ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - West African governments - with help from the international community - need to resolve Mali's crisis fast to stop the Sahelian belt becoming a haven for terrorists and traffickers, the head of the African Development Bank said.
The bank's president, Donald Kaberuka, also said in an interview that while growth in sub-Saharan Africa had good momentum, economies needed to prepare for the risk of external shocks from slower growth in developed and large emerging economies.
Al Qaeda-linked group Ansar Dine, along with Tuareg rebels and other armed groups, swept through northern Mali in March and April, seizing the northern half of the country after the government collapsed in a March 22 coup.
"It has to be addressed quickly and decisively. Absolutely. We cannot afford to have the Sahelian belt becoming a seat of haven for terrorists and traffickers of all types," he said at the World Economic Forum in Addis Ababa.
"It is an issue that the West African governments will have to address together and I think they would require some support from the international community," he said in an interview.
The fear is that the instability in northern Mali could spill over to neighbors such as Niger, part of the Sahelian belt of countries that stretches across the African continent on the fringes of the Sahara desert.
Kaberuka said sub-Saharan African economies, excluding heavyweight South Africa, were set to grow 6 percent this year, and do better in 2013.
But he warned that African countries were not as well placed to weather external shocks as in 2008 when the financial crisis first hit. Then, "shock absorbers" - fiscal surpluses, good reserves, low debt levels and low inflation - allowed governments to boost spending and cushion the blow.
"This time round, the shock absorbers are weaker, which means if there's a major shock from the international economy our ability to withstand the shock would be much more difficult," Kaberuka said.
He said African governments needed to ensure the current growth was shared better among fast-growing populations on the continent, as the momentum would be hard to maintain if large chunks of society were excluded.
Revenues from natural resources also needed to be spent wisely to put in place safety nets for people most likely to suffer in the event of shocks. Poor infrastructure across the continent also needed to be fixed.
"If we can do those things, ensure broadbased growth, manage national resources, rebuild the shock absorbers, I'm convinced that the momentum can be kept," he said.
The bank's president also said that it was planning to move its headquarters back to Ivory Coast's main city Abidjan, now that the security situation had improved after a disputed election that sparked weeks of fighting.
The African Development Bank moved to Tunisia after the outbreak of civil war in Ivory Coast in 2002.
"From a security view point the advice we are receiving, there is now nothing preventing us from going back to Abidjan," Kaberuka said.
"But we need facilities now. So we are rehabilitating our offices, we are looking at accommodation, schools and clinics. We are working with the Ivorian government on that. Once the facilities are in place, we are on the way back to Abidjan."
(Editing by David Dolan, Ron Askew)