By Kingsley Okeke  

In the words of the great American poet and civil rights leader, Maya Angelou, “you may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.” When some members of staff, under the aegis of “concerned staff members” of the African Development Bank, preferred a long list of allegations against the President, Dr Akinwumi Adesina, he refused to shrink or give-in to gratuitous explanations. Even when it was clear that the charges were at best spurious, his response was simple – “the ethics committee should be allowed to do their job, without interference.” 

The Ethics Committee of the Board of Directors of the African Development Bank, charged with investigating charges, has now cleared the President of the AfDB, of all the 16 charges preferred against him. The AfDB Ethics Committee, which is headed by Takuji Yano, transmitted the final report exonerating the President to the AfDB Board of Governors. The report concludes the committee’s investigations and brings some respite to a case that nearly mired the operational success of some of the Bank’s landmark programmes including the Bank’s recently launched $30 billion response to the COVID-19 pandemic for the continent.  

Adesina will undoubtedly be laying aside this distraction and pressing forward in his pursuit of his calling – doing the right things for the Africa of our dreams. In his keynote address during the 8th African Leadership Magazine Persons of the Year ceremonies in Johannesburg earlier this year when he received the African of the Year Award, he noted that, “The greatest mark of a leader is not strength, but kindness. You must feel. It will help if you put yourself in the shoes of those you lead. Day in day out. A kind heart will always lead you to do the right things.”

The Akinwumi Adesina-led African Development Bank’s fiery desire to see the continent transformed is captured in the simple but, thoroughgoing High 5 strategy. According to available data from the African Development Bank, in the past four years, the strategy has helped 18 million people obtain access to electricity. It has helped 140 million people to access agricultural technologies for food security. It has provided finance for 13 million people through private sector investee companies; 101 million people to improved transport services, and 60 million people to improved water and sanitation.

Through the Feed Africa Initiative, the AfDB is helping Africa eliminate the current massive importation of food and transforming economies by targeting agriculture as a significant source of economic diversification and wealth, as well as a powerful engine for job creation. The Feed Africa initiative is implementing 655 carefully considered actions that should result in almost 513 million tons of additional food production and lift nearly 250 million Africans out of poverty by 2025. The AfDB will be investing US$24 billion – in African agriculture over the next ten years, in an effort described by experts as the largest of such intervention in the history of the development finance institution. 

The Economist Intelligence Unit posits that Africa accounted for more than 3% of the global manufacturing output in the 1970s, but this percentage has since halved. While Industrialization has been a campaign promise across the continent, it has only remained on the pages of national development plans for most countries, with little or no concrete action on the ground. However, this is one area the AFDB’s Industrialize Africa strategy is contributing significantly.     

Another compelling reason for industrialization, is the need to responsd to the rapid increase in the continent’s unemployment numbers and the attendant impact on development. The AFDB in 2016 unveiled the Jobs for Youth in Africa – an initiative designed to create 25 million jobs and equipping 50 million youths in the continent. As part of strategies towards leapfrogging the plan, the Bank in 2017 launched the Presidential Youth Advisory Group, to provide insights and innovative solutions to job creation for African Youths. This initiative which is the most crucial continent-wide strategy for job creation, is headed by Ashish Thakkar, an entrepreneur and leading voice for youth engagement in the continent.   

The AfDB’s Jobs for Youth in Africa is, therefore, supporting African countries in scaling up responses to youth unemployment and underemployment crisis on the continent. The strategy focuses on practical, high-impact solutions aimed at creating opportunities through education and training, transformative jobs and a business environment conducive to youth entrepreneurship. 

Furthermore, the Bank has engaged in a series of activities towards supporting sustainable job creation in the continent, including: 

  • mainstreaming job creation in its new operations, by training members of staff on effective ways to integrate job creation in Bank’s programs and strategic planning documents. 
  • The Youth Entrepreneurship and Innovation Multi-Donor Trust Fund, through which a Youth Innovation Lab was established to support youth and women-owned businesses and accelerate the incubation of companies across a variety of sectors, including Information. Communication Technology (ICT), agriculture and industry.
  • In February 2018, the Bank launched the Rockefeller Trust Fund to enhance the ICT and digital skills of youth and women across the continent.
  • The Bank is developing the Enabling Youth Employment scorecard to track the state of youth employment in countries across Africa, identify the barriers youth face in finding quality work, and provide sustainable solutions to unleashing the economic potential of youth. Through evidence-based research, the scorecard will provide decision-makers with policy recommendations to increase employment opportunities for youth.

As Africa’s foremost development finance institution, now is the time to band together to fill the yawning gaps that still exist, as we find innovative solutions to the problems of youth unemployment and industrialization on the continent, especially as the continent navigates uncharted waters arising from the impact of COVID-19. For as the African proverb says, a man whose house is on fire does not go chasing squirrels. The African Development Bank has already demonstrated bold and concise leadership in marshalling out plans designed to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on businesses and people. Africa’s march to the future has long begun, and it is noteworthy that Akinwumi Adesina – a pair of safe, cleared hands shall be leading AFDB’s strategic and important contributions to that future.