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World Bank’s Jim Yong Kim Comes to South Africa

Durban, South Africa.

“One of the things you learn as an anthropologist, you don’t come in and change the culture,” Dartmouth College President Jim Yong Kim told wealthy alumni when contemplating the institution’s notorious hazing practices, prior to Barack Obama’s request last February that he move to the World Bank.

Kim’s Harvard doctorate and medical degree, his founding of the heroic NGO Partners in Health, and his directorship of the World Health Organisation’s AIDS division make him the best-educated, most humane Bank president yet. A decade ago, he co-edited the book Dying for Growth, pointing out that ‘Washington Consensus’ policies and projects had a sharply adverse impact on health.

No better examples here can be found than two ‘minerals-energy complex’ investments approved by his predecessors Paul Wolfowitz in 2006 and Robert Zoellick in 2010. Kim should pay a visit because both are within an hour’s drive of the Joburg-Pretoria megalopolis, whose ten million people live in the relatively barren area simply because of the gold’s discovery in 1886.

Though nearly all gone now, gold built the continent’s largest industrial complex, spewing vast pollution and undergirding apartheid. The old mines wrecked the water system with Acid Mine Drainage, not to mention lives of hundreds of thousands of former workers now filing silicosis lawsuits against the mining houses, or similar numbers of HIV+ migrant workers and their wives back home in the old Bantustans or neighbouring countries.

Mining is again wrecking worker health and creating socio-ecological chaos west of Joburg, at Marikana platinum mine, where the Bank’s International Finance Corporation invested $15 million in Lonmin to enhance ‘community development’. Wolfowitz authorized a further $135 million in equity and debt, but the price of platinum crashed by two thirds in 2008, which made a further stake doubtful.

Far greater banking profits were generated in the Bank’s biggest-ever project credit: the $3.75 billion Zoellick lent in April 2010, mainly for the construction of the third largest coal-fired power plant on earth, at Medupi.

The social and environmental balance sheet immediately went into the red, not only because the loan was granted just 20 months prior to Durban hosting the United Nations COP17 climate summit, when last December Zoellick unsuccessfully requested that the Bank be given control of the potentially vast Green Climate Fund, with promised annual spending by 2020 of $100 billion.

Worse, the borrowing agent for Medupi was Eskom, which controversially bought billions of dollars worth of turbine boilers from Hitachi, in whose local subsidiary the African National Congress (ANC) held a quarter ‘Black Economic Empowerment’ share. In an obvious conflict of interest, Eskom’s chair, Valli Moosa, also sat on the ANC Finance Committee, drawing a rebuke of ‘improper conduct’ from the Public Protector.

A substantial civil society coalition opposed Medupi, and the Bank’s own Inspection Panel slated the loan. Yet when announcing Kim’s visit last week, the Bank claimed that it “helps bring badly needed electricity to homes”.

In reality, the 130 percent Eskom price increase from 2008-12 to pay for Medupi was borne not by the largest electricity consumer, BHP Billiton (which still gets the world’s cheapest power thanks to a 40-year apartheid-era deal­), but by ordinary poor people. Power disconnections are now a leading cause of the surge in community protests, already at amongst the highest levels on earth.

The Bank’s accompanying renewable energy credit to Medupi was a ‘fig leaf’, confessed Tufts University Professor William Moomaw, a consultant to the Medupi loan.

And although according to the same Bank announcement, “The World Bank Group’s program in South Africa is still in early stages,” the relationship began in 1951, with huge loans to Eskom to supply white households while blacks got no electricity until the 1980s, thanks to prevailing apartheid restrictions.

Kim is an optimist, pronouncing “Africa is truly taking off,” on the eve of his departure this week. But his own institution’s 2011 book, The Changing Wealth of Nations, measured capital not just in financial terms but also with respect to the minerals beneath the soil, to capture the genuine ‘wealth of nations’ in Africa.

In the process, the continent’s ‘adjusted net savings’ was calculated at negative 7 percent per year mainly due to non-renewable resource extraction: “Africa is consuming more than its current net income. It can only do this by liquidating its [natural] capital, which will leave its citizens poorer and with less capacity to generate income in the years to come.”

Herein Kim’s critical problem: extractive industries promoted by the Bank are creating Resource Curses in Marikana, Medupi and everywhere. The day after the massacre, the Washington-based Center for International Environmental Law called on Kim to revisit his stake in Lonmin and reconsider the extractives sector.

If after this week’s trip, Kim decides to leave the toxic culture of SA’s minerals-energy complex unchanged, it will be yet another case of ‘dying for growth’: profits for multinational capital at the expense of people and planet.

Patrick Bond teaches development studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, where he directs the Centre for Civil Society (http://ccs.ukzn.ac.za)

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Patrick Bond (pbond@mail.ngo.za) is professor of political economy at the University of the Witwatersrand School of Governance in Johannesburg. He is co-editor (with Ana Garcia) of BRICS: An Anti-Capitalist Critique, published by Pluto (London), Haymarket (Chicago), Jacana (Joburg) and Aakar (Delhi).

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