March 16th, 2010
01:58 PM GMT
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The last time I sat in the in the Wits University Theatre in Johannesburg, South Africa was when I was dragged to watch a contemporary dance show. Generally, I find interpretive dance recitals quite confusing - all that jumping, leaping and contorting by dancers wearing unitards can be a bewildering experience.

I also find the work of the International Monetary Fund quite confusing sometimes - loaning money to governments is a highly complex process. However, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the MD of the International Monetary Fund, tried hard to demystify the work of this Bretton Woods institution to Johannesburg students and press who had gathered to listen to him speak in the intimate Wits theater.

Strauss-Kahn is a former economics professor whose one-hour talk turned into a two-and-a-half-hour lecture on everything from the root causes of the global crisis to the need to regulate and supervise the financial sector. He seemed optimistic about Africa –- praising African leaders for good economic policies that allowed the continent to weather the global credit crunch better than expected. He said also Africa’s recovery was not lagging behind the rest of the world, as it often does.

Our interview afterwards, on the Wits drama stage again, was a rushed affair because Mr. Strauss-Kahn had a plane to catch. He was zooming down to Cape Town to meet South African president Jacob Zuma. Zuma has just asked for an IMF loan to help rebuild South Africa’s problematic electricity sector.

We only had ten minutes to talk but the combination of a deadline and forced brevity often makes for a better interview, I think. There was less waffle and more straight talk. We talked about Zimbabwe and how politics makes the work of the IMF harder.

Mr. Strauss-Kahn also admitted the IMF had an image crisis and that many Africans saw the IMF as "the devil" in the past. He is certainly right because for the past decade many here believe the stringent conditionalities imposed by the IMF when giving loans created more problems for African economies. Strauss-Kahn says the days of "one size fits all" policies have changed and that the institution has learned from its mistakes and criticisms. He says his IMF teams are far more adapting and flexible to the peculiarities of each country.

Is the IMF a force for good?

I asked him if he was on a bit of public relations tour to try to convince Africans that he and his IMF teams are not "the devil." He agreed that they needed to better explain what they do. He believes IMF assistance to Africa in the past year ($5billion in loans and $12billion pumped into foreign currency reserves) has helped to save lives, stabilize democracies and prop up currencies.

Simple talk on a small stage for a powerful man - who did not resort to the leaping, jumping and contorting to which Africans have traditionally become accustomed when many Western institutions come calling.

soundoff (19 Responses)
  1. Per Holmlund

    You should have asked the « red devil » about his ideas of the next French presidential election and how IMF will tackle the UUJ, UUJ, UUJ problem? UUJ the US, UK and Japans deficit swamps that will pass the levees the years to come?

    And then a last question about the direction for the gold price.

    March 16, 2010 at 5:01 pm |
  2. Andrew

    Teaching self sufficiency is the only solution to the worlds problems. We need to move away from corporations and the IMF.

    The only reason the IMF helps a country is to gain a new debt nation to control the policy of. The US is a puppet to the world banks. Obama himself said hes dealing with the banks as if they we're holding a bomb and had us all as hostages. Thats reality. We're hostages to the IMFs debts.

    March 16, 2010 at 8:44 pm |
  3. Levend

    IMF has a poor record, it is run by Europeans and the States mostly. So it has a political side to it, this organization is not handing out money for free. They give out harsh conditions for the loans, some justified some well appear to have a benefit to the Europeans or US. African nations have been exploited long enough, China will give them the money with less conditions and good terms. Why would they want to deal with the IMF?

    March 16, 2010 at 11:38 pm |
  4. Wendy

    Boy you really held his feet to the fire and brimstone. NOT!

    March 17, 2010 at 7:25 am |
  5. Michael

    as a Zimbabwean and having seen first hand what happens when the IMF gets involved, I will have to agree with the point of teaching self sufficiency to everyone. a lot of countries have (natural) resources that are very useful and in demand but once the IMF and other bodies get involved nothing comes of it. Countris should get their own economics sorted without answering to "higher powers". This way they control all their affairs without any negative interference

    March 17, 2010 at 4:02 pm |
  6. Tharms

    Me thinks the minister doth protest too much.

    March 18, 2010 at 3:43 pm |
  7. sweklow

    Give Marketplace Africa to an African economist or real business analyst. Giving this ignorant, biased and unobjective Robbyn this slot, and the time you allow to it, is a JOKE! The danger for misinformation in news, and hence twisting ideas and opinion through unfair under-reporting to millions of people, is unforgivable for such a network as CNN. The way Marketplace Africa is treated does show, unintentionally, how CNN rates African coverage. Give this slot to a competent qualified economist, preferably of an African descent - or JUST scrap it! - Robbyn's coverage is narrow, very narrow.

    March 19, 2010 at 12:05 am |
  8. chuck

    Look at the countries that have taken bailout from the world bank from South America to Indonisia, to Poland, S Korea, and many more. They are required to privatize their industries, ban or severly weaken trade unions, cut govt, social programs, and adopt the Freidman ecomomic model. Every country to do so saw huge unemployment, vast numbers driven below the poverty level, their busnesses taken over for a fraction of their value by outside multinationals under the guise of free trade, not to mention the torture and suppression of the dissidents. An excellent reference is Naomi Kline's The Shock Doctrine. If only 1/3 of this book is true it shows the totaly negitive impact of the world bank the IMF, formerly GATT, and Freidman style economics.

    March 19, 2010 at 12:08 pm |
  9. Mbulawa

    There is nothing wrong with the IMF. African countries are under no obligation to follow IMF prescriptions. The countries that have sought help from the IMF are those that have mismanaged their economies! . Botswana and Tunisia have never gone to the IMF for help. Interestingly, the UK is the only major economy that fell under the IMF spell in the 70s. When an African economy is on the death bed the corrupt leaders always go to the IMF but then again we know that some pills are always bitter to swallow. Advice: dont get sick!

    Sweklow, honestly you are very narrow minded. Robyn is of African descent. She is South African. So is Gaddafi! Africa is the name of a continent for God's sake.

    March 20, 2010 at 9:16 am |
  10. neila

    Where is the Beef of the story?"We are not the devil. " That's It?

    March 20, 2010 at 3:48 pm |
  11. concilia chizarura

    It is true in the past countries that got help from Imf did not recover from the high interest rates that were charged for example the Zambian economy under Kaunda, the econonomy of Zim under Bob before it went deeper into its own troubles of hyperinflation in the last ten years. then you will have a country which has never borrowed from Imf because of their wise son who once worked for World bank and advised his leaders never to borrow from IMf Botswana taking heed of Mogae's advice. We hope you surely are not the devil

    March 21, 2010 at 2:00 pm |
  12. concilia

    It is true the Imf offers help but attaches all the poor country's resources to service its debt leaving the poor citizens in a worse off situation the Imf has to offer something better and prove that they are not in it for money .

    March 21, 2010 at 2:06 pm |
  13. Jeremy

    Ha-ha, I had read the same info on some other blog. Are you owner of this one blog or you got some other blogs too?

    March 22, 2010 at 2:53 pm |
  14. Yankeedudu

    IMF is invaraiably an economic terrorist organization, and it is worse than Al Qaida in its effect on non-Causcaian nations. The record speaks for itself.

    IMF imposes conditions on Nations that the Nations cannot never meet and it looks the other way when the loaned funds are miasppropriated by corrupt officials. The stolen aids money always end up in Swiss or other Europian accounts.

    Scrap the IMF.

    March 22, 2010 at 8:43 pm |
  15. yonathan

    The only solution for african development is africans to have full power and control to thier economy and leadership.The peace and prospority in africa can be only achieved if we africans have the hope and wisdom ,beliving that we can change africa.The IMF and other monotory funds see only thier interst ,regulation and rule is thier main intstrument in achieving thier interst.we have to wake up africans.
    lets give Marketplace Africa to an African economist or real business analyst. "The way Marketplace Africa is treated does show, unintentionally, how CNN rates African coverage". We have to have our media such as "UNITED AFRICAN MEDIA".

    April 9, 2010 at 11:43 am |

    I just like the style you took with this article. It's not every day that you simply discover something so to the point and enlightening.

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    October 22, 2011 at 9:30 am |
  18. Marloes1

    Unknown message

    February 7, 2012 at 4:07 am |
  19. medicalcollection

    March 16, 2012 at 7:30 am |

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