MADRID – Among this summer’s grave global worries, the spread of the Ebola virus has monopolized the discussion of Sub-Saharan Africa and reinvigorated hoary notions of disorder and despair – at a time when a new image of a dynamic Africa was emerging. In fact, there is still strong reason for optimism about the region’s prospects.
The Ebola outbreak overshadowed three key events affecting the region. On July 1, a major organizational restructuring at the World Bank Group was implemented. Two weeks later, the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) announced the establishment of the New Development Bank. And, in early August, African government and business leaders gathered in Washington, DC, for a summit that could portend transformative private investment in Africa.
Such investment is essential in a world in which net private capital flows to developing countries outstrip official development assistance by a margin of ten to one. If this is to be a turning point for Africa, rather than another false dawn, this summer must be the start of a prolonged effort to stimulate private-sector engagement.
The reorganization of the World Bank is a central part of a larger effort under its president, Jim Yong Kim, to reposition the Bank as a facilitator vis-a-vis the private sector, rather than a primary provider. From 2009 to 2013, new investment commitments by the International Finance Corporation, the World Bank’s private-sector lending arm, have risen 73%. Meanwhile, the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency, the Bank’s provider of political risk insurance covering investments in developing countries, has moved to expand its activities, both by broadening the types of projects that it supports and widening existing definitions to allow greater coverage.