There can be few international institutions that endure so much criticism as does the World Bank. Robert Calderisi worked for the World Bank in several African countries over many years, and was for a while its official spokesman in Washington. He is an insider, an international development mandarin – that breed of usually faceless people pilloried for their ostentatious lifestyles in the midst of abject poverty and mocked for their inability to bring about any evident change in the human condition of the poor. They have been scathingly referred to as ‘the Lords of poverty’.
The case against the World Bank is especially incriminating in sub-Saharan Africa, where in four decades of official development assistance $700 billion has been pumped into fledgling economies in the hope that they can emulate the spectacular growth of India and the Asian tigers. But even with all this aid, most African economies seem unable to gain a momentum of sustained development. Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, has some fairly uncomplimentary judgements on the World Bank. In the July issue of Fortune he says that ‘the world’s confidence in the bank is at low ebb’. Despite endless talk, countless ‘missions’ by bank staffers, and expensive studies, the bank has accomplished little in Africa for twenty years. Africans know it, and so do the bank’s financial backers in the US and Europe.
That is probably a bit harsh. On a case-by-case assessment the World Bank has done some sterling work in Africa. But the overall picture of a development institution unable to change the course of a continent mired in poverty is hard to refute. This, of course, begs the essential question