WASHINGTON—World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz pledged Tuesday to make reducing poverty in Africa and improving the lot of poor women everywhere his top priorities.
Having just toured Nigeria, Rwanda, Burkina Faso and South Africa, Wolfowitz called on leaders of the so-called G-8 industrial democracies to provide new aid to Africa when they meet next month in Scotland.
Africa, said Wolfowitz, will be a personal priority.
"The key thing I'd like to accomplish ... is to enable the bank to do as much as it possibly can to support development in Africa," he said. He hopes the World Bank can better coordinate the aid from various governments and relief agencies, which fragile African governments often have difficulty managing well and sometimes squander to corruption.
He said he also hoped to create more opportunities for poor women.
"It's not Western-style feminism that somebody is trying to impose on them. ... The point is if countries don't give equal opportunities to that half of their population, there is no way they can develop fully," Wolfowitz said.
Wolfowitz declined to answer questions about the Bush administration's planning for war in Iraq but said the local news media would be important to achieving his goals in Africa.
"You can't talk about fighting corruption if you have a press that's totally muzzled. In fact I think one of the greatest weapons against corruption is fresh air and the light of day," he said. "Corruption doesn't survive very well when it is exposed, and having a free press that is able to expose it contributes to development."
In his first meeting with a broad group of journalists since stepping aside as deputy defense secretary at the end of May, Wolfowitz, a co-architect of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, declined to discuss the so-called Downing Street memos.
Those once-secret July 2002 briefing papers from inside Britain's government, published in The Sunday Times of London on May 1, say President Bush "fixed" intelligence data to support his drive for war in Iraq, which Bush has denied.
"I haven't read the memo," Wolfowitz said.
Wolfowitz's role in the war made him a controversial choice to head the World Bank, whose mission is to lend money to spur development in the world's poorest nations.
Wolfowitz stressed on Tuesday that he's looking forward, not back.
"I tell you, no one I met in Africa, no African at least, wanted to talk about Iraq," he said.
To learn more online about Wolfowitz's recent swing through Africa go to www.worldbank.org/features/2005/africa(underscore)0605.htm
(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
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