I raise a fist of salutations to new beginnings, acknowledging, as I must, that beginnings are just part of the continuum of life, for every beginning entails an end which in turn foreshadows another beginning. Welcome!
Talking about beginnings and ends, it was good to see the end of the odious allegations made against African Development Bank President, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, who was completely exculpated last week following the unprecedented review of the process of his earlier exoneration. The second largest shareholder, the US, had requested an additional review — a request which was granted in the interest of transparency.
When the history of AfDB is written, the names of the members of the distinguished review committee will be written in gold. Take a bow, Mary Robinson, former President of the Republic of Ireland, ex-UNHCR commissioner and chairperson of the global body of wise persons concerned with the world’s wellbeing, a.k.a. the Elders. Kudos to Hassan B. Jallow, Chief Justice of the Gambia. Respects to Leonard F. McCarthy, former Director for the Office of Serious Economic Offences, former Head of the Directorate of Special Operations of South Africa, and Vice President of Integrity for the World Bank for nine years.
I have known Akinwumi Adesina for more than 40 years — right from his undergraduate days. I couldn’t reconcile the allegations of graft, duplicity or nepotism with the Akin that I know, but then America wanted a third leg to the investigation even though the exoneration by the Committee and the Board was all that was statutorily required. At that stage, some conspiracy theorists felt that America was trying to prosecute its trade war with China on African soil using the AfDB president as pawn. Was the US request for additional scrutiny a revenge for the burgeoning China-Africa trade which has grown by about 16.9% in the last five years?
In the heat of the probe, an engineer and blogger Ndubuisi Ekekwe wrote: “These allegations are mundane; the Board can handle them, and communicate to its shareholders. They are not things, in my opinion, for an external counsel to investigate. President Trump does what Mr. Adesina is accused daily in Washington DC! Adesina does not have his daughter and son-in-law working in his office or vacationing in his hotels!”
On the whole, the long-drawn chase after a phantom was an unnecessary distraction, as noted by banker/economist Bismarck Rewane: “The distraction was totally unnecessary. You can’t use a stereotype to damn a good man. By the end of Adesina’s tenure, AfDB would have become a major multilateral agency like the Asian Development Bank. Adesina confronted his faceless accusers with absolute transparency — bring everything out in the open, face the allegations headlong. Under Adesina, the bank has been more engaged in addressing the developmental issues of the continent of Africa. The major issues concern electricity, infrastructure, agriculture — developmental. His focus has been pan-African and afrocentric. He has transformed the bank from being just transactional to being developmental.”
Rewane justifies the present trajectory of the bank: “Only 20% of intra-regional trade is done among Africans while they are doing 60% in Europe and almost 50% in Asia. As we go into the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and ECOWAS integration, we need an institution of this stature headed by somebody with a vision to take this continent away from the shackles of neocolonialism and imperialism towards becoming an integral part of the global economy”.
Serge Mombouli, Dean of the African Diplomatic Corps in the United States of America, celebrated Adesina’s exoneration and called on all stakeholders to support the re-election of Dr. Adesina in the August 27 election where he is the sole candidate of the African Union. “The African Diplomatic Corps accredited to the United States urges the United States of America, the largest non-regional shareholder, and all other shareholders to continue to strongly support the President of the bank and the African Development Bank Group going forward…”
AfDB is supposed to be a multilateral bank with focus on Africa. Perhaps the reason it hadn’t lived up to the dream of its founding fathers in the past was the fact that the leadership was pandering to external influencers who had their own agendas. Under Adesina, the continent is being transformed in a sustainable way as can be seen from his High Five Initiative (1). Feed Africa (2). Light Up Africa (3). Industrialise Africa (4). Integrate Africa and (5). Improve the Quality of Life in Africa. Only last month, global credit rating agencies, Standard and Poors and Fitch Ratings, both affirmed the ‘AAA’ rating of the Bank.
But why all the distraction?
Adesina’s firm leadership style may not be agreeable to those who are used to riding roughshod over Africa. Whereas a continental bank is supposed to cater to the interests of the continent in a milieu where all shareholders are partners pursuing the same developmental goals, it is quite possible that some shareholders see themselves as entitled to a superior voice among their peers. But somebody has to stand up for Africa — and that person is the President of AfDB.
If China’s influence is growing in Africa or chipping away at America’s influence, perhaps it is about time the US examined its bullying policy. Africa needs development partners, not bullies. Most African nations desire to have a strong, mutually beneficial relationship with the US. I don’t know of any sovereign state shopping for another colonial master. When visionary leaders like Adesina emerge on the continental scene, it is in the interest of all shareholders to support them because, with them, your investments are secure and the continent’s future is assured.
China is crawling its way into Africa by partnering with African countries in some of the areas of dire need like infrastructure. On a good day, if America gets its acts together, China does not stand a chance in the competition for influence in Africa. But will America’s hubris allow it to understand the difference between partnership and sole proprietorship? Indeed, transparency and accountability may not be as perennial as the grass in Africa, but neither are they anywhere in the world. We all have our warts. So, we can’t tar every African with the brush of sleaze. Africa has its own fair share of good people too.
Africa has also re-learnt a historical lesson: United we stand, divided we fall. Or as Rudyard Kipling memorably said, “The strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack”. For once, Africa stood solidly behind Adesina and he did not disappoint them as his exoneration has now shown. I have always felt that only we can limit ourselves. If we bunch together in pursuit of developmental goals, we are unstoppable. Going forward, there can’t be any doubt as to which route the African Union will take when confronted with a choice between visionary leadership and token surrogacy.
Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari who stood solidly behind Adesina all through the orchestrated distraction was quite elated at the prospect of greater development in Africa with Adesina at the helm of AfDB for another five-year term. He was confident that the investigation saga would “serve as impetus for more diligence in handling responsibilities, while fuelling the zeal to deliver on the promises of a greater Africa”.
As Africa stands up for its spotless son on the threshold of a well deserved second term, development experts are already envisioning the picture of where the continent will be in the next five years, as they are confident that all co-owners of AfDB will re-elect Adesina as President, affirming that one good term deserves another.
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