The World Bank’s operational culture carved for it an austerity and project development image. A core of economics- enhancement of humanity through wars against poverty was seemingly secondary.
Political economic choices- the reality of guerrilla fighters in power, manipulations of the electoral vote and fundamental rights were overlooked in the beginning.
Now, there are engagements in models of poverty reduction programmes. Not that the technocrats, at any rate, the best concentration of minds anywhere in the world were insensitive but were simply overwhelmed with multiple development challenges.
Some candid and tractable explanations are offered by a very qualified alumnus practitioner- KY Amoako, a development economist with fifty years of World Bank work and other professional practice in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.
He left the Bank at the Director’s rank to become the Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). In his 526-page book, Know the Beginning Well- An Inside Journey Through Five Decades of African Development is a proverbial antidote of history. If you know the beginning well, the end they say, will not trouble you.
KY, as he is well-known in the international circuits was influenced by his father, Ghana’s first President- Kwame Nkrumah and the well-known economist, Robert Gardiner. Gardiner earlier served as an Executive Secretary of the UNECA and the first African to deliver a BBC Reith Lecture Series- partly KY’s reason of wanting to be an economist. It was Gardiner who also mentored Kofi Annan (he wrote the foreword to this book) at the UNECA.
Having become an economist, KY was of the world and became a prime participant in the fashioning of for instance, the Structural Adjustment Programme policy discussions. He worked with the Zambian leader- Kenneth Kaunda as resident representative of the Bank in Lusaka, in Kenya and Uganda as the latter was in dire need of foreign exchange for imports telling President Yoweri Museveni and his cabinet, “you are not talking sense”. It was more out of desperation and a desire to do good than a typical Bank PhD economics major from Berkeley.
KY Amoako cites the Bangladeshi economist and founder of the microfinance bank, Muhammad Yunus who once said: “the Bank’s conceptual framework was never designed to fight poverty…fluctuating focus on poverty issues came in the form of ‘humanitarian add-ons” …the people hired at the Bank were not hired to eradicate poverty from the world but hired for professional qualities that may not, in fact, translate into crafting and carrying out anti-poverty strategies.”
KY partly disagrees as at the time there was still a way to change in-built Bank’s hindrances. In East and Southern Africa as in Latin America, he met with brilliant local experts who were not against reforms in macroeconomic fundamentals but with hawks and socialists (sometimes in majority) within mostly unelected governments and working with trade unions, popular uprisings invariably suspended reforms.
On the field he allowed local initiatives and ownership. Unable to speak Portuguese in Brazil, respect for local talents was more important. This participatory approach unlike detested and arrogance-tag of Bank officials worked as he bore an olive branch and redeemed an institutional bile.
The UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali decided on what was a transition in KY’s career and narration: nobody else apart from KY should take up the UNECA position at a point of near collapse. A general economist, his career had led him to all the matters of his profession as in the moving one – The Case for Gender Equality framed around “the moral and economic imperative for investing in Africa’s women.” He had promoted this strongly in Brazil where women were in the majority at the Bank’s Department.
The personal experiences of KY and wife, their three daughters and KY mother’s begins it. KY and wife could have conversations with KY’s mother on a visit to Ghana; the grandchildren would need an interpretation from their parents. At once, the issues of rural setting, class divisions within Africa not to talk of women education and inaccessibility, are clear in gender economics.
At the end, major reforms took place at the UNECA and KY’s global stature grew. Serving more as the intellectual think-tank in Addis Ababa together with the African Union, he was central to a web of multilateral policy alternatives and implementation- of The World Bank, IMF, European Union, OECD, the development partners. Within a decade, he was part of most major policy initiatives from the Tokyo International Conference on African Development to the optimism of McKinsey’s Lions on the Move report.
A successful international career is reflected in the book’s glittering endorsements for KY who describes himself as ‘a realistic optimist for Africa.” An “optimist and a pessimist could both be wrong” he once explained in Kigali, “but an optimist dies happier.”
The dream had been brewed in the pot – a Pan Africanist like Nkrumah but of an economic type like Robert Gardiner. The continent’s progress however has not been as sterling. His varying optimism in Kenya, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Ghana is about leaders and their philosophies.
KY devotes the closing chapters to his founding think tank, African Center for Economic Transformation (ACET) in Accra and continental leadership in this book which is published at a time that economists of his generation are squealing their great master John Maynard Keynes, founding member of the IMF and his magnum opus, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936) which did so much. Keynesism is reinvented in major global economic challenges to this day.
Know the Beginning Well is an interpretative economic and multilateral history with a difference.
*Know the Beginning Well- An Inside Journey Through Five Decades of African Development, Africa World Press, Trenton, New Jersey, pp526.