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10.06.2008 Business & Finance

Seek A Win-Win Situation — World Bank

By Daily Graphic
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World Bank Vice-President Obiageli Ezekwesili has said that Japan should seek a win-win relationship with Africa by promoting private investment that goes beyond the narrow pursuit of the continent's ample natural resources.

“The important thing is (as countries pursue their national interests) that in terms of co-operation and collaboration with other countries, they can pursue their interests in a way that creates win-win situations,” she said in an interview with Kyodo News on the sidelines of the Tokyo International Forum on African Development.

The former Nigerian education minister said Japan and Africa could establish a “true partnership” in which Japan could provide its agricultural technology and official development assistance, while Africa could also offer an attractive destination for its private investment across a broad range of sectors, including not only minerals, but also telecommunications, textiles and emerging financial markets.

“Today, Africa is only looked at by some for its natural resources endowment, but Africa is much more than that. Africa is a good destination for every range of business other than mineral resources,” Obiageli said.

Obiageli, who is in charge of the African region at the World Bank, also said that a growing number of leaders in Africa were capable of more effectively handling foreign aid due to notable advances in governance and establishment of stable democracies and transparent legislative frameworks in their countries.

“It took Africa a long time to be able to shed the weight of military misgovernance,” Obiageli said, adding that a lack of transparency and governance stifled innovation and private sector growth in the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s.

“Africa is now better in charge of its development priorities. It actually is in the lead in defining what kind of support it needs. And that is helping Africa to do better,” she said, citing Uganda and Ghana as recent models of success.

Calling Africa “the next growth pole in the world,” Obiageli urged the Japanese private sector to shed its poor image of the continent and to venture into the “virgin market.”

“Today, we're talking Asia, but the next place is Africa, because as much more people discover Africa, they see the huge returns on investment,” she said.

Despite an average solid growth of around 5.7 per cent in 2007, Obiageli did acknowledge a huge “infrastructure deficit” in Africa, which created a major disincentive for private investment.

She says Africa needs to grow at least seven per cent annually for the continent to fully lift itself from poverty, making it more relevant to combine the use of foreign aid to fill infrastructural gaps, while spurring business activity in the region.

In opening the three-day African Development meeting on Wednesday, Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda said he hoped to double both Japan's official development assistance and private investment in the continent, including a $2.5 billion provision of financial assistance from the Japan Bank for International Co-operation.

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