Know The Beginning Well

Lifelong development worker, K. Y. Amoako reflects on a career with the World Bank and United Nations in "Know the Beginning Well: An Inside Journey Through Five Decades of African Development" (2020). The book is interesting in that the author shares inside views, but lacks critical reflection and does not offer any bold or new calls on 'the development question'. A few notes:

"The issue of racism and discrimination in the World Bank predated my arrival and outlasted my departure. I've mentioned the difficult environment that Africans faced in the 1970s, but the truth is that people of color - whether born in Africa, America, or anywhere else - have always had a tough time reaching the Bank's highest levels. According to data compiled for an internal review in 2003 and reported by the Washington based government accountability project in 2009, Black Bank employees were 36 present less likely to hold a managerial grade relative to equally qualified, non-black employees. Numbers like these are indicative of a pervasive imbalance, which the Bank has taken increasing steps to address: a racial equality program in 1998, an office in diversity program in 2001, and a code of conduct in 2009 that addressed discrimination and diversity, still the issue persists." (p. 45)

"Kofi Annan turned toward Meles and spoke before anyone else could. "I'm sure some men in your cabinet turn out to be incompetent," he said. "Why not give women a chance? they have a right to be incompetent too." (p. 237)

"He looked back at the most powerful men at the IMF and World Bank and told them point-black that African countries disliked working with their institutions - but had no choice. "Gentleman," he added, "if we were not poor, we would not come to you for help." That acknowledgement, a surprisingly raw statement that no one saw coming, summed up years of frustration for policymakers in developing African countries: without external lending and aid, there can be no long term development-but at what point will lenders start treating borrowers as partners and not beggars?" (p. 381)

"I issued a special invitation to Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, an exceptionally thoughtful and forthright leader. True to his reputation, Meles deconstructed a litany of problems with the onerous business of donor assistance: the bureaucratic requirements, the contradictory conditions, the lack of clear criteria for compliance, the process of trying aid to the purchase of goods and services from donor countries, and the practice of seeking political influence through assistance. All these issues and more imperilled the effective use of aid, Meles argued, and they needed to be addressed alongside any discussion of ODA flows. His ultimate point was that donor accountability for development financing meant so much more than big commitments." (p. 395-396) 

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Adjustment with a Human Face

Anyone who has taken a development studies class has most likely heard about the failure of the Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs). Indeed, these programs caused significant harm to the most vulnerable in society. Yet, far too often students are only given a brief summary supported by carefully selected examples (that the World Bank is bad is is a typical lesson passed on in many critical development studies courses). For anyone interested in the SAPs, and keen to know more of the context, "Adjustment with a Human Face" (1987) edited by Cornia, Jolly and Steward is well worth finding a copy of. Volume 1 covers thematic issues, while Volume 2 presents ten country case studies.

The terms: "'Adjustment with a human face' is the name we have given to the range of economic and other policy measures which we believe are needed. 'Adjustment' indicates that for most of the developing countries, these policies must be part and parcel of the national 'adjustment' policies widely adopted to tackle the economic crisis facing these countries - the acute deficits in the balance of payments and the government budget, also often rapid inflation rates and negligible or negative economic growth. 'The human face' indicates the need for the human implications of an adjustment policy to be made an integral part of adjustment policy as a whole, not to be treated as an additional welfare component." (p. 2). The study presents useful context for the SAPs; climate-related challenges, economic downturn, fiscal challenges - adjustment was required. It was, the authors note, "the most severe and prolonged recession since the 1930s" (p. 287). 

Unlike what may critical development studies courses teach, it was not the SAPs that were the primary cause, but the global economic downturn, the negative impacts of which were worsened by SAPs: "we recognize that the primary cause of the downward economic pressures on the human situation in most of the countries affected is the overall economic situation, globally and nationally, not adjustment policy as such. Indeed, without some form of adjustment, the situation would often be far worse." (p. 5). However, that is not an endorsement of SAPs, in fact it is the opposite: "to recognize that adjustment is necessary for dealing with severe economic imbalances in an economy is not the same as accepting that all adjustment policies are or have been equally adequate for ensuring adjustment to a more growth-oriented pattern of development, in which the human needs of the vulnerable will be protected in the short as well as the medium to long term" (p. 6).

"The evidence shows that while adverse climatic changes, particularly in 1983-84 and in Africa, have been important compounding factors, in almost every case deterioration in child welfare resulted in large part from the economic decline of the 1980s and from the lack of appropriate policies aimed at protecting children" (p. 35). Furthermore, the book demonstrates "the inadequacy of conventional approaches to adjustment from the perspective of protecting the vulnerable and promoting growth. In many countries, the position of the poor has worsened during adjustments, with deterioration in nutrition levels and education achievements of children. Moreover, investment rates have frequently also slowed or fallen. With reduced expenditure on both human and physical resources, the prospects for economic growth in the medium term have worsened. It is clear that alternative adjustment packages are needed" (p. 131).

"Most of these adjustment programs did not reverse the adverse developments in the conditions of children, nor, in many cases, did they lead to resumed economic growth. Conditions of children continued to worsen in many countries. While there are many causes of the deteriorating conditions - including the adverse course of the world economy and many weaknesses in national policies - it appears that the type of adjustment policies adopted have been an important contributory element in many cases" (p. 288). 

It is well worth noting the countries used as case studies: Botswana, Brazil, Chile, Ghana, Jamaica, Peru, Philippines, South Korea, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe. A number of the selected developing nations from the 1970s and 1980s have since become middle- or high-income nations (why these ten case studies were selected is not clear). These detailed case studies will be useful sources of information for students looking for historical context on a particular country.

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The World Bank and Struggles for Social Justice

The World Bank is a favorite target of criticism. Yet, few actually know how the massive organization operates, externally or internally. Michael Goldman set out to do present this information, and specifically in the context of the 'greening' of the World Bank (or its development and promotion of "green neoliberalism") and its funding whereby it had "to come to terms with the environmentally and socially deleterious effects of its projects" (p. 7). The book "Imperial Nature: The World Bank and Struggles for Social Justice in the Age of Globalization" (2005) was the result. The author was driven toward the study by a pervasive praise of development while his own experiences were the opposite: "Whereas I am regularly told that the project of development uplifts the poor and restores the environment, too often I see it impoverishing the majority and enriching the few." (p. x).

In the book, Goldman attempts "to capture and explain the ways in which the World Bank and its partners have worked to create a representation, analysis, and mode of action for the project of development that have become naturalized, legitimate, and durable. I show through ethnographic research how, in response to effective organizing efforts of its critics, the Bank has successfully worked to reinvent itself, tame its critics, and intervene in an ever-growing number of institutions, terrains, and social bodies located across the postcolonial map" (p. 5). A methodological shortcoming, as a self-described ethnography (p. 5) and critical ethnography (p. 25), there was sparse information on what the data collection entailed or reflexivity of the process – beyond sitting in on workshops, conducting individual interviews with staff and visiting projects in one country. The reader does not gain a sense of the extent of the qualitative methods used, or if they are representative of the Bank (or ethnographic in approach). Nonetheless, the book is insightful and is well worth a read for those interested in knowing how the World Bank operates.

One of the common criticisms waged against the World Bank presents a picture of a monolithic power imposing its will upon the globe. While Goldman is critical of the Bank, he offers important nuance in the critical discourse: "People simply do not agree or consent, or fully stand with or against universal notions of progress, development, and modernization. They do not build up the scientific case for a tropical highway or pour the concrete for a megadam without some reflection, reservation, or fight. If we always assume its success or failure without first looking at how hegemony is constituted, we lose all sense of why people offer their consent without force, and why they do not. We lose the ability to discern where the political openings are, the sites and spaces where dominant structures get constituted, how people try to subvert them, and from where alternatives arise" (p. 25). This is an important addition to understand how the Bank imposes and how it is resisted, but lacking from Goldman's narrative is the role of nation-states, as sovereign countries seeking (or at least approving) World Bank projects and packages. Many countries have resisted and rejected the World Bank, and are a loci of important power in-between the international financial institution and the people of the nation. Yet, Goldman tends to focus upon the relationship between people and the Bank, and under explores the important role of governments.

One of the interesting arguments developed by the author is around how the World Bank seeks to dominate the norms and trends of international development ideas, writing that "data collection and analysis, report writing, editing, and the nail-biting process of getting approval from one's superiors (and one's superiors' superior) is less a process of discovery, creativity, and refutation than one of manufacturing consent. From hiring practices, to hierarchical pressures, to funding decisions for research, to the way information flows are manipulated internally and externally, the assembly line of knowledge production is studded with cultural practices of social control as well as incorporations and hegemony-building" (p. 148-149). Later, in the country case study, Goldman continues this train of thought: "with omission there is inclusion; for every concern, data set, interpretation, and recommendation that is omitted or removed from a report, there are as many that fill its pages and circulate as science locally and oftentimes transnationally" (p. 169). This manufacturing of consent is particularly vivid in the case of community consultations, where one independent researcher found that those consulted had little to no idea of what was even being discussed in the meeting, of often held completely different ideas of what was being proposed and approved (p. 172).

Although the book was written in the early 2000s, it provides interesting insight into what would become normalized in the decade that followed the publication of this book: "Since 9/11, the Bank has been compelled to redirect its finances to a handful of countries supporting the U.S. war. In 2002, the World Bank put together loans for an unprecedented $800 million to Pakistan, $2.2 billion to India, and $3.5 billion to Turkey, much of which appears unconnected to plans the Bank had before September 2001. Countries in southern Africa suffering from horrible famine received little financial support. In 2004 and 2005, the Bank's flagship investments have been Afghanistan and Iraq. The future of the Bank seems to be in the mopping up of the destruction caused by the U.S. military, the rebuilding of societies in the name of antiterrorism, development and democracy." (p. 275). Goldman does not explore who most benefits from these shifts and new financial packages, but other works, such as Rashid's Descent into Chaos, does.

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World Bank: Africa Fellowship Program

The Africa Region of the World Bank Group (WBG) is relaunching its fellowship program for Ph.D. students who are Sub-Saharan nationals. The program will increase the diverse workforce that is a priority for the Bank and its clients.

Started in 2013 by World Bank Africa Vice President Makhtar Diop, the World Bank Group Africa Fellowship Program aims to build a pipeline of Sub-Saharan African researchers and professionals, particularly women, who are interested in working in the development field at home or abroad, and in starting careers with the WBG. From the first class of fellows, several have joined the World Bank Group, and others have gone on to pursue promising development careers.

About the Fellowship

Fellows will spend a minimum of six months at the World Bank offices in Washington, D.C. or in a Sub-Saharan country, getting hands-on experience in development work. This includes knowledge generation and dissemination, design of global and country policies and the building of institutions to achieve inclusive growth in developing countries. While benefitting from research and innovation in multiple sectors, fellows will also work on economic policy, technical assistance, and lending for eliminating poverty and increasing shared prosperity. Special attention will be given to work with Fragile and Conflict-Affected States.

Fellows will be expected to complete a research project and prepare a research paper to present to staff. High-standard papers may be published internally.

Specifically, selected participants will:

  • Gain a better understanding of the World Bank Group's mission and operations
  • Access quality data for their research work
  • Interact with seasoned experts in their field of development
  • Contribute to the World Bank Group's mission

Who Should Apply

Sub-Saharan nationals who are recent Ph.D. graduates, or current doctoral students within one or two years of completing or graduating from a Ph.D. program in the following fields: Economics, Demography, Applied Statistics and Econometrics, Impact Evaluation, Education, Health, Energy, Agriculture, and Infrastructure. Candidates must:

  • Be a recent graduate or be enrolled in an academic institution and returning to university after the fellowship
  • Be 32 years of age or below
  • Have an excellent command of English, both written and verbal
  • Possess strong quantitative and analytical skills
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