Business & Economy

AfDB – reflections on a landmark meeting

At the end of May, the African Development Bank (AfDB) met in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire for its Annual General Meeting. It would be a landmark meeting – the first time that it had been held in the Ivoirian capital since the AfDB returned from ‘exile’ in Tunis, were it spent 11 years during the Ivorian conflict years.

The return to its headquarters in Abidjan followed the ending of hostilities in Cote d’Ivoire. The AfDB meeting was also the final AGM for the immediate past president, Donald Kaberuka. Kaberuka described 2015 as ‘epoch making’ for several development decisions that the continent would need to make. These included how to finance economic development post-2015 (which marks the AfDB’s 50th anniversary), how to best maximise benefits from the continent’s resources, and how to approach the new sustainable development goals.

But arguably, it was meeting the challenges that imminent global warming poses to Africa that trumped all the policy decisions being mooted in Abidjan. The AfDB is not alone among the important African development institutions in flagging up the issue of climate change – for example, the 2015 Africa Progress Panel, led by Kofi Annan, was titled Power, People, Planet: Seizing Africa’s Energy and Climate Opportunities. It asserts that if the world is to tackle climate change, it needs to break the link between emissions and growth. This will require a clean-energy revolution that Africa is better placed than any region to lead.

In this regard, the AfDB collaborated with the WWF, one of the world’s most experienced and independent conservation organisations active in more than 100 countries worldwide. The WWF’s stated mission is to arrest environmental degradation and foster those activities that would ensure that humans live in harmony with their environment, promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption.

The organisation, which claims to have over five million supporters worldwide, took the opportunity to launch its African Ecological Futures 2015 report, with its director-general Marco Lambertini joining the AfDB’s president Donald Kaberuka for a special lunch presentation.

Many Africans fear that environmental considerations – coming into focus ahead of the 21st UN Conference of the Parties (COP21) Paris meeting at the end of the year that will attempt to formulate a global approach to tackling global warming – could slow the continent’s economic development.

But Kaberuka, commenting on Africa’s sustainable development said, ‘Africa has choices, embracing a more sustainable approach to development to generate benefits in terms of environmental security, human well-being and competitiveness. The choices made today about infrastructure, energy and food production will shape our opportunities and options far into the future.’

And the WWF’s Lambertini noted, ‘Africa now stands on the launch pad of sustained long-term economic development. The question is no longer whether Africa’s economy will grow, but rather, what the nature of Africa’s development trajectory will be. Will Africa follow the well-trodden pathway of ecologically destructive development, or, with the benefit of others’ mistakes and successes, will Africa be able to leapfrog these economies and chart a new ecologically sustainable and socially inclusive development pathway?’

Whilst the issues surrounding climate change were clearly high on the agenda of the AfDB’s AGM, much else was debated in Abidjan.

The 2015 African Economic Outlook (AEO), launched during the meeting and co-authored by the OECD’s Development Centre, the UNDP and AfDB determined that ‘making growth more inclusive’ was a priority.

Steve Kayizzi-Mugerwa, AfDB’s acting chief economist and vice-president commented that ‘African countries have shown considerable resilience in the face of global economic adversity. For future growth to sustainable and transformative will require that its benefits are shared more equitable among the population and that governments continue to pursue economic stability.’

The AEO also cautioned that in the next 15 years, 370 million youth will enter sub-Saharan Africa’s labour market. ‘That population growth, combined with climate change, will exert increasing pressure on natural resources, such as food, water and land,’ the AEO stated.

It could well have been this realisation that led to many delegates at the AGM welcoming the governors’ decision to elect Akinwumi Ayodeji Adesina as the institution’s new president and successor to Donald Kaberuka.

Just as Kaberuka’s prior experience as Rwanda’s finance minister led the way to the AfDB establishing its Triple-A credit rating (underpinning the Bank’s ability to affordably borrow on international markets), so it is envisaged that Adesina’s experience as Nigeria’s minister of agriculture and rural development would transform Africa’s agriculture sector.

Adesina also has a strong background as vice president of policy and partnerships at the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (Agra), and a decade at the Rockefeller Foundation that honed his skills in matters of development finance.

   Stephen Williams

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