Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Race for the AfDB Presidency

This article has been published by The Guardian on 22 April 2015 and Newsdiary Online on 14 April 2015

THE election to replace Dr. Donald Kaberuka from Rwanda as the President of the African Development Bank (AfDB) will take place in Abidjan during its yearly meetings next month. Eight candidates are vying for the prestigious position of Africa's premier multi-lateral development bank, which turned 50 in 2014.

Based on depth of professional qualifications and breadth of experiences, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, Nigeria's Minister of Agriculture, is one of the front-runners. He has international development and in-country experience spread across 14 other Anglophone and Francophone countries in West, East and Southern Africa.
Dr. Kamara of Sierra Leone, an economist, should also be a strong contender having served as Governor of Central Bank, Minister of Finance and Economic Planning and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sierra Leone in addition to having worked at the IMF and the Commonwealth. Mr. Sufian Ahmed has a long-standing public sector experience; he has been Ethiopia's Minister for Finance and Economic Development for two decades at a time when his country became one of the darlings of the international donor community.

Mrs. Cristina Duarte has private sector experience at Citibank and serves as Minister for Finance and Planning for Cape Verde. The Tunisian candidate, Mr. Jaloul Ayul is also a Minister of Finance with private sector experience as former Citi banker and Managing Director of a commercial bank in Tunisia. There are three former AfDB's staff members.
Mr. Kodje Bedoumra, an engineer, brings with him experience of managing infrastructure projects at the AfDB, which is now the institution's largest portfolio, and as its former Vice President. He has also served as the Secretary to the Government within Chad's Presidency, as well as Minister for Economic Planning, and Minister for Finance.

Mr. Birama Sidibe, a Malian is now Vice President for Operations at Islamic Development Bank (IsDB). Mr. Thomas Sakala from Zimbabwe is a veteran and former AfDB's Vice President for Country and Regional Programming.
There are three key issues that the AfDB needs to address going forward. First, how many countries will graduate from its soft lending window of African Development Fund (ADF) in five to 10 years' time? The ADF lends to poor and low-income 35 countries - two-thirds of 54 African countries, many of which cannot borrow from the AfDB window. Graduating from the ADF-window implies that a country has raised its per capita income to become a middle-income country and successfully lifted a majority of its people out of poverty.

Second, what will the AfDB do differently that the World Bank cannot do? The World Bank's strength, arguably, lies not only with its financial lending (it provides three times what AfDB provides to some African countries), but also with its ability to drive and shape the development agenda and in-country priorities with its policy and knowledge capital.
Third, why should non-African countries provide additional finance either through the capital markets or donor funding to the AfDB and ADF and not to the World Bank or their own respective bilateral development agencies? In essence, what would be the value-added of a marginal increase in funding to the AfDB? On the other hand, why should African countries trust the AfDB if they feel that they need greater voice at the institution?

 In addressing these fundamental issues, the vision statement of Ethiopia's Suffian Ahmed stands shoulder and head above others, as recently posted on the AfDB's website. His statement is on three core tasks: "First, focus on our financing on what we are best at and what will make the biggest difference in Africa... .Second, bringing world class advisory capacity to the table in support of the countries we work with... .Third, invest in high quality management and operations---with the whole bank focused on effectiveness value for money and minimizing costs."
His statement then addresses four priority areas--infrastructure, agriculture, the private sector, and supporting fragile states. In each area, he has only three short paragraphs covering Africa's challenges, his in-country experience in tackling those challenges, and what he plans to do at the AfDB. The next vision statement that comes close is that of Dr. Kamara of Sierra Leone, especially in terms of packaging and presentation. Surprisingly, the vision statements of the other six candidates read more like mid-term research papers; writing as technical experts is quite different from writing a vision statement as presidential candidates for a continental organization.

More importantly, and beyond professional expertise, experience and vision statement, the election of the AfDB's president is a high-powered political affair reflecting an extension of countries' foreign policy and commercial interest and sub-regional rotation. While Eastern Africa and North Africa produced the two most recent presidents, Central Africa may claim that it is now its turn.
Being the largest shareholder and with a positive image from its successful elections, Nigeria could also note that it is also its own turn, especially with a South African now head of the African Union, which breaks a long-standing unwritten rule that the SANE countries - South Africa, Algeria, Nigeria, and Egypt with a combined GDP of over half of Africa's - should not be the head of continental organizations.

The AfDB's president is elected with a double, but simple majority of both African votes and total votes. In the earlier rounds of voting usually based on country and sub-regional voting shares and linguistic affiliations, the candidates with the least vote, possibly from Eastern and Southern Africa (17% of total vote), West Africa (3.7%) ex-Nigeria, and Francophone blocs (11% of total votes) who may fully support Mali or Chad, will drop out if North Africa with about 19% of total vote support for Tunisia.
During these earlier rounds, Nigeria's Adesina will scale through and possibly to the final rounds given the country's 9.3% total shareholding (16% of Africa's 60% vote). Non-African western countries generally prefer candidates from relatively smaller or low-income African countries with heavy reliance on official development assistance.

France may initially team up with Mali or Chad; Arab/Gulf countries with either Tunisia or Mali given the connection with IsDB; and China with Nigeria. Zimbabwe's candidate may be handicapped by perception of his country's image with the western countries, which may support Cape Verde, Sierra Leone or Ethiopia.
However, if the western countries with about 36% of total votes feel that their preferred candidate may drop out too quickly because of low votes, they will most likely coalesce around that candidate very early in the voting rounds to propel the candidate to the final round.

Dr. Kaberuka of Rwanda, now with less than 0.2% vote, benefitted from this strategy in 2005. Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, or Cape Verde may likely benefit from this networking effect this year.
In this regard, Cristina Duarte is probably one to watch as the undeclared and anointed candidate of the non-African western countries partly for being the only female and a Luso-phone candidate, with both private and public sector experiences from a country with low voting shares (0.09%).

The 2015 election for AfDB's presidency is indeed getting very interesting and the best counsel during the campaign process: Trust, but verify.