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Meeting the World Bank

Posted on: May 18, 2000 12:29 PM
Related Categories: Kenya

[All Africa News Agency] Poverty is most concentrated in Africa, where over 250 million people experience chronic hunger, a further 180 million are undernourished, and more than 40% of the population live in abject poverty. Conflicts and instability reinforce the problems of the continent with millions of people displaced and a huge population of refugees.

A five day meeting was held recently in Nairobi between representatives of the churches and the World Bank. The origins of the meeting were in the 1998 Lambeth Conference, where James Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank, had shared some of the Bank's thinking. The Nairobi meeting was hosted jointly by the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa and the World Bank.

Despite being rich in natural resources, Africa contributes barely one percent of global trade investment, meaning it is marginalised in economic terms. And even though huge sums of money from the World Bank are given to African governments, very little progress is made in improving the plight of the poor.

The church has been a leading critic of World Bank policies, and their failure to do anything for the poor of Africa. Many Anglicans felt there was a need to engage in dialogue with the Bank, to understand their policies and explore ways for partnership and collaboration.

The meeting was attended by 20 executives from the World Bank, representatives of Pope John Paul II and the Archbishop of Canterbury, leaders of Christian denominations in Africa, and participants from the USA, UK, Australia, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden.

It was acknowledged that through the network of parishes, churches were much more aware of the socio-cultural dimensions of poverty than more remote organisations such as the World Bank. It was also felt that there were political reasons for some governments to keep their people in poverty, maintaining control of the weak and poor.

In noting the failure of governments, the church admitted that it needed to be able to facilitate the right kind of governance. It was also necessary for the church to help itself and poor communities to understand and engage in the financial world.

The World Bank believes that involving the whole community in policy making was the main challenge to development in Africa, and meeting with church and community leaders was part of its efforts to develop this.

The meeting was a beginning to closer partnership between the World Bank and the church, and should lead to new levels of partnership in the war against poverty and injustice.