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Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

"Africans are tired of being the subject of everybody’s charity." A "historical" speech

In 2007, the former Nigerian finance minister and current World Bank Director Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala gave a remarkable speech on how economic and social growths are made possible for the people in Africa (and other developing regions of the world).

Her passionate plea for the creation of economic structures is associated with a strong appeal to no longer see Africa just as a region for well-intentioned aid projects.

The pleading of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is also a reminder for those who now strive for sustainable energy supply in rural areas. Here is the speech of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as "historic document" in excerpts:

"(…) Africans are tired, we are tired of being the subject of everybody’s charity and care. We are grateful, but we know that we can take charge of our own destinies if we have the will to reform. And what is happening in many African countries now is a realization that no one can do it but us. We have to do it. We can invite partners who can support us, but we have to start. We have to reform our economies, change our leadership, become more democratic, be more open… to change and to information. 

And this is what we started to do in one of the largest countries on the continent, Nigeria. In fact, if you’re not in Nigeria, you’re not in Africa. I want to tell you that. One in four sub-Saharan Africans is Nigerian, and it has 140 million dynamic people – chaotic people – but very interesting people. You’ll never be bored.

What we started to do was to realize that we had to take charge and reform ourselves. And with the support of a leader who was willing, at the time, to do the reforms, we put forward a comprehensive reform program, which we developed ourselves. Not the International Monetary Fund. Not the World Bank, where I worked for 21 years and rose to be a vice president. No one can do it for you. You have to do it for yourself. (…) 

 

The market is there

The state should not be in the business of producing goods and services because it’s inefficient and incompetent. So we decided to privatize many of our enterprises. We – as a result, we decided to liberalize many of our markets. Can you believe that prior to this reform – which started at the end of 2003, when I left Washington to go and take up the post of Finance Minister – we had a telecommunications company that was only able to develop 4,500 landlines in its entire 30-year history? 

Having a telephone in my country was a huge luxury. You couldn’t get it. You had to bribe. You had to do everything to get your phone. When President Obasanjo supported and launched the liberalization of the telecommunications sector, we went from 4,500 landlines to 32 million GSM lines, and counting. Nigeria’s telecoms market is the second-fastest growing in the world, after China. We are getting investments of about a billion dollars a year in telecoms. And nobody knows, except a few smart people. 

The smartest one, first to come in, was the MTN Company of South Africa. And in the three years that I was Finance Minister, they made an average of 360 million dollars profit per year. 360 million in a market – in a country that is a poor country, with an average per capita income just under 500 dollars per capita. So the market is there. When they kept this under wraps, but soon others got to know. Nigerians themselves began to develop some wireless telecommunications companies and three or four others have come in. But there’s a huge market out there, and people don’t know about it, or they don’t want to know. (…) 

 

The best help for Africa is creating jobs

The best way to help Africans today is to help them to stand on their own feet. And the bets way to do that is by helping create jobs. There’s no issue with fighting malaria and putting money in that and saving children’s lives. That’s not what I’m saying. That is fine. But imagine the impact on a family. if the parents can be employed and make sure that their children go to school, that they can buy the drugs to fight the disease themselves. If we can invest in places where you yourselves make money whilst creating jobs and helping people stand on their own feet, isn’t that a wonderful opportunity? Isn’t that the way to go? (…)

However, many of these are starved for capital to expand, because nobody believes outside of our countries that we can do what is necessary. Nobody thinks in terms of a market. Nobody thinks there's opportunity. But I'm standing here saying that those who miss the boat now, will miss it forever.

So if you want to be in Africa, think about investing. (…)"

 


Watch the full speech of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala: http://www.ted.com/talks/ngozi_okonjo_iweala_on_doing_business_in_africa.html


Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a director of the World Bank, was Nigeria's Finance Minister and then briefly Foreign Affairs Minister from 2003 to 2006, the first woman to hold either position.

During her tenure as Finance Minister, she worked to combat corruption, make Nigeria's finances more transparent, and institute reforms to make the nation's economy more hospitable to foreign investment. The government unlinked its budget from the price of oil, its main export, to lessen perennial cashflow crises, and got oil companies to publish how much they pay the government.