Wolfowitz, fighting for post at World Bank, turns to Africa

President turns to group aides say he focused on

April 15, 2007|By New York Times News Service.

WASHINGTON -- Paul D. Wolfowitz, seeking support for his beleaguered leadership as president of the World Bank, is turning for help to the one group at the bank that aides say he has focused on the most, the leaders of sub-Saharan Africa, bank officials say.

At a news conference yesterday, as hundreds of delegates in Washington speculated about Wolfowitz's future, several finance ministers of African countries said he had done an outstanding job in increasing aid to Africa and demanding an end to corruption.

"He has been a visionary," said Antoinette Sayeh, finance minister of Liberia, which has received considerable bank assistance following its conflicts of a couple of years ago. "We're very grateful for his leadership in getting where we are today. We look forward to that continuing."

Rama Sithanen, a deputy prime minister of Mauritius, said Wolfowitz had been "supportive of the reforms in our country." He said Wolfowitz "has apologized for what has happened" regarding the a companion employed at the bank and should be dealt with in a way that was "commensurate" with his mistakes.

Sithanen and two others at the news conference said, however, that they would accept whatever the bank's 24-member board decided about Wolfowitz's future and assumed that the bank's pro-Africa policies would continue no matter who is leading the institution.

At issue is Wolfowitz's handling of the transfer, promotion and raise of a female companion at the bank when he arrived in 2005. She was detailed to the State Department and given a raise of nearly 50 percent in a manner that the bank's staff association said violated bank rules. The association has called for him to resign.

The bank's board has been considering the matter, but members were more involved this weekend in marathon meetings with delegates from 180 countries than with Wolfowitz's personal problems.

Bank officials critical of Wolfowitz acknowledge that he has concentrated considerable energy on Africa and received praise from African leaders, but they also accuse him of trying to rally Africans dependent on his goodwill in recent weeks, as criticism of his leadership has mounted.

Several bank officials, asking not to be identified to avoid reprisals, charged that Wolfowitz was seeking backing from Africa as a kind of political base to counter the growing resentment among European leaders about his policies, particularly his anti-corruption campaign.

The bank's board acts as a kind of legislature setting policies as an equal weight with the president, and in some ways Wolfowitz's time in office has resembled a tug of war between two branches of government.

The board usually decides matters by consensus, but its power centers are the United States, Japan and Europe, the largest donors to its $20 billion annual lending and assistance programs. The board is considering Wolfowitz's future but getting guidance from more than 180 finance ministries around the world.

Wolfowitz held meetings behind the scenes with these ministers and others in town for the annual session sponsored by the bank and the International Monetary Fund. By the end of the weekend, a consensus may emerge on what is to be done about his leadership in light of the furor over his female companion that ignited this week.

In a reflection of wariness among Europeans, Germany's minister in charge of the World Bank, Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, spoke to Reuters and Bloomberg news services of the importance of preserving the bank's "moral authority" and suggested that even though Wolfowitz has apologized he might need to leave for the good of the bank.

"He has to decide for himself whether he can continue to fulfill his duties credibly under these circumstances," Wieczorek-Zeul said, according to Bloomberg.

These comments reflected a sense among many bank officials that the world's finance ministers would be unlikely to force him out, but that a reprimand of some kind might persuade him that his leadership was untenable. On the other hand, Wolfowitz has churned through meetings this weekend like a man with a mission.

Wolfowitz met Friday with all the African members of the bank's board of governors, an aide said, adding that as bank president he has met virtually every day with at least someone involved in African development.

Wolfowitz was instrumental in pushing for a huge debt cancellation plan for poor countries, most of them in Africa, announced by President Bush, Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain and other Western leaders at a summit meeting in Gleneagles, Scotland, attended by the singer Bono and other celebrities in 2005.

Although he has also imposed temporary aid cutoffs to Africa on grounds of corruption, angering European aid officials who felt they were not consulted, he has also won friends among many African countries for preaching accountability in government.

At a meeting Thursday at which he was booed by bank employees, Wolfowitz appealed to the hostile crowd to work with him on the bank's real priorities, singling out Africa.

A few weeks ago, Wolfowitz held a "town hall" session in the bank's atrium wearing a shirt he had obtained on the most recent of his four trips to Africa as bank president. The shirt said, in French, "No to impunity for violence against women, yes to justice."

The session was to introduce a new vice president for Africa, Oby Ezekwesili, a former minister in Nigeria, who praised Wolfowitz and drew applause from the crowd.

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