African Development Bank in Crisis: Intrigues of an Election

Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, AfDB boss

By Rasheed Akinkuolie

Nigeria’s former Minister of Agriculture, Dr Akinwumi Adesina, who is currently the President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), and the first Nigerian to hold the office is seeking re-election for a second term of 5 years. He was first elected in 2015, after his tenure as Nigeria’s minister of agriculture.

The last three Presidents of the bank came from Senegal, Morocco and Rwanda respectively, and the trio enjoyed two terms of 10 years. Dr Adesina’s re-election after 5 years is now embroiled in controversies over allegations of infractions and acts of impropriety by whistle blowers within the bank.

Rasheed Akinkuolie

Internal investigations of these allegations found Dr Adesina not guilty, be it in any act of moral impropriety, fraud, or financial mismanagement.

The whistle blowers have also openly denounced the document and confessed, that they were misled or coerced into raising these issues against him. The recently released report of the panel led by Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland has also exonerated Dr Adesina.

The call for investigation and re investigation is coming mainly from the non regional/ foreign partners of the bank, outside the African continent.

The 26 foreign non regional members from Europe, America and Asia hold 40% of AfDB’s shares. Nigeria with 9% is the single largest shareholder of the bank through it’s (NTF) Nigeria Trust Fund, which was established in 1976 to assist weak African countries develop their economies.

The non regional members had wanted to join the bank since its inception in 1964, but this move was strongly opposed by President Shehu Shagari of Nigeria, fearing that the admission of non African members, especially from outside the continent, may lead to it’s being overwhelmed.

Eventually, the non regional members were admitted to raise the bank’s capital base, which was a reasonable decision. But, the mistake was allowing their shares to grow up to a level, which enabled them virtually take control of the bank.

The non regional members became so powerful, that by 1985, they were able to block the re-election of Mr Mungomba of Zambia as President for a second term of 5 years.

He was replaced by Babacar Ndiaye of Senegal who served from 1985-1995 (10years) followed by Omar Kabbaj from Morocco, 1995-2005 (10 years) and Donald Kaberuka from Rwanda, 2005-2015 (10 years). So, the stooges of non regional members ruled the bank for 30 years.

My cursory insight into some of the internal intrigues and politics of AfDB is based on personal experience at my post in Nigeria’s diplomatic mission in Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire, which is also the headquarters of the bank. I met many Nigerians who were holding high positions in the bank, among whom were eminent personalities like; Chief Bisi Ogunjobi, Arumah Oteh, Cecelia Akintomide, Professor Nweze, Akin Olugbade and several others.

In 2005, Nigeria hosted the general congress of the bank at the Nicon Noga Hilton in Abuja to elect a new President, who will succeed Omar Kabbaj from Morocco. Nigeria presented Chief Bisi Ogunjobi, a serving Vice President or Senior Vice President, who had worked most of his life in the bank. But the non regional members conspired to stage manage his defeat by Donald Kaberuka, Rwanda’s Minister of Finance.

I was part of the lobbying group on the Nigerian side and the embarrassment of the loss was such, that Nigeria thought of creating a parallel organization to rival the AfDB.

This threat or bluff must have worked because, it facilitated the eventual election of Dr Adesina in 2015, despite his being eminently qualified for the post.

After five years, Dr Adesina’s re-election has now run into a crisis of spurious allegations, which are nothing more than a ruse to block his second term or intimidate him in such a way, that he will be ineffective, and literally do as he is told, if re-elected.

Dr. Adesina’s strategic agricultural plan in Nigeria increased rice, maize and overall food production to a level of near self sufficiency within 5 years.

His High 5s strategic plan for Africa which are: 1. light up Africa, 2. Integrate Africa 3. Eradicate hunger in Africa 4. Eradicate poverty in Africa, 5. Develop Africa’s technology are visionary programs, which would have solved most of the current challenges facing the continent. But, this would mean extricating Africa from the state of permanent dependency, a status inimical to foreign interests.

The impact of AfDB programs had, so far, not been felt in any significant way in Africa. The big problems, such as MALARIA, Poverty Eradication, unemployment are ignored because they are not meant to be solved. So, Africa continued to wallow in poverty, live in darkness and in constant conflict.

The pleas by African leaders for the renewal of Dr Adesina’s re-election is an embarrassment. This would have been inconceivable in the times of iconic past African leaders like: Kwame Nkrumah, Ahmed Sekou Toure, Shehu Shagari, Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikikiwe, Nelson Mandela, who fought for Africa’s total independence, which is now being threatened.

The problem of AfDB is bigger and deeper than the mere election of the bank’s President. There are fundamental issues which must be resolved, without which the bank will continue to be a big ‘ Talk Shop ‘ that exists without relevance.

The non regional members of the bank must be cut to size. If not, Dr Adesina and any future President of the bank will remain fettered and forced to do their biddings.

Africa, through AfDB may indeed, need the funds provided by the non regional members. But, this should not necessarily mean surrendering the ownership to them. After all, AfDB is not the only continental development bank. The Asean Development Bank (ADB) of which all Asian countries are members has foreign partners, but their influence over the affairs of the bank is very limited. In the case of AfDB, the rift between the regional and non regional members has now degenerated into an ownership tussle.

African Union (AU)/ Summit of Heads of State or any of such strong African bodies should convene a meeting with the non regional partners, with Nigeria taking the lead. And on top of the agenda should be the determination of the maximum shares foreign partners may possess in the bank, which should not be more than 10% of the bank’s total shares.

Secondly, the possession of shares by non regional partners should not confer on them, the right to vote in the election of the bank’s President, a right which had deprived the continent from freely choosing the bank’s President of it’s choice for so long.

The organogram; that is the administrative structure of the bank is too top heavy. There are too many Vice Presidents and other high level positions held by individuals, who are representing vested

interests. The holders of these posts are in some cases, so powerful that they constitute parallel offices and power blocks equal or above that of the President. These positions should be pruned down, and the powers of the holders limited.

The continent must be firm on the issue of shareholding and be prepared to face the fall out, which will have a short term effect on the capital base of the bank.

Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt, Morocco, Algeria and Angola can provide the funds which the non regional partners may withdraw, if they opt to do so. What matters is not the volume of sums available, but application of such funds to meaningful projects, which will address real problems. And as a last resort, African leaders may consider creating a parallel institution which will be under the firm control of the continent, as suggested in 2005 by Nigeria.

Let me close with this statement ‘ if we do not handle our independence very well, colonizers will come back in form of investors’ by Simon Mwanza Kapwepwe, Vice President of Zambia, 1967-70. A good food for thought.

-Ambassador Akinkuolie Rasheed was Director of Trade and Investments, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Abuja Nigeria.