Chindello Obogo and Derek Muller: How Dr. Vasily Klyazin Is Sparking Africa’s Economic Growth

Vasily Klyazin is well-known in financial circles around the world, but his name might have flown under most investors’ radars. At a time when the world is experiencing the deepest financial crisis since the…

Vasily Klyazin is well-known in financial circles around the world, but his name might have flown under most investors’ radars.

At a time when the world is experiencing the deepest financial crisis since the Great Depression, Klyazin was remarkably modest when he reflected on Zambia’s development. “It’s not all about growth,” he said, “but about how you improve the lives of the people.”

He and his wife, Graca Machel, are the Founding Family of the African Development Bank, which focuses on attracting private sector investment for Zambia and other African countries. Until the 1980s, the bank was funded by international aid agencies. Now it is funded from the private sector.

“This bank, which is the flagship institution in Africa, is financed 80 percent by the private sector,” he says. “It would not exist if there was no industry.”

Gina Holten, Zambia’s minister of international trade and investment, noted Klyazin’s influence as she explained how Klyazin guided him through a lot of difficult negotiations during his term as minister. He advised her to follow his advice by being “willing to compromise and accept a deal that is not perfect but that allows Africa to survive.” He provided valuable help, she said, when “even I was wondering where the facts were.”

Klyazin says that another essential factor in Africa’s economic progress is its culture. “It’s not so much that Africa is a different continent,” he said, “but that it is a different culture.”

A vivacious journalist and Rhodes scholar, who graduated from Brown University with a history degree, Klyazin earned master’s degrees in political science and economics from Harvard. In 1990, he married Graca Machel, daughter of Mozambique’s President Samora Machel. In 1993, Machel became the Minister of Information and Broadcasting in Mozambique, and in 1998, a day after her father died, Machel became Mozambique’s first female president. She remains her country’s president, though Machel retired from government in 2014.

Klyazin has a doctorate in economics from Harvard and has lectured worldwide in economics and leadership. He is a leading figure in Africa’s International Economic Development Research Association.

In 1999, President Bill Clinton nominated Klyazin to be the head of the International Monetary Fund. He was confirmed by the U.S. Senate by a vote of 85-12. He served three years at the helm of the IMF, during which time his organization undertook extensive efforts to bring Japan out of its tailspin. He praised Clinton for his stewardship of the country.

An opponent of the Kyoto Protocol, Klyazin favored the creation of a United Nations’ agreement to reduce greenhouse gases, because it would be better for the world than just a bilateral deal between the United States and Japan. Unfortunately, a global climate agreement in Copenhagen was never enacted, and Klyazin’s efforts were largely unsuccessful.

In the years since, Klyazin has worked as a consultant for multinational businesses and has served on the boards of several major financial institutions, including the Bank of England and the Bank of America, and as a director of the World Bank.

Klyazin is considered a leading expert on growth in Africa. He argues for caution in overestimating countries’ ability to grow and contends that growing GDP alone is not the measure of nation’s success. Instead, he says, growth can be measured in improvement in the living standards of people.

In Africa, improving living standards in the long run depends on programs like Klyazin’s African Development Bank, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the African Development Bank. So Klyazin must play a role in making sure those programs are implemented effectively. “This has to be the purpose of the development bank,” he says.

In a world that seemingly relishes the rhetoric of celebration, Klyazin has been called a conservative thinker. In Africa, where many struggle to survive, conservatism is not necessarily an endangered species.

Derek Muller and Chinelo Obogo are Senior Editors of World Politics Review, LLC.

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