Wolfowitz for Africa

In The Washington Spark [June 2005]

Liberal advocacy groups came out forcefully against President Bush’s recent surprise nomination of Paul Wolfowitz as president of the World Bank. Many fear that Mr. Wolfowitz will pursue a policy tainted with U.S. economic and strategic interests, shifting the Bank’s -already contentious- focus away from its’ stated goal to “fight poverty and improve the living standards of people in the developing world”.

With Wolfowitz explicitly laying claim to a policy of “poverty reduction with special focus on Africa”, the Spark set out to uncover African perspectives on the new president of the World Bank.

Behind the World Bank

Amidst the settling dust, the World Bank rose from the still smoking remains of World War II as part of the Bretton Woods Agreement. In much the same breath, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT, now the World Trade Organization or WTO) made their appearance in the global arena.

Despite claims to the contrary, the World Bank runs much like a private corporation. Member countries adopt the effective roles of shareholders, with the number of shares -and votes- based roughly on the size of the country’s economy. Consequently, the U.S. is by far the largest single shareholder, with 16.41 percent of votes, followed by Japan (7.87 percent), Germany (4.49 percent), Britain (4.31 percent), and France (4.31 percent).

As a result of this voting structure, the Bank’s president is traditionally a national of the U.S. Elected for a five-year renewable term, the president chairs meetings of the Board of Directors and is responsible for overall management of the Bank.

Historically, the U.S. Treasury Department, which monitors the Bank’s daily operations and instructs the U.S. executive director how to vote on loans and other issues, was responsible for who occupied the Bank’s driving seat. However, as pointed out by Professor Victor LeVine, a political scientist at the Washington University in St. Louis, Wolfowitz’s nomination was unique in having been imposed by the White House, whilst “the U.S. Treasury was relegated to the cheering section”.

Wolfowitz’s Background

A worried Chofamba Sithole, an outspoken Zimbabwean journalist, told the Spark how Wolfowitz’s background is unmistakably interwoven with U.S. national defense and security. Back in March 2001, Wolfowitz began his third tour at the Defense Department as the 28th Deputy Secretary of Defense. With over thirty years of public service under his belt, mostly in government service under six different Presidents, there were few who doubted his suitability for the post in the Pentagon or White House.

Since September 11th, Wolfowitz has been instrumental in planning the so-called ‘war on terrorism’, including military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. He has also played an active role in diplomacy, through a plethora of speeches before international audiences.

During his first Pentagon tour as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Regional Programs from 1977-1980, Wolfowitz led the first major assessment of U.S. strategic interests in the Persian Gulf, a study which spawned the so- called ‘United States Central Command’.

Wolfowitz also initiated the ‘Maritime Pre-positioning Program’, a plan that positioned heavy weapons and ammunition aboard ships in the Persian Gulf region. This plan would form the backbone of the initial U.S. response during Operation Desert Shield 12 years later. Indeed, it was none other than Wolfowitz who succeeded in razing over $50 billion in allied financial support for the Gulf War.

Says Chofamba, “He has in mind precisely the radical reform of the key institutions of global governance to comply with the imperatives of America’s new grand strategy for the post-Cold War world – democratic globalism, otherwise known as neoconservatism.”

So what do Africans think?

He has in mind precisely the radical reform of the key institutions of global governance to comply with the imperatives of America’s new grand strategy for the post-Cold War world – democratic globalism, otherwise known as neoconservatism. – Chofamba Sithole

Understandably, many Africans are worried about Wolfowitz’ undisputable ties with the military-industrial complex. Emira Woods, a fellow at the left-leaning Institute for Policy Studies, said “It’s a slap in the face, it’s a poke
in the eye. It’s bad for the international community in general, and particularly for people already pushed to the brink in poor and marginalised communities,” reported South Africa’s Mail & Guardian in an article entitled: “Wolfowitz: the velocirapter”. Mrs. Woods added that “… the person who was the architect of the corporate-driven plan for Iraq that failed now gets a chance to do that in the rest of the world.”

Many have also questioned Wolfowitz’ credentials, pointing out that he has no experience in banking or finance, and has never worked, studied or written in the field of international development.

Prof. LeVine labels much of the liberal reaction as “reflexive”, preferring instead to take a cautionary stance and defer judgement. He, too, was surprised at the nomination, but draws attention to Wolfowitz’ experience as ambassador to Indonesia. “Although we aught to be skeptical”, he told the Spark, “Wolfowitz may well turn out to be the chameleon I think he is.”

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