Shoe on the other foot as Africa chides Wolfowitz

NAIROBI Mon May 14, 2007 8:09am EDT

World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz looks down during a closing news conference at the final day of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank spring meeting in Washington, in this April 15, 2007 file photo. The scandal hanging over Wolfowitz has damaged his ability to preach against corruption in Africa, but Africans say the bank's anti-graft message must remain whether he stays or goes. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz looks down during a closing news conference at the final day of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank spring meeting in Washington, in this April 15, 2007 file photo. The scandal hanging over Wolfowitz has damaged his ability to preach against corruption in Africa, but Africans say the bank's anti-graft message must remain whether he stays or goes.

Credit: Reuters/Yuri Gripas

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NAIROBI (Reuters) - The scandal hanging over World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz has damaged his ability to preach against corruption in Africa, but Africans say the bank's anti-graft message must remain whether he stays or goes.

The bank is due to give its final decision on Tuesday on Wolfowitz's future, which is now clouded over a pay and promotion deal he approved for his companion, World Bank Middle East expert Shaha Riza.

In Africa, where Wolfowitz is the public face of an institution that campaigns against corruption and nepotism, he is both loved and hated by ordinary Africans.

Newspaper cartoonists have taken delight in lampooning his situation and many papers have had editorials calling for his resignation.

"Those who think corruption is the exclusive domain of Africa must now rethink that view. It is something that happens everywhere," said Celestin Kabuya, a political scientist at the University of Kinshasa in Democratic Republic of Congo.

"It is unfortunate for the institution, for its credibility, and for its effectiveness in the future."

While many African nations depend on money offered by the bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), many citizens see them as instruments to impose Western policies and further hamper development by saddling them with huge debts.

Wolfowitz has focused a lot of his attention on Africa, pushing a message that leaders there must provide accountable governments and fight corruption -- for decades synonymous with African regimes.

"Wolfowitz should resign because the World Bank is in the habit of coming to Africa with its baggage to impose good governance on us and at the same time to fix up cozy relationships with the leaders," said Nicaise Moulombi, a member of Gabon's advisory Economic and Social Council.

"DEMORALISING"

World Bank and IMF involvement with kleptocratic governments in the past like those of Nigeria's Sani Abacha or Congo's Mobutu Sese Seko has long bred African skepticism about their motives and effectiveness.

"If he doesn't resign -… that will have the effect of endorsing the attitude of African heads of state who run their countries like private businesses," Moulumbi said.

Members of the bank's 24-nation board have told Reuters a majority want him to resign over the high-paying promotion for his girlfriend, which has paralyzed the bank in a morale crisis and raised questions over his fitness to lead it.

"This scandal is demoralizing for developing countries which were making superhuman efforts to fight against corruption in Africa," said Fitzgerald Dagba, an unemployed 27-year-old in Cotonou, Benin.

Kenyan anti-corruption campaigner Mwalimu Mati said the bank under Wolfowitz had done a good job fighting graft, by viewing it as a barrier to development and making a country's efforts against it a benchmark for aid.

"The Wolfowitz problem is of less concern to me than whether the bank will generally live by its own rules," in deciding if he had broken them, Mati said.

Others said it was a personal matter that did not reflect badly on the bank.

"It is not institutional. It is not as if everybody in the bank is going around doing favors to their girlfriends," said Udo Udoma, a Nigerian senator who helped negotiate Nigeria's $18 billion Paris Club debt write-off in 2005.

At least one man said he could not blame Wolfowitz.

"This is an act unworthy of a man of his position, even though emotions are difficult to control. Personally, I forgive him because when it comes to women, men are weak," office worker Amadou Coulibaly said in Burkina Faso's capital Ouagoudougu.

(Additional reporting by Estelle Shirbon in Abuja, Mathieu Bonkoungou in Ougadougou, Joe Bavier in Kinshasa, Samuel Elijah in Cotonou and Antoine Lawson in Libreville)

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