In the past few years, Africa has been the focus of global investors because of its growth prospects and high return on investments.
Prior to the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic which has brought about severe disruptions to economies in the continent, Africa was seen as the land of opportunities.
With a population of 1.2 billion people that is expected to rise to 2.5 billion by 2050, a rising middle class, rapid urbanisation and a labor force that will rise from 705 million today, to well over one billion in the next 10 years, Africa offers huge market and investment opportunities.
Unlocking the inherent opportunities in the continent has been the focus of the African Development Bank (AfDB) under its President, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, since his election in 2015.
The Bank under Adesina has continued to provide support to countries as well as private sector organisations in the continent, in a bid to ensure that Africa remains attractive.
For instance, as part of its ‘Jobs for Youth in Africa’ strategy, the Bank had launched the establishment of Coding for Employment Program, designed to develop young digital entrepreneurs.
The expectation was to develop 130 centers of innovation over the next five years to help create nine million direct and indirect jobs.
Experience so far from the ongoing programs in Rwanda, Nigeria, Kenya and Senegal has been impactful as about 2,000 youth (46% women) were trained in just three months, between March and June 2019.
In addition, given the fast pace of changes, driven by the fourth industrial revolution – from artificial intelligence, to robotics, machine learning, quantum computing, the Bank’s focus under Adesina has been that Africa must invest more in re-directing and re-skilling its labor force, and especially the youth, to effectively participate.
Since he assumed the position of the President, the AfDB has connected 16 million people to electricity, provided 70 million people with improved agricultural technologies to achieve food security, given nine million people access to finance from private sector companies, provided 55 million people with access to improved transport, and 31 million people with access to water and sanitation.
In all 181 million people have directly benefitted from the Bank’s investments.
Adesina is the eight President of the Bank. He was elected to the position on May 28, 2015 by the Bank’s Board of Governors at its Annual Meetings in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.
He is the first Nigerian to serve as President of the Bank Group.
During his first term, the Bank’s shareholders approved a landmark $115 billion capital increase last October. The increase in the capital base, from $93 billion to $208 billion, signaled strong support from the Board of Governors in the continent’s foremost financial institution.
Adesina is a renowned development economist who had held a number of high-profile international positions, including with the Rockefeller Foundation, and as Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development from 2011 to 2015.
“The youth must be prepared for the jobs of the future – not the jobs of the past. Especially critical is training in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The Bank is already working on this, with our support to build scientific centers of excellence, such as the African universities of science and technology – all part of the Mandela Institute of Science and Technology.
“We have invested in the Kigali Institute for Science and Technology that is providing world-class training in ICT at the Masters level in collaboration with the Carnegie Mellon University. Without any doubt, there is need to expand financing for education at all levels, primary, secondary and tertiary.
“The educational system must adequately prepare the youth for the labor market. Priority must be placed on improving access to vocational skills training, reducing the mismatch between training and needs of the labor market, and providing greater incentives for the private sector to support young people with on-the-job training opportunities, as well as entrepreneurship.
“At the end of the day, it is not GDP growth that matters. Nobody eats GDP. Growth must be visible. Growth must be equitable. Growth must be felt in the lives of people. It is the people of Africa who motivate us to keep doing what we do best: making prosperity a reality for all,” Adesina said recently.
In what has been described as a proactive move to cushion the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on the continent, the Board of the AfDB recently approved a $10 billion for Coronavirus Response Facility for Africa countries.
A breakdown of the distribution of the sum given by Adesina showed that $5.5 billion would be to support, the AfDB countries.
“That is countries that can access the window of the Bank or the non-concessionary window of the Bank,” he explained.
In addition, $3.1 billion would be to support countries those he termed the African Development Fund countries.
“These are loan income and fragile state countries that have access to the concessional resources of the Bank and basically grants that we give. Also, we would provide $1.4 billion to support the private sector,” he added.
He explained that the facility would support countries to have rapid cost-effective and targeted emergency budget support as well as offer liquidity to countries that are facing fiscal and balance of payment challenges, so that they can stabilise their economies.
“It would also support the private sector and private support for sustainable efforts to avoid debt burdens for countries.
“It is also not going to add to the debt of countries. We would help Africa to manage this crisis and we would support Africa to mitigate the knock-on economic impact of this health crisis on the rest of the economies and we would save lives. Every single country matters and nobody would be left behind,” he said.
The former Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture stressed that if the pandemic was not effectively managed in the continent, it could lead to a food crisis.
Speaking further, the AfDB boss said the timely approval of the facility demonstrated the seriousness with which the AfDB takes the pandemic.
“As we talk of numbers in terms of monies, let us also bring to mind what is happening in terms of lives. Every time that I wake up in the morning, the most distressing thing that I see is listening to global news and the number of people that have been affected by the virus and the number of people that have died.
“It is like announcing number of deaths as if we are announcing some kind of gold medal in an Olympics. It is so sad. Therefore, it is a time for serious action.
“We must move massively and aggressively to give Africa maximum support to quickly contain this epidemic,” he said.
The AfDB recently went to the international capital market to raise a Social Impact Bond of $3 billion called the Fight Coronavirus Bond. It debt instrument was regarded as the largest social impact bond launched ever in the world, at 0.75 per cent coupon rate.
“So, this is cheap money that we can make available to our clients. I am also happy to announce that the $3 billion bond of the Bank has just been listed on the London Stock Exchange and it has been oversubscribed,” he said.
Speaking further on the $1.4 out of the $10 billion to be set aside for private sector, Adesina, pointed out that a lot of private sector operators would need emergency liquidity facility to help them with the liquidity constraints that they face due to the pandemic.
“It is to support and protect the SMEs. As you know, SMEs form 75 per cent or 85 per cent of all the businesses we have in Africa. So, we want to protect these businesses and jobs.
“The third of course is that we are going to be deferring debt payments for the private sector that are our clients and we would be providing trade finance and guarantees to the private sector under this facility,” he added.
According to Adesina, the pandemic has exposed the poor state of healthcare in Africa.
To this end, he said the Bank was planning to build quality healthcare infrastructure for Africa.
“We want to build quality healthcare infrastructure to support Africa. In essence, Africa needs a healthcare infrastructure defense system. Today, we have the coronavirus, but we need to prepare because there might be another thing that is worse than this. Therefore, we need to be well prepared.
“Today, Africa has only 375 pharmaceutical companies, for a population of 1.3 billion people. China has almost 7,000 pharmaceutical companies, India almost 11,000.
“So, you can see that Africa doesn’t have the capacity to produce pharmaceutical products. We cannot continue importing pharmaceutical companies. As a Bank we are looking at how we can support a big time effort of building Africa’s pharmaceutical industry to protect lives,” he said.
Considering Adesina’s positive contribution to the Bank since 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari, the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) as well as the African Union (AU) have all endorsed him for re-election for another term of five years, which is due this year.
For the AU, its Executive Council gave the endorsement at its 36th ordinary session held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Also, in December 2019, ECOWAS also endorsed Adesina for a second term.
Apparently, some elements within the Bank are scared of Adesina’s rising endorsement waves, which saw them, in an 18-page petition made efforts to block his approval for a second term.
The said whistleblowers had alleged that he violated the code of conduct of the institution.
The former Nigeria’s minister has since described as spurious and unfounded the allegation by the group that described itself as concerned staff members of the Bank.
Adesina said following the publication of the allegation in a foreign magazine, Le Monde, he was overwhelmed by the tremendous show of support and solidarity he had been receiving.
He stated that the Bank had a very high reputation for good governance and rated as the fourth most transparent institution in the world by Publish What You Fund.
He noted that he had strong confidence in the governance systems of the Bank put in place by its Board of Governors.
According to him, 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.
The bank’s president said: “I am 100 per 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 would like all our highly dedicated bank staff, shareholders and partners not to be moved or shaken by any of these blatantly false 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.”
Adesina promised to continue to discharge his duties and responsibilities “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 COVID-19 pandemic.”
Nevertheless, earlier this week, the whistleblowers were reported to have withdrawn the petition.
It was gathered that the petition was spearheaded by an elected staff member to discredit Adesina’s candidacy for re-election.
“This denunciation is made in accordance to (with) the whistle-blowing and complaint handling policy of the African Development Bank,” the whistleblowers stated.
Therefore, in order to help rebuild African countries from the damage the coronavirus pandemic is going to inflict on the continent, entrepreneurship and youth employment, support countries in tackling the rising waves of insecurity in some countries in the continent, continue to support investment-friendly policies in the region as well as the promotion of greater participation of private sector, there is need to support the re-election of Adesina for a second term as the President of the AfDB.