The investment company, Kingdom Holding Company, has a market value of $12 billion, and Forbes ranks its principal owner, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, as the world’s 29th-richest person, estimating his net worth at $18 billion. The World Bank contributed its part through its International Finance Corporation (IFC), set up back in 1956 to muster cheap loans and other financial support for private businesses that contribute to its planet-improving mandate.
The IFC likes to work with huge corporations, funding projects these companies could finance themselves. Its partners are billionaires and massive multinationals, from oil giants like ExxonMobil to Grupo Arcor, the huge Argentine candy-maker. Its projects include not only glitzy hotels and high-end shopping malls, but also gritty gold and copper mines and oil pipelines, some of which end up benefiting the very corrupt, authoritarian regimes that the rest of the World Bank is urging to change. Nearly a quarter of the IFC’s paid-in capital from member governments—now standing at $2.4 billion—came from U.S., and every president in the World Bank’s 69-year history has been an American.
The World Bank’s internal watchdog sharply criticized the IFC’s approach, saying it gives little more than lip service to the bank’s poverty-fighting mission. The report, a major 2011 review by the bank’s Independent Evaluation Group, found that fewer than half the IFC investments it studied involved fighting poverty. “Most IFC investment projects generate satisfactory returns but do not provide evidence of identifiable opportunities for the poor to participate in, contribute to, or benefit from the economic activities that the project supports,” the report concluded. In fact, it said, only 13 percent of 500 projects studied “had objectives with an explicit focus on poor people,” and even those that did, the report found, had a “limited” impact. The IFC did not dispute the conclusions.
Ghana's per capita GDP ranks in the bottom third of the world, with life expectancy in the bottom 15 percent and infant mortality in the bottom fourth. The IFC committed about $145 million in loans and equity in Ghana just in fiscal year 2012. Yet Takyiwaa Manuh, who advises the Ghanaian government on economic development as a member of the National Development Planning Commission, told me she doesn’t think of the IFC’s investments “as fighting poverty. Just because some people are employed, it is hard to say that is poverty reduction.”
In Accra, Mary-Jean Moyo, the IFC’s in-country manager for Ghana, told me the new hotel fights poverty by creating jobs. To illustrate, she recalled how the Mövenpick’s manager “noticed that a few boys roller-skate on Sundays outside the hotel. The manager decided to hire them to work at the pool. That is development and helping local people.” How many were hired? Six, Moyo responded. There is no hotel school and no vocational training in the country. As a result, all the top staff members among his 300 employees are foreign.
The IFC’s booming list of business partners reads like a who’s who of giant multinational corporations: Dow Chemical, DuPont, Mitsubishi, Vodafone, and many more. It has funded fast-food chains like Domino’s Pizza in South Africa and Kentucky Fried Chicken in Jamaica. It invests in upscale shopping malls in Egypt, Ghana, the former Soviet republics, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia. It backs candy-shop chains in Argentina and Bangladesh; breweries with global beer behemoths like SABMiller and with other breweries in the Czech Republic, Laos, Romania, Russia, and Tanzania; and soft-drink distribution for the likes of Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and their competitors in Cambodia, Ethiopia, Mali, Russia, South Sudan, Uzbekistan, and more.
But the IFC’s money-generating strategy has at least one benefit: It sustains the jobs of the people who work for it. The “more money the IFC makes, the more the bank has available to invest,” says Griffiths, the director of Eurodad. “Staff is incentivized to make money.” The IFC sets annual targets for the number, size, and types of deals employees should complete, and it awards performance bonuses for reaching these targets, according to several current and former IFC staffers. “If you don’t reach the target, you don’t get a bonus,” says Alan Moody, a former IFC manager
Francis Kalitsi, a former IFC employee recalls of his time at the IFC. “The IFC is very profit-focused. The IFC does not address poverty, and its investments rarely touch the poor.”
R. Yofi Grant, executive director of Databank, one of Ghana’s largest banks, told me that the IFC’s practice of providing loans at attractive terms to multinational companies “crowds out local banks and private-equity firms by taking the juiciest investments and walking away with a healthy return.” The IFC recently organized a $115 million financing package for global telecom giantVodafone to expand its operations in Ghana, even though six telecom companies already operate in the country. Despite such robust private investment, the IFC’s loan package for Vodafone was its second in two years. “That is not poverty reduction, and these are not frontier investments,” Grant says, referring to the IFC’s refrain that it invests where other financiers might not. “The IFC says all the right things and does all the wrong things.”
The example of Chad and Cameroon, however, offers a more complicated picture. In 2000, the IFC invested roughly $200 million with ExxonMobil, Chevron, and others, along with the governments of Chad and Cameroon, to support the construction of a nearly $4 billion oil-pipeline project that experts estimate will generate more than $5 billion in revenue over the 25-year life of the project from wells mainly in landlocked Chad to a port in Cameroon.
The two countries are even poorer than Ghana to the west. Per capita income in Chad ranks 193rd in the world, compared with 185th place for Cameroon and 172nd for Ghana. Life expectancy at birth in Chad, at 48.7 years, is the world’s absolute worst, and the country has been ruled for the last two decades by heavy-handed dictator Idriss Déby. The bulk of the oil revenue was supposed to be set aside for food, education, health care, and infrastructure. But in the face of attacks from rebel groups supported by neighboring Sudan, and asserting a need to defend the pipeline, Déby instead channeled substantial chunks into arms purchases.
Just in 2012, the IFC announced investments in mining projects for gold, copper, and diamonds in places like Mongolia, Liberia, and South Africa, as well as investments in oil and gas projects in Colombia, Ivory Coast, the Middle East, and North Africa.
In Accra, not far from the new Mövenpick, the IFC’s posh offices—sporting a lawn, flowers, and private parking—sit amid a slum, surrounded by an imposing concrete wall topped by coils of barbed wire. The only paved part of the road to the IFC is directly in front of the guarded complex, which has no sign announcing its identity. The rest of the road is a winding, dusty dirt path filled with potholes and surrounded by hovels erected out of battered metal or wood. Barefoot children sit amid goats and roving chickens, on ground dotted by garbage and litter. Women cook tiny fish strung onto sticks over an open fire, ignoring the near-100-degree temperatures. Some of them said they had lived there for 15 years. When asked whether they knew what the World Bank is, they said no. When told that it fights poverty, many of them laughed.