Inauguration Of Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina, As New President Of The African Development Bank

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I feel especially privileged to participate in this inauguration ceremony of a new President of African Development Bank, who is now charged with running with the great vision of the bank to achieve socio-economic transformation and economic integration of Africa.

I am informed that when the AfDB was established, it started with only 23 African countries as members, ten employees and a capital base of USD 370 million. Today it has 54 African member-states and 26 non-African members, and a capital base of USD 110 billion, a world class triple A credit rating, nearly 2,000 employees and a portfolio valued at nearly USD 25 billion.

For much of its history, the AfDB stood in the shadow of other global multilateral financial institutions. Today, the story has changed. The AfDB now has an innovative credit policy, a large franchise value, and commands the trust of its client countries. It is therefore with equally great pride that I note the coming of age of the AfDB.

Your Excellencies, it is indeed important today that we should celebrate the outgoing President of the African Development Bank, Dr. Donald Kaberuka, even as we witness the swearing in of the incoming President, Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina. We commend Dr. Donald Kaberuka for his ten years of exemplary service to the AfDB. Under his leadership, the Bank not only tripled its capital base, but also mobilized an unprecedented level of financing from donors. The Bank has also been transformed from a shy, inward-looking public sector institution to a bold leader in the area of infrastructure and private sector financing, channeling more than USD 28 billion in transformative road, energy, railway and water supply projects.

But Dr. Kaberuka’s major achievement has been in ensuring that there is a greater voice for Africans in the broader international economic community. His advocacy for our continent during the crises of the last decade is very greatly appreciated, particularly his bold leadership in confronting the Ebola Disease. Dr. Kaberuka, may God be with you in the years ahead.

To the President of the AfDB, Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina, we congratulate you on your victory in a race that was keenly contested by several excellent good candidates. Given your rich experience in and out of Africa, and the zeal with which you pursued your most recent assignment as Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture, I believe you will succeed in consolidating on Dr. Kaberuka’s accomplishments, particularly in the areas of infrastructure, the environment and gender empowerment. You can count on Nigeria’s continued support in the years ahead.

As we celebrate the achievements of the Bank and inaugurate its new President, let us also pay tribute to the members of staff, Africans and non-Africans alike, whose diligence and commitment to the work of African development is notable.  Thank you all for your service and sacrifice.

The Africa of our Dreams:

Your Excellencies, today Africa stands in the global space with greater confidence and pride with the advance of democratic norms and the potential of economic vibrancy. For instance, today more than seventy percent of Africans own a mobile phone, while Foreign Direct Investment is also on the rise, by at least 6% in the last year. Already, the continent’s average per capita GDP has surpassed 1,000 dollars and infant mortality has been reduced by nearly 40 percent, while life expectancy has increased substantially. So there is immense hope for the future of our people.

However our work is unfinished. We still have a huge number of extremely poor people to lift up from the pangs of poverty. And while Africa is growing, its rate of growth is still far below the estimated 7 percent threshold needed to significantly propel it to the next level, create jobs and reduce poverty.

All across Africa, there are many young people entering the labor market each year with no jobs. Also, while it is said that eighty percent of Africans are today living in peace, it is also true that the remaining twenty percent continue to suffer in areas facing different degrees of armed conflict, disease and poverty; areas known to be fragile.

Your excellencies, the times we are in, call for uncommon creativity, innovation and courage. There must be a re-thinking of some of the time-worn economic ideas and myths that held us bound to only a few options.  In 2008, western economies faced with what Ben Bernanke described as the “deepest financial crisis since the Great Depression” abandoned conventional free-market thinking and embraced State bankrolled stimulus plans to forestall the imminent collapse of their economies. This proved once and for all that the monster called the economy cannot be allowed to prowl the streets with its free-wheeling struts without the leash of a trainer.

So we must ask ourselves some tough questions. Do African economies not require a different paradigm? How can trickle down paradigms work when half our populations are extremely poor?  Do we not need some attention to social investment? Conditional cash transfers to the poorest segments, universal primary healthcare schemes, school feeding programs, these can energise local economies and create important multipliers in the economy.

We therefore need the AfDB to redouble its efforts in addressing the needs of these fragile areas, through institutional support, emergency assistance, and bold pro-poor interventions in health, education and agriculture. African leaders have to take a more critical look to the way socio-economic policy is formulated. The time has come for policy planners to ensure that policy is rooted in the living conditions of the vast majority of the people, not just the privileged few.

Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, the AfDB must in the coming years increase its commitment to supporting good governance, transparency and accountability. It must also stay the course in its financing of infrastructure, in view of the continent’s large infrastructure gap. We urge The Bank to focus on how economic policy can produce economic empowerment for women, and all categories of our people who have become disempowered and whose voices are seldom reflected in the rhetoric of policy.

Attention should also be focused on climate change and to pay particular attention to fragile states, while the Bank should continue to grow its private sector portfolio, particularly for SMEs.

In conclusion Mr. Chairman, we wish to call on the AfDB to grasp the changing economic landscape of the continent, the varying needs of its clients and the multiplicity of financing options available to them. Gone are the days when the AfDB, the World Bank, and IMF were the only game in town.

African countries now have a multiplicity of bilateral, multilateral and commercial financing options available to them, including the new BRICS Bank, the China-led Asian Infrastructure Development Bank and others. The AfDB must therefore arm itself to compete with these new financing players by increasing the speed and efficiency of its operations, its innovativeness, and the depth and complexity of its products.

The Bank has tremendous promise and I believe its better days are ahead of it, and with the full cooperation of all, I am sure Dr. Adesina will make a fine president and has all the mettle required to succeed.

To the new President, Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina, may I on behalf of the President, His Excellency, Muhammadu Buhari, congratulate you and your family, our nation and indeed the African people, whom you have served in one capacity or the other most of your adult life. We expect that you will excel marvelously in this task. May God grant you a wind-aided race.

I thank you very much and God bless Africa.