By Kingsley Okeke

Like a city set on a hill, the tireless efforts of the African Development Bank (AfDB) under the leadership of Dr Akinwumi Adesina in contributing to building a resilient Africa, cannot be hidden. From the Lowlands of Lesotho to the Rocky Mountains of Rwanda and beyond, AfDB’s projects and beacons of hope on the continent litters every corner.

According to the Bank, the Center for Strategies and International Studies, and leading audit organizations, AfDB has connected 18 million people to electricity through “Light Up and Power Africa”; provided access to improved Agriculture technologies to 141 million people under “Feed Africa”; while 13 million people benefitted from private sector investment projects under “Industrialize Africa”. The Bank has also helped to provide better transport service for 101 million people through “Integrate Africa”. Indeed, Continental rejuvenation has been the focus and AfDB is the vehicle. 

It has therefore become imperative to call for unadulterated global support for the AfDB, as it massively supports African nations to battle the Corona Virus Pandemic, without uncalled for distractions and media skirmishes by some non-African members of the bank’s board. Now, as in the past, Africa needs the support of Europe, Asia, America and all true partners of the continent to beat this pandemic. It makes more than a business sense to do so. Africa’s fragile health infrastructure puts the world at risk, if this pandemic is not defeated in Africa.   

And true to form, this week, the African Development Bank Group again rose to the challenge by announcing the creation of a $10 Billion COVID-19 Response Facility to assist regional member countries in fighting the Pandemic. Earlier this month, the Bank had announced a $2 million grant in emergency assistance for the World Health Organization (WHO) to reinforce its capacity to help African countries contain the COVID-19 Pandemic and mitigate its impacts.

“Africa is also facing enormous fiscal challenges to respond to the coronavirus pandemic effectively. The African Development Bank Group is therefore deploying its full weight of emergency response support to assist Africa at this critical time. We must protect lives,” said Akinwumi Adesina, President of the AfDB in a press release, and commended the board of directors for its unwavering support.

He also added that: “These are extraordinary times, and we must take bold and decisive actions to save and protect millions of lives in Africa. We are in a race to save lives. No country will be left behind.”

Prior to this announcement, the AfDB raised an exceptional $3 billion in a three-year bond to help alleviate the economic and social impact that the COVID-19 Pandemic will have on livelihoods and Africa’s economies. The Fight COVID-19 Social bond, with a three-year maturity, is the largest dollar-denominated Social Bond ever launched in international capital markets to date, and the largest US Dollar benchmark ever issued by the Bank.

Furthermore, as part of its multi-pronged approach towards tackling the Pandemic, the AfDB has announced an online #AfricaVsVirus Challenge, a 72-hours competition billed to hold from the 16 to 19 April 2020. The game, which is a global hackathon – or “ideathon” – is aimed at developing practical solutions to the coronavirus pandemic.

And as sure as Dr Adesina is leading the bank we can bet that more people -friendly palliatives are in the pipeline from the people’s bank, as the human race faces an existential threat from COVID-19. The novelty of this Pandemic makes it challenging to adopt a one-size-fits-all approach.  In Africa, the ravenous pangs of the Pandemic have been felt in over 50 countries – making AfDB’s intervention timeous and salient. These interventions are arguably the largest and most ambitious drive towards mitigating the impact of the Pandemic by any non -state actor. It comes from a place of clear thinking and foresightedness.

Peter Sands, Executive Director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, in his recent article published in The Telegraph titled: Africa faces a COVID-19 catastrophe unless immediate action is taken, puts this succinctly when he wrote: “COVID-19 is like a drama in which each act eclipses the one before. First, it was Wuhan. Then it moved to Europe. Now it’s accelerating in the United States. But the act that could overshadow all is when COVID-19 takes off in Africa.” Continuing, Sands opined that, “Unless extremely fast action is taken, the prospect of an imminent catastrophe in Africa will become real. Current confirmed cases and deaths are still relatively low in Africa, and the continent maybe four to six weeks behind Europe’s outbreak. But the trajectory and impact of COVID-19 could be far worse – much harder to contain and causing far more death and damage to communities.”

 While the battle to tame COVID-19 rages, the needless distraction that is currently brewing at the AfDB – one of the key stakeholders in the frontline of fighting the virus in Africa is totally rejected.

This distraction cobbled together and presented as allegations against the Bank’s President, by a group of “concerned Staff members of AfDB” appear amusing, if not outrightly illogical. The timing of these allegations and other prevailing developments also makes it suspect.

Dr Richard Buckminster Fuller’s plurality of Unity comes to mind when looking at recent development at the Bank. Dr Fuller, a famous US inventor and winner of the Presidential medal of Freedom from President Ronald Regan, maintained that Unity is but a start-point. According to Fuller, “unity” is always the plurality of “sum of parts”. In this wise, nothing can be taken in isolation. Here, we look at a collection of distinct, but, interrelated events to support this position.

In July 2016, Dr Adesina, who was barely one year in office, approved a $1.4 billion loan facility for South Africa state-run power utility company, Eskom, who was battling to keep itself financially afloat.

The loan was followed in quick succession with other facilities to South Africa, the continent’s most industrialized economy and the second-largest, behind Nigeria. The Bank’s intervention was anchored on its High 5 Development Goals and its Country Strategy Paper, CSP-2018-2022 for South Africa. The Bank’s loan of US$100 million to SA Taxi Development Finance Limited, a wholly-owned subsidiary of SA Taxi Finance Holdings Proprietary Limited; US$100 million loan arrangement to Industrial Development Corporation of South Africa, to finance industrial and infrastructure projects in South Africa, among other facilities, flows from its commitment to leapfrog sustainable economic growth and development in the rainbow nation. 

Up North in Egypt, the African Development Bank has a portfolio of over 30 projects with a total commitment of more than US $2.4 billion.       

Data available at the AfDB’s website shows that Egypt secured a €109 million facility in December 2019, for the development of sewage disposal and wastewater treatment plants for rural areas in Luxor Governorate in Egypt’s Upper Nile region. The Board of Directors of the African Development Bank approved the Integrated Rural Sanitation in Upper Egypt – Luxor (IRSUE-Luxor) project to boost sewage coverage. It was aimed at moving coverage from 6 per cent to 55 per cent in the region and improving the quality of life of citizens, including women and children, who are most affected by poor sanitation.

In 2016, Nigeria, the continent’s largest economy, slipped into recession for the first time in more than two decades. With inflation at an 11-year high of 17.1 per cent, unemployment, hunger and poverty loomed large. The country often described as the giant of Africa, was suddenly in dire need of a life-line.

The African Development Bank came through with a life-line of about $1billion, which helped Nigeria come out of recession promptly. The Life-line from the Bank, which came at a time when it was tough to secure budget support loans from anywhere else, helped to create over 45,000 new jobs and stabilize the economy.

Speaking to a broad audience of senior government officials, private sector, and development agencies during the commissioning of the AfDB office complex in Abuja. Nigeria’s Vice-President, Yemi Osinbajo said: “the Bank had faithfully filled its role as a trusted advisor and an honest broker in the region and has earned its place as the voice of Africa on development issues.” Continuing, the Vice President maintained that, “without the support of the AfDB, Nigeria will never have come out of recession.” 

Beyond the support, Dr Adesina went on to make bold statements in support of Nigeria, as well as other countries in the continent. This style has come to define his presidency. On Nigeria, Dr Adesina stated that “the country was too big to fail.” This bold statement and others like, “Africa can feed itself,” “Africa does not need aid,” Africa deserves respect,” “A resurgent Africa,” among others, provided hope and reassurance for a continent that had long believed that she is doomed. The story of a resurgent Africa, no doubt, isn’t as appealing to the western media as, one ravaged by hunger, war, poverty and famine.

In February this year, the President of the World Bank David Malpass, said that “the AfDB lends too quickly, thus aggravating the countries’ debt problems.” Mr Malpass said this during the World Bank/International Monetary Fund (IMF) forum in Washington – jettisoning all known inter-agency channels, often explored to address concerns of this nature.

The statement which made global headlines, specifically noted that the World Bank was not happy with the AfDB’s support to Nigeria and South Africa – the continent’s two largest economies. The world Bank President then called for what, he described as “greater coordination among international financial institutions to coordinate lending and maintain high standards of transparency”.

Reacting to the accusation, the AfDB promptly denounced the allegation, describing it as “misleading and inaccurate.” The AfDB also said the charges: “calls into question the integrity of the African Development Bank, undermines our systems of governance and wrongly insinuates that we operate according to different World Bank standards. The very notion runs counter to the spirit of multilateralism and our collaborative work”.

 In effect, what the World Bank president was saying is that the Bank was not happy with the AfDB’s timely interventions, especially to the two countries (Nigeria and South Africa). In context, these interventions helped to save over 5 million jobs, improved infrastructures, and created new businesses.  One therefore wonders if the world bank president would had rather wished the two major African economies remain in recession?

Shortly after the accusation by the World Bank, some members of staff under the aegis of “concerned staff members of the AfDB”, believed by reliable sources to be working in concert with an Executive Director of one of the non-regional member countries at the AfDB, hurriedly put together a petition – accusing the President of violating the Bank’s code of ethics.

 The  accusations which were first published by the French Tabloid La Monde, listed “various cases of alleged breaches of the Code of Conduct: unethical conduct, private gain, an impediment to efficiency, preferential treatment, adversely affecting confidence in the integrity of the Bank and involvement in political activity.” 

Dr Adesina, in his swift response to the allegations, described them as “spurious and unfounded” and “blatantly false.” In a statement made available by the Bank, the AfDB president stated that the board of directors’ ethics committee was carrying out an internal review that should proceed “without interference from anyone or the media.” Furthermore, he maintained that: “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.”

Sources within the Bank who pleaded anonymity argued that the President’s present ordeal might not be unconnected with his reelection for a second term as the President of the Bank. Dr Adesina, who has received the endorsement of nearly all the 55 Heads of Government of the continent and the African Union, is without a contender as he looks set to lead the Bank for a new term of 5 years. This unprecedented endorsement from leaders of the continent, coupled with his Sterling records at the Bank, appears to have unsettled some stakeholders of the Bank, who are uncomfortable with his dogged commitment to see Africa develop on its own terms. There is also the view that the President is being hounded for his uncompromising stance on Africa’s progress and resurgence.

Lending credence to external and internal interference, a faction of the ‘group of concerned members of staff of AfDB,’ filed a complaint against the Executive Director of a non-regional member state, for allegedly misleading and teleguiding the members of the group against the AfDB boss.

The complaint reads: “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 a group of non-regional Executive Directors was manipulating us…, not for the good governance of the African Development Bank but to discredit the candidacy of the current President for his reelection.”

Continuing the statement added: “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.”

This Executive Director had never hidden his opposition to Dr Adesina’s presidency.

Perhaps, there are stakeholders and non-regional member states, eager to see Dr Adesina’s exit from the Bank, so as to dictate the pace of the continent’s development.

Now more than ever, political, business and diplomatic leaders are encouraged to show solidarity and support the AfDB and its leadership, especially as the continent battles to reduce the impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic that is currently threatening human existence.

African Leaders and the African Union will also do well to rise in unison and equal zest to check the needless distraction at the AfDB. The global priority is to save lives. African lives matter. All stakeholders must band together to defeat the Pandemic, and the African Development Bank is already providing the much-needed funding support to absorb the shocks arising from the outbreak. Now is not the time for needless distractions.