Years is Enough, says the institutions still have the final say on the big strategic decisions.

And the fundamentals of their approach are still what they long have been - globalisation and markets open to international forces.

But the IMF and the Bank have accepted that these alone are not enough, that policies need to target poverty explicitly.

Andrew Walker will file reports from each country as the trip continues.

See also:

20 Apr 02 | Business
World Bank issues poverty warning
10 Apr 02 | Business
Africa aid flows dwindle
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