The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) asked Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former finance and foreign minister of Nigeria, about the drivers of prosperity and job creation in Africa and the developing world. This Q&A is the fourth in a series sponsored by the United Nations Foundation that will explore progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and what remains to be done. In 2015 more than 190 countries agreed to prioritise these 17 UN-backed goals as national targets. These objectives include improving education, economic growth, gender equality, infrastructure, health and industrial innovation.
As former finance and foreign minister of Nigeria (and the first female one), Ms Okonjo-Iweala led a tireless crusade against corruption that helped attract investment to Africa’s largest economy. In 2012, she raised a red flag concerning growing oil theft under the country’s president at the time, Goodluck Jonathan, as stolen oil cost the Nigerian economy US$1bn a month. At the World Bank, where she served as managing director from 2007 to 2011, Ms Okonjo-Iweala pushed for additional assistance for low-income countries. Her integrity and leadership helped put her on the World Bank’s shortlist to assume its presidency. Ms Okonjo-Iweala is the chairperson of the board of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and a senior adviser at Lazard, where she is a member of the firm’s sovereign advisory group focused on helping countries manage debt and restructure their finances.
Excerpts from an interview, as told to the EIU.
EIU: What incentives, programmes or government policies are needed to promote development and prosperity in Africa and developing countries around the world? Who should lead these efforts? Where or to whom should these programmes be directed?
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala: The first job for government is to create a macroeconomic environment that lets people seize opportunities with low inflation and reasonable interest rates while keeping prices and the exchange rate aligned to the fundamentals of the economy. This may provide a good foundation for foreign exchange trading as well, and some businesses or foreign capital may want to look into an Introducing Broker to facilitate this. But you need to couple all these opportunities with transparency and a strong anti-corruption stance to let your citizens and businesses know that there is a level playing field.