The African Development Bank (AfDB) has become a key institution in the drive towards greater African economic development. It does this through financing, and also works with the African Union (AU) on initiatives like Agenda 2063 – the continent’s blueprint for reaching a peaceful and prosperous Africa in decades to come.
The AfDB’s annual African Economic Outlook report, which was released on Monday, 25 May, predicts growth rates of 4.5% for Africa this year and more than 5% for 2016.
The bank cautions, however, against the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few and urges governments to reduce inequalities between urban and rural areas in Africa.
The report was released as the series of annual AfDB meetings kicked off in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire: a set of events with particular significance for Africa. It is not only the 50th anniversary of the bank, but also the first annual meeting since the bank moved back from its temporary headquarters in Tunis at the end of last year.
This is the first annual meeting since the bank moved back from Tunis last year
The turmoil following the 1999 coup d’état in Côte d’Ivoire and subsequent instability forced the bank to relocate to Tunis in 2003. Re-establishing the bank in Abidjan is therefore a feather in the cap of Côte d’Ivoire’s President Alassane Ouattara, who is up for re-election in October this year.
The bank’s return is also a positive sign that Côte d’Ivoire could soon regain its former status as the economic powerhouse of francophone West Africa. Ouattara has done well to rebuild infrastructure and is credited by the bank as having made important strides in improving the country’s business environment. Still, progress is slow and the country has lost at least a decade of potential growth. Ivorian Prime Minister Daniel Kablan Duncan, who attended Monday’s opening ceremony, said the country would this year start to indemnify people who had suffered losses during the last political crisis – more than four years down the line.
The annual meetings will also see the election of a new president of the bank. In the last decade, former Rwandan finance minister Donald Kaberuka, who has been credited with visionary leadership of the bank, has become the face of the AfDB. Kaberuka is stepping down in August.
Donald Kaberuka has been credited with visionary leadership of the bank
A new president will be elected tomorrow, 28 May, by the 54 African member states and 26 non-African members. The AU also has 54 member states, but with Western Sahara instead of Morocco as a member. Morocco is an important member of the AfDB and has a high number of votes, according to its financial contribution to the bank. Nigeria is the bank’s largest shareholder and has the most votes.
The election of a president to follow in Kaberuka’s footsteps has created unprecedented interest. Candidates have increased their appearances on radio and television at home and abroad, and some have created websites with their manifestos for leading the bank in the next decade. Out of the eight candidates, there are four ministers of finance, a minister of agriculture and one of foreign affairs. Two of the candidates have vast experience working in the AfDB. There is only one female candidate.
Given the strong list of candidates, not many commentators have risked a prediction about who is leading the pack. Some say, however, that Nigeria’s Adesina, who has led the country’s agricultural development plans since 2010, could stand a good chance. South African business expert Dianna Games believes South Africa could support Nigeria in this election, following intense lobbying for South Africa’s support.
This could create a new dynamic between the AU and the AfDB
However, Adesina might fall victim to the same ‘big country’ phenomenon that almost cost AU Commission Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma the job during the hotly contested election in the AU in 2012. It was said, at the time, that key positions should not be occupied by major players on the continent. If Adesina gets the position, it could create a new dynamic between the AU and the AfDB, with the leadership positions occupied by rivals Nigeria and South Africa. Dlamini-Zuma, however, could step down after her term expires in 2016.
Ethiopia’s Minister of Finance, Sufian Ahmed, is also seen as a frontrunner, given the success of Ethiopia’s economic transformation in the last two decades. He is one of the longest-serving finance ministers on the continent, having started in this position in August 1995. Ethiopia’s position as one of Africa’s big powers, which has risen in influence despite a comparatively small economy and a lack of democratic credentials, will stand him in good stead.
Another favourite is Sierra Leone’s Foreign Minister and former minister of finance, Samura Kamara, who is credited with driving much of the country’s post-conflict reconstruction and development. He has experience working at the International Monetary Fund and has been a governor of the central bank of Sierra Leone. He is also fluent in French and English; always an advantage in such pan-African positions.
The AfDB members and board might, however, place a premium on experience working in the bank. Zimbabwe’s Thomas Sakala and Mali’s Boubacar Sidibé have both served in the institution for many years. Duarte, the only candidate from a Portuguese-speaking country, will meanwhile be advantaged by the good progress made in Cape Verde that propelled her country to middle income status. If Bedoumra, from Chad, gets the job, he will be the first AfDB president from Central Africa. Finally, Tunisia’s former finance minister Jaloul Ayed is a respected banker with vast experience, but he might be hampered by the fact that North Africa already occupied the position of president of the AfDB recently. Omar Kabbaj, the AfDB president from 1995 – 2005, was from Morocco.
Whoever manages to get the vote of confidence of the AfDB members will have a tough job ahead. Despite the upbeat predictions of high growth, the oil price slump, slow growth in South Africa and continued conflict in many parts of the continent will need careful management to ensure that African economies continue to develop in the years to come.
Liesl Louw-Vaudran, ISS Consultant