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AKINWUNMI ADESINA, AFRICA’S BOLD REFORMER

April 20, 2020

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In the Beginning

On July 14, 2019, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, Nigeria’s highly respected former Agriculture Minister and current President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), told reporters in Malabo that he would be seeking to renew his presidency in 2020 when his first term comes to an end.

“I will run again to continue the work we started,” he said at the end of the bank’s 54th annual meetings in Equatorial Guinea adding, “I am driven by Africa so as president of the bank, I can tell you this is no chore for me; it is a labour of love and I feel truly confident when I see the trust the governors have placed in us.”

The AfDB operates under the leadership of the president, who serves as the legal representative of the bank, the chairperson of the board of directors, and the Chief of the Staff of the bank. The president conducts the current business of the bank, under the direction of the board of directors. The president is elected by the board of governors and serves a five-year term, renewable once. The bank’s rules require that it holds the election of the president during the annual meeting closest to the end of the term of office of the serving president. The current president assumed office on 1 September 2015, following his election in May 2015. Accordingly, his term of office will elapse on 31 August 2020.

A President and His Many Achievements

Widely respected as a bold reformer, as minister of agriculture in Nigeria from 2011-2015, Adesina in four years, revolutionized the country’s agriculture sector. Under his tenure, Nigeria ended 40 years of corruption in the fertilizer sector by developing and implementing an innovative electronic wallet system, which directly provides farmers with subsidized farm inputs at scale, using their mobile phones. Within the first four years of its launch, this electronic wallet system reached 15 million farmers, dramatically transforming their lives. The electronic wallet system has now gone global and is currently being implemented in Afghanistan and several African countries.

A firm believer in private sector-led growth, Adesina radically changed the perception of agriculture in Nigeria from that of subsistence to a viable business that successfully attracted $ 5.6 billion in private sector investments. He also led financing initiatives to support youth engagement in agriculture and small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Ultimately, under his leadership, Nigeria’s food production expanded by an additional 21 million metric tonnes.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) at its 56th ordinary session of heads of state endorsed the re-election of Adesina as AfDB president. The ECOWAS nod was followed shortly after by an endorsement by the African Union (AU).

According to the ECOWAS leaders, in recognition of the sterling performance of Akinwumi Adesina during his first term of office as AfDB president, the authority endorses his candidacy for a second term.

The achievements are legion. Within three years of his first term, President Adesina embarked on bold reforms of the bank. On his watch, the bank has been substantially repositioned globally, and he has driven highly impactful programmes that are accelerating the development of the continent. “we are fast-tracking Africa’s development,” Adesina has posited.

Since his election as president, the bank has maintained its AAA rating by all the four major global rating agencies, four years in a row. This is a reflection of the bank’s sound financial and risk management, excellent liquidity and strong shareholder support. In addition, the bank’s income has seen a significant increase. The loan income of the bank rose from $563 million in 2015, when he took over, to $803 million in 2017, an increase of 42.6per cent. The net operating income increased from $492 million in 2015 to $781 million by the end of 2017. At the same time, the highest allocation from net income to reserves ever in the history of the bank was reached in 2017, for an amount of $190.35 million.

AfDB launched the Africa Investment Forum in 2018, in Johannesburg, South Africa. The event positioned the bank globally as the driver for investments in Africa. The Africa Investment Forum mobilised $38.7 billion of investment interests for Africa in less than 72 hours. The forum has, in one year, become the leading platform for mobilising global investments to Africa. The second edition of the forum, held in November, 2019, mobilised $40.1 billion of investment interests for businesses on the African continent. Through this platform, the bank and its partners intend to leverage $300 billion of investments into Africa over the next 8 years.

Today, the bank is at the forefront of helping Africa achieve accelerated development. The bank’s High 5 strategic priorities: Light up and Power Africa; Feed Africa; Industrialise Africa; Integrate Africa; and Improve the quality of life of the people of Africa, have been acclaimed globally as the key for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in Africa and the Agenda 2063 of the African Union. Independent analysis by the UNDP shows that achieving the High 5s will help Africa to achieve 90per cent of the SDG targets and 90per cent of the Agenda 2063 goals.

His leadership of the AfDB has seen the bank hailed globally for critical interventionist and corporate governance policies. In 2018, “Publish What You Fund”, the global campaign for aid and development transparency ranked the AfDB, as the 4th most Transparent Institution among 45 global development institutions. That same year, the bank recorded an unprecedented first, when it was ranked number one by the Multilateral Organisation Performance Assessment Network (MOPAN), a position jointly shared with the World Bank.

Adesina’s reforms, undertaken as president of the bank, are returning excellent results. The bank has been effectively decentralised to get closer to its member countries and clients. It opened five regional development and business delivery offices in North Africa (Tunis), Southern Africa (Pretoria), Central Africa (Yaoundé), East Africa (Nairobi), and West Africa (Abidjan); with five director generals appointed to run these offices with an increasingly larger share of the bank’s operations being run from these regional offices. The share of the bank’s operations staff based outside of the bank’s headquarters in Abidjan rose from 29per cent in 2011 to 59per cent by 2018. Similarly, the share of the bank’s operations managed from the regional and country offices rose from 30per cent in 2011 to 76per cent by 2018. The bank was ranked 4th among the top 100 African employers that people want to work for in 2018; a huge jump from the Bank’s ranking of 82nd position in 2015.

It is widely acknowledged that under Adesina, the AfDB is being efficiently managed and has the lowest administrative cost per adjusted common equity among all the multilateral development banks, globally, at just 2per cent. While the cost to income ratio of the bank is 41per cent, the comparable figure for the World Bank is 113per cent, meaning AfDB is three times more efficient on its administrative costs compared to the World Bank.

In the area of human capital development, the bank under. Adesina has continued to strengthen its human capacity. In 2018 alone, the bank recruited 680 staff to deepen its human capacity, the highest ever recruitment in the history of the Bank. The AfDB’s reputation and standing among global financial institutions has never been stronger. The Bank is now seen as a global financial institution that provides huge leverage for Africa. President Adesina is widely recognized globally and this has helped to lift the image and reputation of the institution while opening up unprecedented global partnership platforms for the Bank.

These partnerships have culminated in Adesina chairing the Group of Presidents of all Multilateral Development Banks for 2019. The Group includes the World Bank, International Finance Corporation, Inter-American Development Bank, Asian Development Bank, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, New Development Bank, Islamic Development Bank, European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. In 2019, Adesina assumed the chairmanship of the Group of Regional Development Banks.

Within four years of the presidency of Adesina, the bank has achieved huge developmental results. The bank has helped to support 18 million people connect to electricity through “Light Up and Power Africa”, 141 million people gain access to improved agricultural technologies under “Feed Africa, 13 million people benefit from private sector investment projects under “Industrialize Africa”, 101 million people gain access to better transport services through “Integrate Africa”, 60 million people benefit from improved access to water and sanitation under “Improve the Quality of Life of the People of Africa”.

In October, 2019, the bank successfully completed a historic 125per cent General Capital Increase (GCI7), thus increasing the authorised share capital of the Bank from $93 billion to $208 billion, the highest in the history of the bank since its establishment in 1964. Following the approval of GCI7, the bank will help African countries to achieve critical development results in the next 8 years, including ensuring 105 million people will get access to electricity, 204 million people will benefit from improved access to agricultural technologies to achieve food security, 23 million people will benefit from investee private sector companies, 252 million people will gain access to improved transport services, and 128 million people will benefit from improved water and sanitation.

In addition, the AfDB’s concessional window, the African Development Fund (ADF) was replenished in December 2019. Donor contributions to ADF 15 increased by 35per cent, which will make more funding available to support Low Income Countries and Transition States on the continent.

It was an agglomeration of these excellent results and high performance as AfDB president, including the impressive financial performance of the bank, strategic global positioning of the bank to drive the achievement of the African Union’s Agenda 2063, his excellent working relations with African governments, and bold efforts to drive significant investments into Africa, that led to his unanimous support and endorsement by all 55 heads of state and governments for second term as president. It was a unanimous decision of the Africa Union which demonstrated the level of excellent support he has in Africa and the very high level of respect he is held by all African countries.

False Allegations

“You have enemies? Good. That means that you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

It has been often said in one way or the other that, it is virtually impossible to do great things and to please everybody at the same time. Great leaders will, by dint of the strength of their beliefs and convictions, create antagonism from those that cannot share these for a number of reasons, and in particular from those that are close to them.

Adesina’s unopposed candidacy for a second term, has drawn the ire of a surreptitious ‘Group of Concerned Staff Members,’ said to have been hurriedly coupled together by some non-African shareholders, led by a non-executive director aligned with one of the non-African shareholders that was strongly opposed to his election in 2015. The allegations of multiple abuses and breaches of the bank’s code of ethics which were published in the French daily, Le Monde, contend among others that Adesina intends to make the AfDB a Nigerian affair by giving compatriots key positions, but also by more easily granting lines of credit to leading Nigerian companies, an allegation easily debunked by facts on the bank’s website, which show that Senegal, Cameroun, Tanzania, Rwanda, Namibia and others are key beneficiaries of about 75 projects worth $64.5billion. These countries have projects specifically targeting them, while Nigeria benefits more from multiple-country focused projects.

The allegations against the AfDB president rebounded dramatically when on March 13th, a break-away group from the rank of petitioners filed a complaint against a key non-African executive director for allegedly misleading and manipulating the members of the group against Adesina. They complained that, “This denunciation is made in accordance with the whistle-blowing and complaint-handling policy of the African Development Bank. It is also made in accordance with the provisions of the Code of Conduct for executive directors of the African Development Bank. This note is brought by a group of staff members outraged by the actions of an elected staff member, the executive director, who uses a group called ‘Group of Concerned Staff Members’ to take hostage our Institution.

“We were members of the group called ‘Group of Concerned Staff Members’ until we understood that we were being manipulated by a group of non-regional executive directors, not for the good governance of the African Development Bank but to discredit the candidacy of the current President for his re-election.”

The dissenting voices also added that, “Our objective is to trigger investigations that will confirm or infirm the breach of the Code of Conduct alleged below. Cases of Alleged Breach of the code of conduct by the executive director.”

The breakaway group further alleged that there were serious and repeated breaches of the code of conduct by the said executive director. A damning revelation was the fact that the said executive director had breached the confidentiality requirements of the rules and regulations of the Ethics Committee, by providing “exhaustive reports of all discussions (during meetings or by email) between members of the ethics committee.” They also revealed that the executive director assisted with the preparation, along with the whistle blowers, of all “reactions to be sent following discussions between members of the Ethics Committee.”

Unruffled and Undistracted

Adesina dismissed the allegations against him, writing, “an article in Le Monde has come to my attention. Following its publication, I have been overwhelmed by the tremendous show of support and solidarity I have continued to receive.

“The African Development Bank has a very high reputation for good governance. The bank was rated as the 4th most transparent institution in the world by Publish What You Fund. I have strong confidence in the governance systems of the Bank put in place by the board of governors of the bank.

“The ethics committee of the board of directors is following its internal review systems and should be allowed to complete its review and work without interference from anyone or the media. I am 100per cent confident that due process and transparency, based on facts and evidence, will indicate that these are all nothing more than spurious and unfounded allegations”.

“I will stay calm and resolute. I will not be distracted. No amount of lies can ever cover up the truth. Soon the truth will come out. “I will continue to discharge my duties and responsibilities as president, with the highest level of professionalism, dedication and unshaken resolve, to lead and support the Bank’s bold mission for Africa’s accelerated development, and to help protect the continent at this time of the COVID19 pandemic.”

Bank Sources Dismiss Claim of US Being Behind Allegations

The fact is, the African Development Bank has a very close working relationship with the U.S. Government and several agencies, including the USAID, the Millennium Challenge Program (MCC), the US Department of Commerce, the US Development Finance Corporation (with whom the Bank signed a $5 billion partnership in November 2019), Power Africa, and the Corporate Council for Africa.

Bank sources say any attempt to suggest a conflict between the Bank and the United States – its second largest shareholder – are inaccurate and ill intentioned. The United States was actually in the forefront of providing the Bank with strong support for its 2019 General Capital Increase and the replenishment of its African Development Fund. What the Bank seems to be facing, sources claim, is a U.S. Executive Director, a Mr. Stephen Dowd, who has had a personal vendetta against Adesina from the moment he was seconded to the Bank late in 2017.

Investigations reveal a complex relationship in which Adesina has developed a series of strategic relationships and partnerships with US government agencies, without Dowd’s direct involvement. As President of the Bank, Adesina, a consummate and highly effective builder of strategic partnerships, has helped build strong institutional partnerships with several US agencies. Bank sources say any attempt to suggest a conflict between the Bank and the United States – its second largest shareholder – are inaccurate and ill intentioned.

The United States was actually in the forefront of providing the Bank with strong support for its 2019 General Capital Increase and the replenishment of its African Development Fund. What the Bank seems to be facing, sources claim, is a U.S. Executive Director, a Mr. Stephen Dowd, who has had a personal vendetta against Adesina from the moment he was seconded to the Bank late in 2017. Investigations reveal a complex relationship in which Adesina has developed a series of strategic relationships and partnerships with US government agencies, without Dowd’s direct involvement.

As President of the Bank, Adesina, a consummate and highly effective builder of strategic partnerships, has helped build strong institutional partnerships with several US agencies. As the head of Africa’s largest development finance institution, Adesina’s strategic input and insights are highly sought after by US agencies and institutions. As a strong pro-Africa advocate, he has has consistently insisted that partnerships must serve Africa’s best interests, while fostering long term business engagements and development.

Adesina signed a landmark $5 billion agreement with Adam Boehler, the CEO of the US Development Finance Corporation on the margins of the Africa Investment Forum in Johannesburg, South Africa in November 2019.

The US Deputy Secretary of Commerce, Karen Dunn Kelly, led a high level delegation to the Africa Investment Forum and met with Adesina, along with heads of major US agencies, including the United States Agency for International Development, United States Trade and Development Agency, Prosper Africa, and Power Africa (with which the Bank has a long standing partnership on energy), Prosper Africa, among others.

In a letter commending Adesina for his leadership, Kelly said “let me congratulate you on the success of the second Africa Investment Forum. I understand that 56 board room deals, valued at $67.6 billion, were tabled – a 44% increase from last year. This is proof that, as you said yourself, “Africa is winning. Africa is bankable!”.

Adesina has continued to urge the US to have a more strategic approach to Africa and to move away from a focus on aid to investments. Working closely with the Corporate Council for Africa, he continues to challenge old status quo approaches to development, and instead the favour the establishment of mutually beneficial deals for Africa and the United States.

Adesina has been and continues to be a force for good and a breadth of fresh air in Africa’s development landscape. He is endowed with incredible insights, and an amazing ability to lead out-of-the-box innovative ideas. His outstanding achievements are globally recognised at the highest levels of the U.S. Government and corporate America.

Looking Forward

It is clear that despite the attacks and allegations aimed at truncating his re-election in May, Adesina is set to be returned for a second term. That was again shown by the incredible leadership and efforts that he recently deployed to design with his staff financing at scale to support and protect Africa at this time of the coronavirus pandemic.

The African Development Bank launched on March 26, 2020, a $3 billion Fight COVID-19 Social Bond on the international capital market. It was so successful, raising $3 billion in just few hours at the interest rate of 0.75per cent. It is the largest US dollar denominated social bond in the history of the world, and the largest by the bank since its establishment in 1964. The bond is now listed on the London Stock Exchange.

Adesina went further and led the design and development of the Bank’s COVID19 rapid response financial package. Against onslaughts and roadblocks by non-regional members of the board of directors, he was tenacious, patient and bold in his defence of the need to protect and support Africa, to the maximum possible. The board of directors finally agreed and approved the $10 billion Covid-9 response facility of the bank, which was announced on April 8. This is a bold and unparalleled support for Africa.

This is the man that is called the “Africa’s Optimist in Chief”, who ceaselessly fights for Africa, speaks for Africa everywhere globally, while accelerating the development of the continent. As he noted in one of his recent tweets on his twitter platform, while quoting Apostle Paul’s words in second Corinthians, which he said brings him much strength, “I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

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