“Together, we can build a stronger and more prosperous Africa, with smart infrastructure.. new economic opportunities that will deliver quality jobs and hope for millions of youths and women, revival of Africa’s rural economies to lift many out of poverty..” These words were contained in the acceptance speech of the new President of the the African Development Bank.
But who really is Akinwumi A. Adesina?
Akinwumi Ayodeji Adesina was born in Nigeria. His father earned $0.1 as a farm labourer, raised him and his siblings in a one roomed hut. Until his appointment in 2011 as Nigeria’s Federal Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development , he was Vice President of Policy and Partnership for the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). Prior to joining AGRA in 2008, he was associate director for Food Security at the Rockefeller Foundation, based here in Nairobi.
Dr. Adesina erupted on the global agricultural development scene in 2007 when was awarded the presitigious YARA Prize for pioneering innovative approaches to improve access for agricultural inputs for African Farmers. In 2010, UN Secretary Ban Ki moon appointed him as one of 17 world leaders to galvanize international support for the MDGs. Adesina also serves on the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition. In 2013, Dr. Adesina was voted African of the year by Forbes Magazine, not for his material self worth, but for leading unprecendents, transformative reforms in Nigeria’s agricultural sector.
As Nigeria’s Minister for Agriculture, Adesina is credited with ending decades of government subsidized corruption in the fertilizer sector, introducing the Electronic Wallet System through which farmers receive vouchers for seeds and fertilizer, adding an additional 21 million tonnes to Nigeria’s domestic food supply; contributing to the decline of Nigeria’s food import bill from $6,5 billion in 2011 to $4.3 billion in 2014. Forbe’s Africa editor Chris Bishop described Adesina as a man on a mission to help Africa feed itself.
That is the man and his record. But what is he up against? Founded in 1964 as as Africa;s multilateral development finance institution, the African Development Bank (AfDB) has had a troubled history. The bank was on the brink of collapse in the 1990 but turned around in the under Omar Kabbaj’s leadership and regained its AAA credit rating.
In 2010, under the leadership of outgoing President Donald Kaberuka, the AfDB’s authorized capital trippled to $101.4 billion. Entrained in the Africa rising narrative, the AfDB Strategy for 2013-2022 aims to improve the quality of Africa’s growth by ensuring that “growth is shared and not isolated for all African citizens”. However, the strategy is diffuse, and lacks a coherent and intergrated clarity on how the what it defines as operational priorities (e.g., infrastructure and governance and accountability) would hang together with the the so-called areas of special focus (e.g.,agriculture and gender) to deliver real transformations in quality of life for a majority of Africans.
Africa’s challenges are both complex and formidable. For example attaining the proposed 17 Sustainable Developed Goals (SDGs) will require Africa to invest between over $2 trillion per year. In 2013, AfDB sector approvals in loans and grants were estimated at only $3.5 billion. It is estimated that AfDB provides about 6 percent of total development assistence to Africa. There are clear limits to what a bank the size of AfDB can do.
What can the AfDB really do over the next 10 years under the stewardship of President Adesina? With limited financial resources, the AfDB could play a leadership role, re-defining development priorities of regional member countries through high quality research evidence. AfDB can forge strategic partmeships with larger movers of Official Development Assistance and Foreign Direct Investment to drive more integrated and diversified investments to deepen and broaden Africa’s growth.
AfDB under the leadership of Adesina should direct its infrastructure investments more strategically to revitalize and transform Africa’s agriculture through appropriate mechanization, create new rural prosperity zones and bring women and youth into lucrative value chains (technology, processing, packaging, logistics, warehousing, insurance). Adesina should direct more investments into vocational and university education to provide world class skills and drive enterprice and innovation to power and stamp Africa’s claim on the 21st century.
Adesina must revamp the AfDB’s strategy, invest in Africa’s distinct comparative advantage, its youth, women and its vast but untapped agricultural resources to build a stronger and more prosperous Africa.