I was doing a search online a few nights ago when I saw this link to a recent speech by the president of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni. He was speaking at the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA) for Africa Heads of State Summit held in Kenya last month. Among those in attendance were several African presidents, the president of the World Bank, Ajay Banga, and some other officials from the bank.

Given that I was in the middle of another article I was working on at the time, I was about to scroll past the link but a couple of highly complimentary comments about the speech made me curious. They had me hoping that it would be better than the many disappointing speeches I have heard from various African leaders over the last several years. I spent the next half-hour listening to it, and was left baffled at the end.

President Museveni spent the entire time lambasting the World Bank and its officials in the audience. His chief complaint was that the bank is more interested in making profits than in helping Africa develop. He blamed Africa’s economic stagnation mainly on the lack of transportation systems such as railways that facilitate movement of goods at low cost, and poor access to electricity. He said that Africa at this stage needs electricity that costs no more than 5 cents per kilowatt-hour.

It is extremely frustrating to see so many African leaders continue to demonstrate such complete cluelessness about how the world economy works. Museveni has been president of Uganda since 1986. It is obvious that in those four decades, he has just been sitting there waiting for the World Bank to fund his country’s development. Both the World Bank and the IMF have rather limited roles to play in global finance. They were never set up to be the primary sources of funding for any country’s development—not even poor ones. African countries have had access to the eurobond market in the last couple of decades, and many have indeed borrowed heavily from it. But Museveni says the cost of that capital is too high. Why does he think that someone owes him cheap loans and electricity?

Museveni made several pregnancy analogies in his speech. It was difficult to understand what point he was trying to make with those. Perhaps he thinks the World Bank is some type of daycare that is supposed to babysit the numerous African countries that never seem to want to grow up.

Government officials and ordinary citizens of African nations complain endlessly about how World Bank and IMF policies harm their countries. Some of those grumbles are legitimate. I have been unhappy with some of the prescriptions of the multilateral development banks (MDBs). But no one is forced to borrow from MDBs. In degree programs, college students are sometimes required to take certain courses that they have little interest in. That is not the case with MDB lending. Africans can save themselves much of the aggravation by learning to live within their means.

A global pandemic, major natural disasters, and other unforeseen events are the sorts of things that make emergency borrowing from the IMF necessary. There hadn’t been such an epidemic for about a century before COVID-19 occurred. Apart from the occasional drought, Ghana did not regularly experience natural disasters. Yet, the country has been a perennial pupil of the IMF, having received as many as 17 bailouts in the period from 1967 to date. That has mostly been the result of corruption and indisciplined management of state finances.

Apart from its content, two things bothered me about Museveni’s speech. First, at its conclusion, President Ajay Banga was shown in the video giving Museveni a warm handshake. I have no idea why Banga felt he needed to do that. He had been sitting in the front row all that time while Museveni was raining insults on him and his institution. I get the sense that the leaders of the MDBs have been cowed by the constant talk about an emerging new world order in which developing countries are going to drift into China’s orbit if the World Bank and IMF continue to play hardball. Such weak-kneed leadership is definitely not what the world needs now.

My second irritation had to do with the fact that standards are set so low in Africa that such incoherence is considered by some to be a good speech. If the continent and its people want to be taken seriously on the world stage, they need to demonstrate that they, at the very least, understand the forces that shape the global economy. This incessant complaining about the rest of the world conspiring against Africa is getting old.

It is entirely possible that I completely missed the point of the speech. In all sincerity, I am hoping that someone else will listen to it and make sense of it for me if that is the case. I would greatly appreciate the education.