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Wednesday, 8 May, 2002, 10:19 GMT 11:19 UK
Poverty in Africa: What can the IMF do?
Horst Koehler, head of the International Monetary Fund, which lends money to countries in economic difficulties is touring five African countries this week.
World leaders are increasingly focusing their attention on how to stimulate economic recovery in Africa, the world's poorest continent.
Critics charge that the IMF's policies make poverty in Africa worse, by forcing countries to open their markets too fast, leading to the loss of jobs in industry and agriculture.
But the IMF says it has changed its approach and is now focusing on poverty reduction strategies and support for investment in health and education.
What do you think? What is the best way to help Africa? Does trade aid or damage developing countries?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Poverty reduction in poor developing countries must be the core aim of the World Bank, not spending on mega projects which makes these very countries indebted to developed nations.
A large number of African regimes are riddled with corruption and any aid not delivered directly to the needy will be used to line the pockets of the corrupt few at the top of the tree. The IMF or the West can't really interfere in "democratic" governments so will need to take steps to ensure the help gets to where it is intended. It will cost more and will reduce the amount of aid available to the end user but that reduced amount will probably be far in excess of what gets through now.
It seems to me that the World Bank, and the IMF for those countries in financial crisis, do good. They also do harm. There are facts in favour of each side, as well as strong opinions that can be shot down by yet more facts. The need is change from within - bad governments led by misguided individuals and groups need to be changed (corruption is only a part of the picture). It is the responsibility of Africans to do this. The state is still more important for development than international institutions. This is not to say that the West doesn't have a role. One good place to start is to increase interest in Africa, and decrease our ignorance of the challenges they face, let alone cultivating a respect for the many cultures of the continent.
Africa has enough mineral resources to feed the entire continent and trade fairly with the rest of the world. The West is very aware of this, which is why they embarked on a colonial mission to plunder our resources and rob us of our self esteem many years ago. If people like the IMF are going to help alleviate poverty now, they should ensure that the aid is channelled directly to those who need it most and not into the bellies of our greedy politicians.
Africa needs a new generation of leaders to make this happen.
Nicholas Ngugi, Kenya/U.S.
What can the IMF do? They are largely responsible for a great deal of the hardship on this continent! When they insist that governments implement Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAP) before lending them money they know full well will be embezzled and stay at the top of the food chain. The people lose out both ways. More World, less Bank!
What Africa needs most is investment from its development partners which provides employment and improves skills. Not aid. Not even trade (finished products in exchange for cheap raw materials). Similarly, Africa's present debt is unsustainable by whatever standard the IMF uses. If these two issues are addressed in an innovative way, the objectives of NEPAD could be achieved and poverty reduced by half by the year 2015.
Saffea Senessie , Sierra Leone /Thailand
Why do we complain about corrupt leader in poorer countries? As long as they do what we ask them to do and do not threaten the interest of Western power and its allies, they are perfectly acceptable. If the corrupt leaders do not pocket the money so that they can not send their children to the West to acquire Western education and Western values, it will become impossible for us in the rich countries to assert future influence. This is exactly why the IMF should play a bigger role in African and other poor parts of the world for the benefit of the rich.
If African countries are to improve, some of the leaders must stop taking money away from their countries, they must use debate rather than the gun, so that they will attract investment and the UN and any countries with influence from the west should give them support in this area.
The world does not care about Africa, where's all the concern about Zimbabwe gone now that the 'election' is over?
The IMF, World Bank and WTO are rightly criticised for their failures, but a rule-based economic order is vital and these are the only institutions we have that can provide it, so they must have another chance. The guiding principle should be, not so much free trade as fair trade.
The IMF is a business organization which aims at making a profit. And the managers realised it's easier to do so by funding rogue governments around the world knowing it very well that the so-called aid isn't reaching the majority poor people. In the meantime, the IMF itself makes profit and is in business and the rogue leaders in Africa are getting fatter, more stupid, arrogant and rich while the majority go without food.
International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, and the World Bank were largely set up to spread development and alleviate poverty. They have and will always do some good. It is clear that their efforts to increase trade, productivity and the economy for the world have been successful. It is also clear that this does not end poverty, hunger, injustice and inequality.
There is a term "generational poverty" which seems to apply endlessly in Africa. Yes, we have the wherewithal to alleviate starvation, poverty etc, in Africa. The question is should we? For most of my nearly 60 years, it seems that Africa has had its begging bowl out to the rest of the world for assistance.
Eezeebee, Nigeria/Atlanta, USA
IMF is nothing but the tool of the western/developed nations to force developing nations to follow policies which are helping the West.
Only recently, the IMF has been pressuring my country, Ethiopia, to open its financial markets for global competition. Now: how is this to help the newly opened, very humble, private financial institutions? How about waiting just a bit - for them to take root? How about helping them develop their own resources first? Yes, we Africans have our internal corruption problems to tackle, and very weak democratic systems to strengthen. And trade will definitely help. But, I do not believe the IMF is an honest partner in this process.
We should ask Africans what they think - too much action on development is driven by the north, however well-meaning it is. A good starting point for action "at home" would be to cut the agriculture subsidies that cost us as taxpayers, harm our environment and hurt farmers in the south.
For years the IMF has tired to impose structural changes to the economic system on the continent but this has not led to any benefits for the people. It is time something different was tried. Aid, especially tied aid which puts the needs of the donors before the needs of the African population has caused more harm than good. The continent does not need to spend on arms or industrialisation. Arms lead to wars and oppression. Industries that produce products that can neither be consumed by the indigenous population nor sold to overseas markets because of protectionist trade policies are a wasted resource. Most communities and people in Africa have intrinsic wealth, the majority own land. It is time the world allowed these people to harness these assets and release the capital like elsewhere in the world by formalising the existing communal/feudal systems rather than imposing a western market system which has no relevance to the majority of Africans.
My conclusion based on my experience of Africa and it's many peoples is that if the African people are given even a small chance, their abundant and keen intelligence, their sense of family and their creative and imaginative approach to life would make them amongst the most significant contributors to humanity. It's long overdue that the world's institutionalised anti-Africanism was exposed so that it can be worked away.
The IMF has had 57 years to accomplish its goal of helping developing nations secure economic growth and reduce poverty. This is far from being reached. In many cases it is worse than it was a couple o decades ago. It is true that African countries have corrupt governments but the IMF has implemented policies that are counter-productive and continue to undermine the local economies. They implemented policies that reduced government spending and forced them to lay off civil servants in countries such as Kenya and Somalia. How is the economy going to be mobilized when the government does not spend money?
What African countries need to do is entirely remove themselves from this programs. Botswana is a good example of a country that did and is now experiencing flourishing economic growth. It's better that they make their own mistakes and learn from them and choose their own destiny. I think that day is soon coming because there is growing discontentment with what the IMF is doing in many of these countries.
The IMF has the problem that whatever it does is wrong. If it dumps money at countries without structural changes it's accused of wasting money, if it tries to force through structural changes it's accused of cultural imperialism and if it leaves the countries alone, it's accused of abandoning them.
It's like some people seem to want the third world to magically, overnight change into a dynamic western-style economy, without actually having to go through the changes.
Brendan Fernandes, UK
I think the IMF should focus in providing some kind of investment facilities, structure investment Funds for specific income generating projects e.g. A Fund to establish oil refinery in a country like Sudan or Chad, electricity stations,...etc. . This new approach should be implemented directly with relevant financial institutions , the governmental role should be supervisory only and limited to those issues related to the sovereignty of the countries. As a financial institution, the IMF should not be a part of the political "game"
Most of the African countries suffering from poverty do so because of their own corrupt or incompetent governments. The richer developed countries of the world have been subsidising and sending aid to these countries for decades now without anything changing. The people of these so-called developing countries should start to help themselves by condemning corruption. They must begin by first becoming honest themselves.
The IMF and the world in general MUST help Africa. It is intolerable that it has been left to rot for so long. Two things, above all, should be done as soon as possible. Firstly, African countries' debts should be cancelled. Secondly, the West must open its markets to African producers. Once those are done, other development efforts will start to reap real benefits for that sad continent.
Chama, Zambian in Ireland
The Failure of the IMF in Africa is not due to corruption as Linda from the USA claims, but due to many other factors. To be sure corruption exists in the USA also, where millionaires who are in close ties to the USA officials receive Agriculture subsidies to grow crops and destroy them, just to prevent African countries from export Agriculture products to the USA.
The problems with IMF loans themselves is that they are very inflexible and imposes conditions that do not take into account local conditions.
Private loans by individual countries are more likely to have less restrictive and hurtful effects than IMF loans.
Linda from the US seems to believe that we choose to be undermined and stolen from by our leaders in Africa. In many countries in Africa, the people that are in charge took power by force or by manipulation but they get legitimised by western leaders as long as they dont rock the boat. Mugabe is not the an angel but Africa has seen far worse! The only reason he became a bad guy is because he wouldnt do what he was told. As long as the rest of the world is ready to deal with corrupt goverments there will always be someone somewhere that wants more money than he deserves to have.
Africa's greatest economic enemy is not the IMF, it is internal corruption. Without standards being imposed on these countries, the money simply goes into the pockets of elite and powerful. Economies must be reworked and sound financial practices must be required, or the countries should simply stand on their own - the IMF is not there to be dictated to.
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