Wolfowitz winds up visit

Mr Wolfowitz was speaking in South Africa as he wrapped up a week long African visit which included visits to Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Rwanda, where he met the countries’ political and economic leaders.

“I was impressed by what I saw in Africa,” Mr Wolfowitz told reporters in Johannesburg.

“I feel it’s on the move and I feel it’s going to move a lot faster,” he said.

The former deputy US defence secretary, considered the architect of the Iraq war, said in his new role he was dedicated to “the noble mission” of the fight against poverty.

Questioned about the bank’s history of questionable loans on the continent, many to former dictators that quickly appropriated the cash for themselves, leaving their countries deeply in debt, Mr Wolfowitz admitted that “obviously we’re dealing with quite a bit of lending that probably shouldn’t have been done at all”.

To that end he supported the decision by the Group of Seven finance ministers to forgive the debt of 18 highly indebted poor countries, adding that “grants in aid are preferable to loans”.

The 61-year-old head of the global development bank also paid tribute to African leaders who he said are addressing concerns about how governments use grants and fighting corruption.

“But there is now new leadership in Africa that is taking responsibility,” Mr Wolfowitz said, singling out South African President Thabo Mbeki, who held meetings with the new World Bank chief.

Mr Mbeki recently sacked his vice-president, Jacob Zuma, who was not charged with corruption but was tainted by a court convicting his financial adviser, a Durban businessman, of fraud.

On arriving in Johannesburg Mr Wolfowitz had been greeted by protesters carrying signs calling him a “war criminal” and the “new wolf at the world bank”.

At his press conference Mr Wolfowitz answered: “The best way we can respond to the criticism is to open our ears and listen and to identify solutions.”

He pledged to make the organisation he now heads a “listening bank”.