Before starting his lecture, Bekhechi warned, "There are lots of very bad stories about what the bank has done or is doing & you need to check on everything."
Unlike earlier projects, the World Bank no longer places as much emphasis on the question: Will the project do harm? Instead, the Bank now asks: Will the project add value? The Bank now tries to assess the impacts of projects in their early phases. Prevention is favored over mitigation.
Sustainable development within Africa has produced an extremely difficult situation for the World Bank. Nearly 300 million people within 48 countries live in extreme poverty, surviving off of less than a dollar a day. And Africa is the only region not on track to meeting the U.N.'s Millennium Development Goals. Yet, economic growth in Africa has slowly increased to a level of 5.3 percent per year as of 2006.
The International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private sector arm of the World Bank, has been quickly expanding throughout Africa. Despite rapid expansion, shared responsibility must still exist between the bank and borrowers. Engaging stakeholders is also a prerequisite for sustainable development.
Interns have been sent to various countries throughout Africa to analyze the current situation. Extreme levels of poverty throughout countries have led interns to conclude, "You need more than one bank to address all the issues," Bekhechi said.
Bekhechi stated that African governments can take simple steps to increase chances of sustainable development. First, they can increase their commitment to sustainable development through monetary or human resources. Second, governments should strive for effective and professional implementing agencies. "They need the right people in the right place at the right time," Bekhechi stressed.
Finally, government officials should increase the capacity to construct buildings in both government and private agencies. Construction capacity has always been lacking in African nations.
Good progress is being made, Bekhechi reassured audience members. "It is so distressing to read that nothing is happening in Africa," he said.
Improvements in governance have already been made. So far, many African nations have drastically improved the climate for businesses. Macroeconomic policy decisions are beginning to generate stability while internal resources have been diverted to key priorities including healthcare, education, water and sanitation. "Twenty countries showed very good accounting," Bekhechi asserted.
In addition to improvements made by the governments of African nations, the World Bank also has a long way to go. An internal structure of safeguards must be created to eliminate any possible harm to people living within Africa. An environmental portfolio must also be created to put more money into environmental projects and more assessments must be made before starting projects. "For any activity, you need an environmental assessment," Bekhechi said. "Our policies are one of the most comprehensive on information disclosure."
Developing programs to protect Africans and their environment has been of utmost concern to the World Bank. "Even if the Africans are not harming the environment & the environment is harming them," Bekhechi said.
In addition to the simple steps that the World Bank has recommended African governments to take, a three step plan has been developed to help Africa get back on track to meet the Millennium Development Goals set forth by the United Nations First, governments must focus on reducing poverty. Basic necessities such as water must be integrated with development. "African countries need to be in the driver's seat when managing their water resources in the future," Bekhechi said.
Second, focus must be given to knowledge and infrastructure capacity development. Money has already been given to African nations to help them access solar power. Market access to new technologies should also be given. Improving capacity to coordinate projects is also another important goal. Countries such as Chad have failed to allocate resources appropriately, resulting in days without power for the entire country.
Finally, valuable carbon assets throughout Africa should be placed in the international marketplace. "China is selling carbon for $8 a ton," Bekhechi argued. Congo, an area rich in forests, has not received a single cent. Instead of investing in African countries, companies frequently invest in Brazil to offset their carbon footprint. Africa contains an untapped 80 billion dollar a year market for carbon. "We are trying to put carbon on the market and find investors," Bekhechi said. With carbon assets on the market, an influx of cash will help African nations meet the U.N.'s Millennium Development goals.
Mohammed Bekhechi is the Lead Counsel for the U.N.'s Sustainable Development and International Law Unit. He has published four books on legal issues surrounding African affairs.