World Bank chief Wolfowitz urges African trade, investment

by Yumi Wijers-Hasegawa

World Bank Group President Paul Wolfowitz said Monday in Tokyo that Japan should play a larger role in promoting trade and investment in Africa, saying they were “more critical” to the continent than development aid.

“You may ask why should an economic superpower like Japan care about a struggling continent on the opposite side of the world.

“One answer is that Japan’s leadership brings with it responsibilities. It is not just a regional power, it is also a global power,” Wolfowitz said at a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan.

The World Bank chief said that although Japan gives substantial aid to Africa in the form of official development assistance, its direct investment in sub-Saharan Africa is insufficient at $415 million, or a mere 0.4 percent of its total foreign direct investment between 2002 and 2004.

While about 85 percent of that investment went to the automotive industry in South Africa and the fishing industry in Liberia, most of Japan’s imports from the continent, which were just 2 percent of its total imports in 2003 and 2004, were in the form of low-value added products such as fuels, ores and metals.

The World Bank sees potential for growth in African services and agricultural exports, and it has launched the Africa Action Plan with specific targets to promote trade and investment in these fields, Wolfowitz said.

Wolfowitz’s appointment as World Bank president by President George W. Bush in 2005 raised eyebrows worldwide due to his role as an architect of the U.S. war in Iraq. He is seen as a prominent member of the neoconservative movement that emerged after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S.

Asked whether the huge amount of money the U.S. has spent on military operations in Iraq should have instead been invested in African countries, Wolfowitz countered that the U.S. had plans to drastically cut its military spending when “a war we did not anticipate” occurred following the terrorist attacks.

“I think it is simply shameful that in countries like Japan (and) the U.S., a tiny fraction of the GNP goes to assisting the poorest countries in the world. Both of us can do better,” he said.