Andrew Dabalen, kingpin of the transformation of the Bretton Woods institution

Once poor, always poor? The title of Andrew Dabalen’s blog post could sum up the CV of the man who became the World Bank‘s chief economist for sub-Saharan Africa on July 1.

His job description is as short as it is complex to implement: analyzing pressing problems and structuring the relevant political and institutional reforms to deal with them. Dabalen, who was born in Kenya and educated in the United States, specializes in international development (MSc, University of California, Davis, 1992) and agriculture and natural resources (PhD, University of California , Berkeley, 1998).

The dynamics of poverty

During his two decades at the World Bank, he led research and poverty assessment work in various African and Central European countries, including Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Niger , Nigeria, Albania, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia. In 2016, as chief economist for the implementation of poverty and equity policies, he analyzed the impact of the Chinese presence on poverty in Africa. He said, “Many African countries that depend on trade with China will not be able to provide essential services to their poor. This poses the danger that poverty will stagnate or even increase. There is a real risk here. »

Through his work and knowledge of the statistical method of comparing data, the new Chief Economist is one of many top researchers who have helped transform the nature of the World Bank from an institution that primarily served great savings to an innovative institution. organization that understands the dynamics of poverty in Africa.

This approach has allowed the Bretton Woods institutions (as well as the IMF) to better focus their efforts on three key areas: better funded programs, debt relief to facilitate poverty reduction, and technical assistance to reduce the income gap with advanced economies. A notable policy shift has been observed, for example, in the electricity sector where the World Bank has encouraged concessional lending for infrastructure and privatization of the sector from the 2000s. This was intended to stimulate sustainable development and financial assistance in countries like Kenya, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Zimbabwe.

“Unofficial” analyzes

Dabalen has of course tackled the consequences of Covid-19, always from a practical point of view, in order to be able to propose concrete political solutions as soon as possible to prevent poverty from taking root. In his analysis published on the World Bank website, he explains how governments must first have a clear picture of the level of poverty in their country, and who it affects, before developing policy.

However, the pandemic has created new poor who must be identified before they can be helped. To do this, the economist is convinced that it is necessary to move away from official data. “We propose that governments use unofficial, but useful data. This may include information collected by self-help communities, cooperatives and telephone companies. In the medium term, the idea is to build a universal database that will help even a very targeted public locally according to their specific needs”, he specifies.

Resilience

Nevertheless, the real test for a poverty reduction practitioner like Dabalen is the impact of his work while at the helm, which is measured primarily by hard data. He is co-author of regional reports on equal opportunities for children in Africa, vulnerability and resilience in the Sahel and poverty in a rising Africa. He has published a number of scholarly articles and working papers on poverty measurement, conflict, well-being outcomes and wage inequality.

The first task of the Kenyan economist will be to spearhead the implementation of various policy responses to the spiraling inflation that is hitting marginalized and vulnerable communities hard and hard across the continent. threatening to undermine poverty reduction measures.

In a turbulent global context, he says, we must prepare for the worst in order to preserve the progress made: “To build effective resilience in the face of future global shocks such as pandemics, global warming or conflicts, it is necessary to invest in digital infrastructure to make it more affordable and accessible to all, just like water and electricity. Subsidies for local production also need to be strengthened: many African countries are too small to fund this effort, so an urgent commitment to regional resilience is needed.

About Eleanor Blackburn

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