Wolfowitz Pledges to Change Africa

By HARRY DUNPHY, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON - In his first day on the job, World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz said Wednesday he hoped the bank could help transform Africa from a continent of despair to one of hope.

  He said that while other parts of the world - Asia, the former Soviet Union and Latin America - make economic and political progress, "we cannot have a large part of the world with 600 million people left behind and sinking."

Starting a five-year term at the helm of the 184-nation lending institution, Wolfowitz said he hoped when he left office "We can say that this was a time when Africa went from being a continent of despair and poverty to a continent of hope."

Wolfowitz chose as one of his first audiences an Africa advocacy group that includes non-governmental organizations, opinion leaders and business groups working to end poverty in Africa and expand trade and private investment. Several African ambassadors were among those listening.

Some development experts and non-governmental organizations had expressed concern at Wolfowitz's appointment because the former assistant defense secretary was a prime architect of the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

He said it cannot be a good thing for those privileged to live in wealthy countries "to have a large part of the world left behind in the kind of misery and suffering that the people of Africa experience."

To help Africa develop, Wolfowitz said, requires a plan that combines development assistance, foreign private investment, the development of the private sector and progress in trade talks so Africans can sell what they produce on world markets.

"New energy, new commitment and new realism is required and I, as president of the World Bank, am ready to help that great institution make a contribution and a keen effort" to eradicate poverty, promote growth and eliminate corruption.

The World Bank's stated mission is to fight poverty and improve the living standards of people in developing countries. It lends about $20 billion (euro16.22 billion) a year for various projects.

The installation of Wolfowitz enables the Bush administration to put its imprint on the bank, which employs about 10,000 people worldwide. He replaced James Wolfensohn, whose 10 years at the helm of the bank ended Tuesday.

Some international aid and other groups worry that Wolfowitz will use the development bank to spread American values - political, economic or other. They also fear he will use the institution to reward America's friends and punish its enemies.

Critics, including the 50 Years is Enough Network and The Mobilization for Global Justice, organized a protest outside the World Bank on Wednesday as Wolfowitz took over.

Wolfowitz, 61, has said he believes deeply in the World Bank's mission and would not pursue any political agenda. He said he would seek to overcome critics' concerns "by being objective and credible."

When it comes to development, Wolfowitz said it is important for the bank to continually assess what works and what doesn't. "It is not a matter of one size fits all. Each country, each part of the world has unique characteristics," he told reporters Tuesday.