OPINION: Why Adesina deserves a Second Term as AfDB President

The African Development Bank Group (AfDB) is Africa’s premier development finance institution. It comprises three distinct entities: the African Development Bank (AfDB), the African Development Fund (ADF) and the Nigeria Trust Fund (NTF). On the ground in 37 African countries with an external office in Japan, the AfDB contributes to the economic development and the social progress of its 54 regional member states.

Currently, at the helm of this continental behemoth’s affairs is Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, renowned development economist and a former minister of agriculture in Nigeria and is the eighth elected President of the African Development Bank Group.

He was elected for his first term as president of the development finance institution on May 28, 2015, by the Bank’s Board of Governors at its Annual Meetings in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. The first Nigerian to occupy that position, he has announced his intentions to pursue a second term in office at the bank’s annual meeting in Equatorial Guinea.

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Significantly, his proposed candidacy for second tenure as AfDB president has drawn the firm endorsements of President Muhammadu Buhari, the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Perhaps, this may not be surprising because Adesina has demonstrated with his life’s trajectory that development economics fundamentally addresses transformation of the human condition for good.

Dr. Adesina with President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria

While the ECOWAS decision backing Adesina’s second tenure was announced at the end of the 56th ordinary session of the Authority of Heads of State and Government of ECOWAS, held recently in Abuja, Nigeria, the Executive Council of AU proclaimed its support during the 36th Ordinary Session of the AU Executive Council, held during the AU Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 6-7 February 2020. The African Union Executive Council comprises 55 ministers of foreign affairs representing the member states of the African Union.

According to the ECOWAS, “In recognition of the sterling performance of Dr. Akinwumi Adesina during his first term of office as President of the African Development Bank, the Authority endorses his candidacy for a second term as the President of the bank,” ECOWAS said in a communique issued after the meeting.

The ECOWAS summit included a progress report on the region’s economic performance. It noted the role of the African Development Bank in the continent’s transformation and called for greater cooperation in order to fund projects in West Africa.

“The Authority takes note of the region’s improved economic performance, with ECOWAS real GDP growing by 3.3% in 2019 against 3.0% in 2018, in a context characterised by a decline in inflationary pressures and sound public finances,” the regional body further said in a statement.

More, the Authority commended efforts made on currency and monetary policy convergence in ECOWAS and laid out plans to advance the movement. These efforts are a key part of the regional integration agenda championed by the African Development Bank, as exemplified by the African Continental Free Trade Area, which aims to become the world’s largest free trade zone.

Meanwhile, as COVID-19, the viral global pandemic sweeps the globe, Sub-Sahara African region is no exemption to the economic shock. It’s worth noting that in its analysis, Renaissance Capital revised down the growth forecast for Sub-Sahara Africa from 3.5 percent to 1.3percent.

A proactive AfDB Group, under Adesina’s adroit leadership has also risen to the challenge and has announced a $10 billion facility support for African countries. In no small way, this has helped scale up a $3 billion COVID-19 social bond on the London Stock Exchange to help Africa deal with the economic and financial fallouts of the pandemic. Industry observers have commended AfDB president, Adesina, who under his leadership has made this support a reality.

Adesina has served in a number of high-profile positions internationally, including with the Rockefeller Foundation, and was Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development from 2011 to 2015, a career stint that was widely praised for his reforms in the agricultural sector. The former minister brought the same drive to the Bank, making agriculture one of the organization’s priority areas. In 2017, he was awarded the World Food Prize.

The World Food Prize Foundation lauded Adesina’s qualitative leadership and his visionary roles over the past two decades in promoting Agriculture with the Rockefeller Foundation and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).

During his tenure, the bank has seen its fortunes rise on several fronts, including the largest general capital increase in its history with a capital base of $208 billion dollars. In the 2018, Aid Transparency Index Report, released by ‘Publish What You Fund’, the African Development Bank was ranked 4th among 45 development organisations around the world.

In Johannesburg in 2018, the bank launched the Africa Investment Forum, a fully transactional platform, to attract investment into Africa, with participation from private sector investors, pension and sovereign wealth funds, Heads of State and government officials to discuss specific investment deals. The Africa Investment Forum was an outstanding success by all measures. The forum delivered an impressive US$38.7 billion in investment interests, all done in less than 72 hours!

However, an apparently contrived crisis is stewing at the Bank. The AfDB president’s unopposed second term nomination doesn’t appear to sit well with some non-African shareholders, one of which was strongly opposed during his first term election. Recently, there had been some strong Board resistance by a number of non-regional member countries who were opposed to the COVID-19 support facilities and the lifting of partial sanctions for countries such as Zimbabwe and Sudan.

Besides the dispute over the pandemic support fund, there is complaint by some members of the AfDB staff against Adesina’s running of the bank. These allegations which were looked into confidentially by the Bank’s Ethics Committee, have been circulated widely and against Bank rules by a certain non-regional Executive Director who it is reported has never hidden his opposition to Adesina.

Among several allegations are that Adesina intends to ‘Nigerianise’ the AfDB by giving compatriots key positions and granting lines of credit to leading Nigerian companies with ease.”

Facts on the bank’s website contradict this as an approved list of projects show that Senegal, Cameroun, Tanzania, Rwanda, Namibia and others are key beneficiaries of about 75 projects worth $64.5bn. These countries have projects specifically targeting them, while Nigeria benefits more from multiple-country focused projects.

AfDB Office in Abuja, Nigeria

The publication of the allegations in a prominent French newspaper is providing credence to the perspective that this is a concerted effort by some forces to undermine Adesina’s credibility and thwart his deserved re-election. Interestingly, about a month ago, on March 13, a break-away group from the rank of petitioners filed a complaint against a key non-African Executive Director for allegedly misleading and manipulating the members of the group against Adesina.

Throwing more light on the botched plot to derail Adesina’s reelection, a staff group clarified their position: “We were members of the group called ‘Group of Concerned Staff Members’ until we understood that we were being manipulated by a group of non-regional Executive Directors, not for the good governance of the African Development Bank but to discredit the candidacy of the current President for his re-election.”

They further expressed outrage at the actions of an elected staff member, the Executive Director, who uses a group called ‘Group of Concerned Staff Members’ to take the AfDB hostage.

More, the breakaway group contended there are serious and repeated breaches of the Code of Conduct by the said Executive Director. The fact that the said Executive Director had breached the confidentiality requirements of the rules and regulations of the Ethics Committee, by providing “exhaustive reports of all discussions (during meetings or by email) between members of the Ethics Committee,” was damning.

Adesina, in a formal response to the allegations, insisted that: “The African Development Bank has a very high reputation for good governance”, adding that he has confidence in the Board of Governors of the Bank and pleaded that the Ethics Committee should be allowed to do its job without interference.

It is beyond doubt that Adesina will certainly have his day to defend himself. The emerging consensus is that on every single allegation, he is confident that he will be vindicated.

According to Henry Louis Gates, former leader of the African and American Research Institute at Harvard University, “People are afraid, and when people are afraid, when their pie is shrinking, they look for somebody to hate. They look for somebody to blame. And a real leader speaks to anxiety and to fear and allays those fears, assuages anxiety.”

Within the limitations of the continent’s extant peculiar political and economic milieu, in his five years in office and counting, Dr. Adesina has spoken to continental anxiety and to national fears and allayed those fears as well as assuaged the anxiety. This is his forte.

Lewis Chukwuma is a public issues analyst

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