If one issue should unite African leaders for immediate action today, it is the attempt by America’s Donald Trump to block the re-election of Dr. Akinwumi Adesina for a second term as president of the African Development Bank (AfDB).
Having served five years with distinction and emerged as sole candidate for the position, the Trump administration is objecting to Adesina’s contract renewal on allegations of flouting the bank’s internal rules and regulations. He stands accused of nepotism and favouritism in appointments and contracts.
Though the bank’s Ethics Committee has investigated the alleged breaches and exonerated Adesina, the Americans are calling for a fresh and deeper probe by an independent investigator. A non-African member with 6.5 percent shares in AfDB, the US falls behind Nigeria, Egypt and Germany as major shareholders. Nonetheless, the Americans insist on having their way, which will not only destabilise the bank but also severely disrupt its agenda to transform Africa’s development.
Since the assumption of leadership by Adesina five years ago, the AfDB has set itself apart as the most committed and dedicated agency to address the fundamental barriers to Africa’s progress. An unconventional banker, he has aligned the bank’s financing and operation to the AU’s Agenda 2063. Through the ‘High 5’ strategic initiatives of Light Up and Power Africa, Feed Africa, Industrialise Africa, Integrate Africa, and Improve the quality of Life of the People of Africa, the bank is speeding up heavy infrastructure projects, which is what Africa truly needs for advancement.
Results from the five-themed development strategy have been remarkable; they are changing lives on the continent. A few examples will suffice. In the energy sector AfDB has financed the Kariba North and Ithezi-Thezi Power Hydro Generation in Zambia-Zimbabwe and East Africa’s first high voltage direct current power line to boost the exchange of electricity between countries. In transportation infrastructure, it is financing the construction of airports and multinational road corridors, giving landlocked countries access to seaports. In Ghana, recent projects include Terminal 3 at the Kotoka Airport, the four-tier road interchange at Pokuase and agricultural projects in the north. Also introduced is the ‘African Leaders for Nutrition’ project, which prioritises healthy diets and nutrition.
In all this, the Bank has gained the highest ratings (AAA) from all four global rating agencies. Not surprisingly, investment forums in 2018 and 2019 were oversubscribed. Last year the shareholders’ capital increased from US$93billion to US$208billion. Notably, both capital injection initiatives were opposed by the Americans. They don’t appreciate the unconventional and speedy way AfDB is pursuing Africa’s development. Also, the US is increasingly concerned about the West losing ground in Africa to Chinese investments and influence.
But Adesina is doing the right things at the Bank for Africa. The Bretton Woods’ institutions and donors often shy away from supporting heavy infrastructure projects. They seldom get excited about investments in transportation, energy, agribusiness and intra-African trade – projects that will truly turn around the fortunes of Africa. They rather support the ‘sof’ sectors whose results are often intangible and ephemeral. Thus, despite the billions of dollars in donor grants and loans over the decades, Africa still staggers with the development burden.
African leaders must watch out! With his ‘America First’ slogan, Trump has shown little respect for partners and flouted many conventions and protocols of international engagements. He has bullied and sullied the longstanding Western Alliance and undone agreements which ensure stability and predictability in global politics, including nuclear weapons treaties. On spurious grounds, Trump has lately withdrawn the US from membership of the WHO – in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic which requires global action.
With his infamous “shit-hole” characterisation, Trump sidelined Africa much earlier in his administration. With no known African policy his, not to mention any assistance programme, his interest in the continent’s progress can be least genuine. We can surmise, therefore, that instructions to his Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, to scuttle Adesina’s reappointment can only serve the self-centred ‘America First’ agenda, not the advancement of Africa.
Though the AfDB Board has lately agreed to setting up an independent inquiry, as demanded by the Americans, African leaders should stand firm on what they believe to be in the continent’s best interests. They should look more at what Africa stands to gain, not what America wants.
Dr. Akiwumi Adesina is certainly no saint. By exuding self-confidence and having tunnel vision to “Make Africa Great” with the Five Highs, he has stepped on a few toes and rubbed people at the wrong places. The Bank’s internal politics and dynamics could also play against him. But that should be no reason to disown him at this time and throw him to the dogs. His laudable initiatives, which are already showing results, must not be allowed to be killed by those who can least be said to have Africa’s best interests at heart.