Museveni Hits Out at World Bank Amid Calls for Economic Revamp

May 11 , 2024
By Hintsa Andebrhan

President Yoweri Museveni's recent remarks at the World Bank summit in Nairobi sharply encapsulate a long-standing debate about the direction of Africa's economic development. By invoking the term "sustainable underdevelopment," Museveni shed light on the continent's struggle against economic models that have historically not served its best interests. This critique points to the deeper issue of economic strategies often externally influenced by institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.

The establishment of the IMF and the World Bank by the victors of the Second World War, led predominantly by the United States, has long been a contentious issue. The Bretton Woods Conference of July 1944 set the stage for this new economic order, establishing a system of fixed exchange rates that effectively placed the U.S. Dollar at the global economy's centre, linked directly to gold. Other currencies were pegged to the Dollar, embedding an American dominance in global finance.

The implications of this system, which ended when President Richard Nixon decoupled the Dollar from gold in the early 1970s, still resonate today. Despite the collapse of the fixed exchange rate system, the Dollar's influence continues, underpinning critiques that the Bretton Woods institutions represent a form of modern colonialism. The sentiment is particularly resonant in Africa, where economic policies prescribed by the IMF and the World Bank continue to influence domestic economic strategies.

These institutions have embedded themselves into African countries' political and economic fabric, coaxing development strategies that do not necessarily conform to their individual needs or contexts. For instance, the enthusiasm of African leaders, including Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD), for endorsements from the IMF and the World Bank about their economic growth, seems misplaced to some observers. These growth reports often contrast with the daily realities of the populations they are meant to depict.

Despite positive growth reports, millions of Ethiopians struggle with necessities—a disparity made apparent by Foreign Minister Taye Astkesellassie's recent appeals in Geneva for aid to assist millions affected by hunger and conflict.

Museveni’s sermon at the summit reflected an awareness of the philosophical, ideological, and strategic missteps that have historically plagued African economies since the 1960s. He argued, rather forcefully, that only radical changes to these socio-economic policies would establish a sustainable development pathway for the continent.

Indeed, looking at Africa's vast resources, it possesses over 30pc of the world’s natural reserves. Yet, the continent has not effectively leveraged these resources due to corrupt practices, inadequate political governance, and external economic pressures. These factors contribute to an economic status quo where many countries in Africa remain dependent on the frameworks set by the Bretton Woods agreements, limiting their ability to pursue independent economic policies.

The adherence to economic models promoted by the IMF and World Bank often does not translate into real economic progress or development that reaches the broader population. While political leaders may tout GDP growth figures amplified by these institutions, the lived experiences of their respective citizens often tell a different story. The disconnect feeds into the narrative that international financial institutions, while perhaps well-intentioned, may inadvertently perpetuate economic dependencies that resemble a new form of colonialism.

Corruption, poor governance, and the persistence of conflict are substantial barriers to development that need to be addressed internally within African governments. These internal crises often provide an opening for international bodies to exert influence over domestic policies, further complicating the path to genuine autonomy and sustainable development.

Leaders like Museveni have urged the way forward, which involves reevaluating the economic and political strategies that have guided Africa's post-independence life. Breaking free from the Bretton Woods institutions' economic prescriptions will require innovative economic policies and a robust political will. The leaders must commit to long-term strategies prioritising their populations' welfare over favourable short-term economic reports.

Greater continental integration might strengthen Africa's path to economic sovereignty. Economic and political collaboration among African countries could provide the collective strength needed to negotiate more favourable terms on the global stage, counterbalance external pressures, and ultimately promote an environment where the continent’s resources are used for its development. While President Museveni's call for a socio-economic overhaul clearly acknowledges past errors and offers an optimistic roadmap for the future, the real challenge lies in its implementation.

PUBLISHED ON May 11,2024 [ VOL 25 , NO 1254]

Hintsa Andebrhan ( worked as a researcher with the United Nations Population Fund and IPAS International Ethiopia. Interested in history and politics, his work was on social affairs.

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