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Views from the Center

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The Value of Rejecting Expert Advice

This is a joint posting with Peter Timmer.
This past weekend, the New York Times published a provocative story titled "Ending Famine, Simply By Ignoring the Experts" (login required), about how Malawi has rescued itself from endless cycles of famine. The Times argued that Malawi accomplished this seemingly impossible goal by ignoring experts from the World Bank and rich-country aid organizations who have insisted that Malawi should cut back or eliminate its subsidies on fertilizer. But Malawi's newly elected president, Bingu wa Mutharika, did just the opposite--he reinstated and deepened the subsidies, which in turn increased yields and resulted in exports of corn to neighboring countries. Was the president right to do this?

Is Google The Solution To Africa's Energy Needs?

The search engine giant Google (google.com) announced yesterday that it will spend $500 million (or 3 percent of its cash holdings) on developing inexpensive energy alternatives to coal. The goal is to lower the costs of solar, geothermal and wind energy to produce 1 gigawatt of energy at costs that are lower than coal. Google says that it aims to accomplish this task in 10 years and is optimistic that it will take even less time than that.

Former Mozambique President Joaquim Chissano Wins the $5 Million-Plus Mo Ibrahim Prize Partly for NOT Seeking a Third Term

In London today, Kofi Annan announced Joaquim Chissano, the former president of Mozambique, as the first winner of the largest award in the world--the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership. The award consists of $5 million over 10 years and US$200,000 annually for life, as well as up to $200,000 a year for 10 years "towards the winner's public interest activities and good causes". President Chissano was praised for putting his country on a path towards peace and democracy and for a variety of economic reforms.

Poverty Matters Most: A Comment on the Volcker Report

Today the Volcker Commission released a report with a set of recommendations about how the World Bank can strengthen its anti-corruption procedures by reforming its Department of Institutional Integrity. This is an important and timely conversation and the report will no doubt receive a high level of attention. But it is equally important that the Bank does not put corruption ahead of its central task—the alleviation of poverty.

Solar Power for the Lamps of Africa: World Bank and IFC Back a Bright Idea

The World Bank and the International Finance Corporation have just launched an ambitious new program to bring electricity to millions of people in Africa who live without it. The Lighting Africa Initiative seeks to bring clean and safe lighting via solar lamps and other clean-fuel methods to thousands of villages and small towns that are not connected to the public grid and rely on kerosene lamps which are both polluting and unsafe.