awards

Hon. Paul Wolfowitz President, The World Bank Group
March 27, 2007
Katie, thank you for the introduction; Rabbi Schneier, thank you for inviting me. I am not completely sure why you felt, after all the eloquence we had tonight, these people needed one more speech. It is a chance for me to talk about my present mission, which is fighting poverty, particularly in Africa.

But before I do, first of all, I would like to say a tribute to Rabbi Schneier. He mentioned that it is difficult to know what title to use when introducing Richard Holbrooke. I had a slightly similar dilemma when I was the American Ambassador to Indonesia twenty years ago. The Dean of the Diplomatic Corp, at the time, was a wonderful Philippine Ambassador, named Emanuel Young, who actually had been exiled to Indonesia, because as a general in the Philippine army, he too had a conscience, and too much of a conscience for Marcos to tolerate. So he was shipped out of town and I asked him: ‘Would you prefer that call you Ambassador or General’, and he said: ‘Well, you can just call me Manny, but if you want to use a title, I kind of like General. He said, I know a lot of generals who become ambassadors, but I don’t know any ambassadors who become generals.’

And I must say Rabbi, Rabbi is a very distinguished title, which is not conferred honorary. You’ve earned it! You’ve earned it also with your commitment for the fight for religious tolerance. Maybe it’s because of my own background, but I have long felt that it is one of the most important in the world. I could not agree more strongly with what you say is the greatest crime against religion – crimes committed in the name of religion.

It was a great privilege for me, as an American Jew, to represent our country in Indonesia, with the largest Moslem population in the world, and to be able to count, as among my best friends, great Indonesian Moslem thinkers, like the first democratically elected president of that country, Avi Rothman Martin. We need more people like that.

I also appreciate your faith in this great country. My father’s and my mother’s parents were lucky to come here. We are all lucky, as American Jews, to be in this great tradition which was started by George Washington, who when coached by the Jewish community of Newport for help and protection, wrote an absolutely magnificent letter which said, ‘this is a country that gives to bigotry no sanction.’ One cannot have a better open statement from the father of your country. It makes one very proud to be an American.

I am also privileged and honored to speak on the occasion to great individuals who have been recognized. People that I’ve known and admired for many years. I still remember, pretty clearly, the occasion, in almost a day, on which I first met Richard Holbrooke. As a matter of fact it was also the day on which I met John Negroponte. I was working the Pentagon at the time and Mort Abramowitz, who was then Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, I guess Dick went from there to Thailand, said ‘The enemy gas just invaded Cambodia. I am going over to Holbrooke’s office to talk about what to do, and why don’t you come with me. And I came and I remember being absolutely stunned by the brilliance of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, John Negroponte. I was also impressed a little bit by Holbrooke, and very impressed by Abramowitz, and the three of them, and I think Mort particularly, and again with a lot of courage and lot of people in the U.S. government fighting, did put together one of the great humanitarian achievements of the twentieth century. As a matter of fact, let’s just say a great humanitarian achievement that rescued two million people from Indo- China, to what Dick correctly described as an ingenious and difficult diplomatic exercise of the United States. With that and on many things Dick, of you we are all justly proud.

Winston Churchill once said of Clement Atlee that he is a modest man with a lot to be modest about. I don’t think any one has ever accused Dick of being a modest man. But I don’t think that anyone has ever said that he doesn’t have a great deal to be proud of and you are properly honored here tonight. And I want to thank you additionally for your leadership and your fight against HIV/AIDS.

I know Lloyd Browne for a somewhat less length of time, but he was on my Advisory Board at Johns Hopkins and I remember talking with him over an extended period of time about his decision to go out and begin talking about the challenge of global warming. As a leader, not just of a major corporation, and one of the first to do it but certainly the first of an energy company, to go out and talk about it. It was not a simple thing, it took a lot of courage and for among many things I admire John for, is that courage.

And I was really privileged to be invited to his house for dinner one Sunday and to meet that amazing woman who was John’s mother. She wasn’t just a refugee and an asylum seeker, she was an Auschwitz survivor. I think she was in her eighties when I met her; she was still a life force, and that was just really quite amazing. It made me think about both of John’s parents. John’s father was a British army officer. And I am inferring a lot here and I hope I’m not embarrassing him, but I thought what an amazing event for a woman, not long out of the worst concentration camp imaginable, and meeting a British army officer, and the two of them falling in love. Pretty remarkable people, both of them, a testimony to a bridge across faith and across differences. It was a privilege to know them.

One part of the world that cries out to our conscience today is sub- Saharan Africa. Three hundred million people there, roughly half the population struggle to survive on less than a dollar a day. It’s not just poverty, it’s extreme poverty! And as we go back to our comfortable beds tonight we should think about those voiceless millions who may not even have beds at all, who go to sleep hungry, sick and uncertain about their future. For many it is literally a matter of life and death.

HIV/AIDS claimed the lives of two million African adults and children in 2005 and the numbers continue to grow. But AIDS is not the only plague that is stalking Africa. Every thirty seconds an African child dies of Malaria, a preventable disease. That is nearly three thousand a day. Think about it! One World Trade Center every day from a disease that has been wiped out in so many parts of the world, including Washington, DC.

Nearly forty million African children are still not in school. And all of that is after three hundred billion dollars, roughly, in international aid has gone to Africa for the last several decades. Some people look at that juxtaposition of misery and money and say ‘Well, Africa must be hopeless, a land that will be perpetually tormented by wars and famine and corruption. They say there is no point in sending more aid, that will only go to dictators, like the notorious, Mobutu, the late dictator of what was then called Zaire and what today is very differently the Democratic Republic of Congo. But that excuse, like Mobutu himself, deserves to be consigned to the dust in history.

Across Africa we are starting to see hopeful signs of progress. Progress is reflecting energy, the talent and the ambition of Africa’s people, which I have seen now first hand over and over again on four visits to fourteen countries during my time as President of The World Bank. Most recently I have just come back from visiting Ghana, Burundi, -Burundi which, by the way, never had enough peace to have a World Bank president’s visit, the first time ever, the Democratic Republic of Congo, in South Africa. Ghana was celebrating a joyous event, the fiftieth anniversary of independence. The first few decades for Ghana were not so good, but today it survives a democracy as one of Africa’s better economic performers.

For the last twenty years, and I don’t think people realize this, Ghana has sustained a growth rate of four-and one half percent or better and last year its growth exceeded six percent. That would be a record, of course, to be envied by any developed country, but for a poor country it’s still not enough. Ghana should do better and can do better, but this progress is making a real impact in the fight against poverty, and its’ dividing inspiration for the region.

In the early 1990’s more than half of Ghana’s population was living in extreme poverty. By 2003 that number has dropped just one third and is continuing to fall.

Congo, I also visited, is a different story, but still it has become a hopeful one. Just emerging from a devastating war, Congo has had a democratic election and has taken the first step on the path out of poverty. Today, however, the average Congolese lives, imagine this, on thirty cents a day. The President Kabila, of Congo, has high expectations for his country’s future. He was at that same celebration in Ghana and he was inspired by what he saw. In Ghana, he told me, I saw what Congo can become.

Today in Africa, instead of a race to the bottom, we are starting to see African countries starting to follow the path of their more successful neighbors. We are seeing in Africa, and this is the important thing, a new generation of leaders who take seriously their responsibility for their fellow citizens. We are seeing many Africans literally putting their lives on the line in the fight for transparency and accountability, to insure that public resources are used for public benefit.

One such man is, Nuhu Ribadu, he is the Executive Chairman of Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Committee. He is courageous in leading his government’s fight against corruption, undeterred by the murder of two of his staff. Nuhu Ribadu has said it eloquently: ‘We can’t make poverty history unless we make corruption history’.

And there are many other heroes like him. They are the people who are steering Africa toward a more hopeful future. They are calling on our collective conscience for help, and we owe them a generous response.

What is particularly impressive in Africa today is that some countries, Rwanda in particular, are rebuilding, literally, on the ashes of genocide. Rwanda, indeed, is not just a good performer, it’s an excellent performer.

Rwanda has been growing, since the genocide in 1994, at a rates of eight percent or better. It is stunning. Similar projects, I think, may be starting to unfold in Liberia. That country was nearly destroyed by twenty years of Civil War, until the international community finally intervened. With initial assistance from U.S. Marines, followed by NAFTA peace-keeping mission, U.N. peace-keepers stepped in and helped oversee free and fair elections.

Given a chance to choose their president freely, and given a choice between a soccer star and a woman committed to fighting corruption and promote economic reform, the Liberian people voted overwhelmingly to reform. Now Liberia has the first woman president in any African country.

And as President of The World Bank I am very proud to say that our Finance Minister, Antoinette Sayeh, is another remarkable woman, another hero, and she was a World Bank alumnus. She left her family and a rewarding career in Washington to help rebuild her shattered society.

These heroes need and deserve our support. They need to show their people that they can produce results quickly, not in the six years it’s normal for institutions like mine, but in the six months it is that necessary to meet people’s demands.

So, at The World Bank we are changing our procedures in order to deliver our support much faster. We have a new rapid response policy designed to help us move quickly in an environment were peace is starting to take hold and where reformers need to show results urgently.

We have already placed one-hundred and eighty million dollars toward build Congo’s capital, Kinshasa, so that people have access to clean water, health care, better roads and schools. And quickly, in months not in years.

Over the last half century The World Bank Group, has provided credits and grants for the poorest countries. Last fiscal year support reached a record high of nine and a half billion dollars. And half of that, fully half, was dedicated to Africa. With that assistance over 600,000 children were helped to go to school and brought better nutrition to more than a million children in Madagascar, and helped reduce the HIV/AIDS prevalence rate in Uganda.

Today we are bringing support to Southern Sudan, building on the peace accord and with more support from the rich countries, in particular, the United States, we could do much more.

It would be impossible to speak of progress in Africa, especially on this occasion, and fail to speak of that stain on the world’s conscience – it is Darfur. In Darfur today there is no peace, there is genocide. And there is a war that is spilling over into neighboring countries and threatening the fragile stability of Central Africa. The response of the international community to the tragedies in Darfur has so far been disappointing, to put it charitably. And the longer we wait, the harder it will be to rebuild lives and restore hope.

In Rwanda, thirteen years ago, nearly one million people perished in genocide. If the international community heeded the call of conscience, those lives could have been saved. And when we see what is happening in Darfur today our conscience should be heavy.

But the progress elsewhere in Africa calls on for support. It is worth remembering that fifty years ago, after the devastation of the Korean War, many experts thought that Korea’s future was hopeless. Today we know of Korea’s spectacular success and that of other developing countries, that leadership and good policies make all the difference. However, they don’t make much of a difference because leadership and good policies alone are not enough. Leadership and good policies need resources to succeed. South Korea received, just from The World Bank alone, more than twenty billion dollars in assistance for it’s development.

African countries need that kind of help today. Americans are generous people, but we can afford to do more. The polls show that the average American believes that roughly twenty five percent, that is twenty five cents of the average tax dollar, goes to foreign aid. They are so wrong. The truth is much closer to a penny. The good news is that the average American believes that we should be giving about fourteen cents of every dollar to foreign aid. So we have a long way to go up; a lot of opportunities to improve. And I hope we will.

Rabbi Schneier, I was very interested to hear that this organization was started in cooperation with Martin Luther King in 1964. But I still remember going to Washington the year before that to that amazing ‘March on Washington’ and hearing Martin Luther King speak from the steps of Lincoln Memorial that famous speech that– “I Have a Dream”, which, even though the people who were born long afterwards have probably heard. It’s worth remembering also at the beginning of that speech, when King reminded us that no individual can expect to advance on his own. Many of our white brothers, he said, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny, and their freedom is inextricably bound with our freedom. We can not walk alone.

Ladies and Gentlemen we too can not walk alone on the path for peace, freedom and prosperity. We can not turn our backs on the pain and poverty that consume entire nations in Africa and other parts of the world. The Appeal of Conscience is our best hope for bringing those millions trapped in poverty on to the path of progress and giving them the opportunity to shape their own destiny.

Thank you!
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