World Bank chief heads to Africa in first overseas visit

WASHINGTON Thu Aug 30, 2012 8:01pm EDT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - New World Bank President Jim Yong Kim heads to the Ivory Coast and South Africa next week on his first trip to Africa since taking the reins of the global development lender two months ago.

The visit comes at a time when African economies are among the fastest growing in the world although their development is constrained by shortages of roads, ports, power supply, water and sanitation. Despite high rates of growth, rising youth unemployment and inequality are a growing concern.

"Africa is truly taking off and I look forward to hearing directly from governments and people on the continent on how the Bank can help drive more inclusive development throughout Africa," Kim said in a statement.

During his trip to the Ivory Coast, starting on Tuesday, Kim will meet President Alassane Ouattara and his economic team, which have managed to turn around a stagnant economy within a year since the end of a civil war that claimed more than 3,000 lives. The government has launched several major infrastructure projects and restored security across most of the cocoa-growing country.

He will also visit an industrial park for small and medium-sized agribusinesses, which will highlight the push for more investment in agriculture amid increasing volatility in food prices.

On Thursday, the World Bank said global food prices had jumped 10 percent in July as drought parched crop lands in the United States and in Eastern Europe, and it urged governments to shore up programs to protect the poorest.

Kim will end his trip in South Africa where he will hold talks with South African President Jacob Zuma and Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, as well as local entrepreneurs.

A wave of labor unrest and violence in South African mines has highlighted frustrations over rising poverty, inequality and stubbornly high unemployment.

"South Africa is a key factor of African growth and a leading voice for the African continent in the G-20 and other global forums. It is also an important driver for trade and investment," said Kim, former president of the Ivy League college Dartmouth in New Hampshire.

(Reporting By Lesley Wroughton; editing by Carol Bishopric)

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