By Lindsay Barrett
Recent events at the Abidjan based African Development Bank (AfDB) have raised major issues about Africa’s essential economic objectives and initiatives, especially how they should be evaluated and by whom. Nigeria’s former Minister of Agriculture, Dr Akinwumi Adesina took up the mantle of leadership at the bank in 2015 and immediately announced the establishment of a comprehensive agenda for intervention in strategic development initiatives throughout the continent. Dr Adesina made it plain that as far as he was concerned, it was the bank’s duty to ensure that its investment and loan schedule was based on the aspirations for growth that were articulated by national governments on the continent and not by donor agencies or countries that were partners rather than actual participants in African development.
This focus of the Adesina era at the bank has apparently been widely acknowledged that in terms of fiscal performance the bank has enjoyed unprecedented capital growth and active operational expansion under his watch. The existential influence has appeared to be one factor of the bank’s profile that must be contended with if the strategic objectives that he has promoted are to be achieved. This issue has recently emerged as the major element in the public assessment of the first term of the Adesina presidency and actually become a distractive factor surrounding the proper evaluation of the actual relevance and value of his agenda.
Many experts and professional analysts have given his stewardship a clean bill of health, the powerful cartel of minority stakeholders have forced the issue and persuaded the Bank’s board to institute an independent review of its verdict declaring him eligible to continue to serve. This circumstance seems to be meant to bring about an intrusive crisis of confidence in relations between the institution and its main clients, who are the members of the public throughout the African continent.
The extent of the AfDB’s relevance and value to the continent’s economic stability should be measured by the effectiveness of its success in ensuring that it provides opportunities for improved service delivery in African nations both in terms of financial support for government projects as well as for private investment. Dr. Adesina identified this aspect of the bank’s presence and importance in the continental economic space as the basis for crafting its strategic policy framework as soon as he took over. While many of his critics have claimed that his style is autocratic and replete with cronyism the real argument should not be about style but substance and performance.
On the substantial issue of the effectiveness of the bank’s performance since he became its Chief Executive Dr. Adesina has met the highest standards of professional and conventional conduct as attested to by the bank’s recent rating as a credit worthy institution of the highest level by the very same American umpires that set parameters for such assessments globally. In fact a comprehensive evaluation of the bank’s activities throughout the African continent does not only justify this high rating but also leaves no one in any doubt that Dr Adesina has commenced a program of work that should be consolidated and guided by the initiator until it reaches full fruition. This program has been characterised as The High Five initiative and has been established by Dr. Adesina and his team in order to make the benefits of the bank’s operations much more accessible to the average African citizen.
The High Five Initiative is defined by a list of visionary objectives, namely (1). Feed Africa, (2). Light Up Africa, (3). Industrialise Africa, (4). Integrate Africa and (5). Improve the Quality of Life in Africa. As a consequence of his determination to implement this bold vision of the AfDB’s mandate the management team led by Dr Adesina has been able to improve the bank’s capitalisation by more than 200% since he took charge and has also upgraded its intervention and debt recovery mechanism to an unprecedented degree. As a consequence of the remarkable strategic operational processes that he has introduced in the first five-years of his tenure the bank has initiated major projects in power generation, transport and agriculture that have impacted several million citizens across Africa.
From power generation in Egypt to irrigation in Mauritania, through highway development in Ethiopia and Eritrea and fertiliser manufacture in Nigeria, to mention a few, the Adesina team has already ensured that the AfDB’s presence on the ground in all the regions of Africa is more effective now than it has been in all the decades preceding his appointment. If for no other reason than for him to consolidate the new order that he has installed in the immediate future Dr Adesina deserves to be given the opportunity to lead the Bank to new heights as the Board has already recommended.
Lindsay Barrett, the Jamaica-born Nigerian writer and Public Affairs analyst, was for many years a contributor to West Africa magazine and Associate Editor of Transition and Afriscope journals. He was co-founder of New Democrat newspaper in Liberia. Today Barrett lives in Abuja where he edits The African Development Digest, and Issues & Opinions, occasional periodicals that are distributed freely to members of the diplomatic community in Nigeria and elsewhere in West Africa.