WITH elections concluded in Nigeria, we now turn our attention to the upcoming election for the next President of the African Development Bank Group, Africa’s premier development finance institution. On May 28th, leaders from across Africa and beyond will gather in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire to decide who will be next to lead this important organization.
One of the top contenders in this race is Nigeria’s own Akinwumi Adesina, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development.
Notwithstanding his decades of work experience in over 15 countries across Africa, Dr. Adesina is best known here at home for the dramatic transformation of our agriculture sector. In a few short years, he ushered in a vibrant and prosperous agricultural industry that is well on track to revitalize Nigeria’s economy.
Dr. Adesina worked tirelessly to change the perception of agriculture in Nigeria from that of subsistence to one that promotes wealth through “Agriculture as a Business” – an approach that successfully attracted $5.6 billion in private sector investment commitments to the sector. His programs promoted a value-chain approach that has improved the linkages in the sector and opened it up to vibrant economic activity.
Through bold policy reforms, Dr. Adesina ended decades of corruption in the fertilizer sector by improving transparency in the supply and distribution of fertilizers and other agricultural inputs. This was achieved through his nationwide implementation of an innovative electronic wallet system, which directly provides farmers with subsidized farm inputs using their mobile phones. Within the first four years of its launch, this electronic wallet system reached 14.5 million farmers, empowering them and transforming their livelihoods. Specifically, this system supported female farmers, most of whom had been previously marginalized, often facing more difficulties accessing agricultural inputs than their male counterparts. His efforts earned praise from the Nigerian Women Farmers Association, which noted that no other Minister had worked as hard to improve the lives of women farmers.
Dr. Adesina’s fertilizer distribution program was the first to achieve such positive results at scale in Africa – and indeed the world – and countries like China, Brazil, India, and several African countries like Kenya, Uganda and Cote d’Ivoire have said that they plan to develop similar programs.
And yet, his work in Nigeria is merely the tip of the iceberg. Prior to joining the Federal Government, Dr. Adesina lived and worked in 15 African countries, including 10 years in Francophone countries. He was Vice President of Policy and Partnerships at the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) where he led several innovative policy and finance initiatives that leveraged over $4 billion in bank finance commitments towards Africa’s agriculture sector. Working with Heads of State and Finance ministers, leaders of the commercial banking industry, and central bank governors across Africa, Dr. Adesina successfully led one of the largest global efforts to leverage domestic bank finance for the agricultural sector, and in doing so, contributed to lifting millions of people out of poverty.
His work has not gone unnoticed.
In 2012, he was conferred with Nigeria’s second highest National Honor, the Commander of the Order of Niger, for his outstanding service to his country.
In 2013, Dr. Adesina won the Forbes Africa Person of the Year award for his bold reforms in Nigeria’s agriculture sector. He is the first public sector Minister in Africa to win the award.
Leadership newspaper selected him as the 2013 Public Servant of the Year, for his bold policy reforms, transparency, and public accountability.
In 2014, he was selected as Anti-corruption Man of the Year and Most Transparent and Accountable Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria by the Foundation for Transparency and Accountability. He was also selected as the Most Outstanding Minister in Nigeria by the British-Nigerian Chamber of Commerce.
Should he emerge as the next President of the African Development Bank Group, he plans to continue on his drive to use his invaluable skills and vast experiences to make a positive difference in the lives of all Africans. As Dr. Adesina explained to The Guardian in a recent interview, “Despite tremendous economic and political gains in recent years, our continent is facing widening economic and social inequalities that have resulted from non-inclusive growth. Africa’s poverty rates are still the highest in the world. Our economic success needs to be shared – with prosperity for all – creating a more equal, stable, and peaceful continent.”
Dr. Adesina has laid out his five strategic priorities for the continent: integrated infrastructure, private sector growth, creating jobs for youths and women, reviving the rural economy, and regional integration for shared prosperity.
According to his vision statement, his approach would feature specific interventions under those priorities. Let’s examine his plan, which he shared with The Guardian.
He will focus on minimizing the global widening of the infrastructure gap through “smart infrastructure” development.
He will guide the Bank to funnel funds to priority areas, engaging domestic, regional and international partners. He plans to manage infrastructure development so that all of the money and investment for infrastructure is no longer going to only the three or five largest countries, while neglecting fragile and small states.
He will prioritize infrastructure projects that help deliver “power-for-all” – universal access to electricity to drive rapid economic and social development. He will place emphasis on renewable energy – solar, hydropower, geothermal, wind – and supporting a combination of large, transformative regional power projects and smaller projects that can be executed more quickly and deliver immediate impact for local communities.
Dr. Adesina plans to build the financial intermediaries needed to deliver affordable financing to African companies, especially small- and mid-sized companies (SMEs).
He will establish business development advisory services to position SMEs to secure venture capital and private equity funds.
He will also mobilize domestic resources – pension, sovereign wealth, and diaspora funds – toward the continent’s development goals. After all, Africa has $158 billion in sovereign wealth funds alone. He will prioritize blended financing to reduce risk exposure to the private sector.
Dr. Adesina has stated his intention to work with governments to lower the cost of doing business across Africa, enabling the private sector will increase the opportunities in the job market.
Dr. Adesina stressed to The Guardian that his strategy for economic growth will be crucial for the security and peace of the region, “Africa has exceedingly high levels of unemployment – which leads to social, political, and economic fragility. Fragility is on the rise, with 53% of Africa’s nations considered fragile states. Fragility, joblessness, and economic and political exclusion breed terrorism. We need to tackle the fundamentals of fragility.”
He plans to implement programs that address unemployment among youth and women in particular – providing access to education, technology, jobs, and financing.
Dr. Adesina has time and again emphasized the need to change the way we see agriculture – to see it as not merely about development, but as an economic driver. He plans to provide innovative financing instruments and direct private equity funds toward agribusiness investment. By reviving rural economies and empowering them with tools to connect their goods to viable markets, he will essentially be replicating what he’s done so successfully here in Nigeria – building opportunities for growth and lifting people out of poverty through agricultural revival.
And to shield resource-rich economies from over-exposure to volatilities in global markets (as we saw recently with falling oil prices), his focus on unlocking agriculture’s potential will go a long way toward diversification and building “soil wealth” rather than relying on oil and mineral wealth.
As we all know, some countries on our continent are better off than others. To reduce inequalities in economic prosperity among countries in Africa, Dr. Adesina plans to integrate our region. He has outlined his plans to connect landlocked countries to coastal ports through investment in transnational infrastructure, especially highways, trans-boundary water basins, and railway, maritime, and air transport systems. He plans to deliver integrated infrastructure and eliminate barriers – expanding the size of the regional markets and reducing the cost of movement of goods, services and people, creating a more open Africa.
Dr. Adesina told The Guardian that his plan has been designed to tackle the critical challenges in Africa head-on. “Among the other obstacles to true economic progress, we are also facing rapid urbanization that will determine the resilience of the growth process,” he said. “And we are on the receiving end of climate change. Although Africa has done little to contribute to the damage, we are suffering heavily from the effects of it. We are paying a disproportionate price for climate change. This must be addressed in our development strategies.”
Dr. Adesina continued, “While we should celebrate our achievements, we also must renew our commitment to addressing these very real challenges together – with both regional and non-regional members of the African Development Bank. As we do so, the Bank will grow into its role as the premier finance institution on the continent.”
Clearly, to make progress, the next President of the Bank must not only understand the merits of a policy or strategy, but how to translate it into action on the ground – which requires engaging all African and international partners, and joining together the financial and development worlds to bring about results. This is something that Dr. Adesina has done effectively in many sectors, contexts, and countries across the continent.
Dr. Adesina’s candidacy hit the ground running from the moment he announced and has not slowed since. He has backing from both President Goodluck Jonathan and President-elect Muhammadu Buhari, in addition to very broad support across Africa, from West, East, Central, Southern and Northern Africa – including strong support from major francophone countries. Dr. Adesina has visited several countries and met with Presidents and Governors of the Bank. Meanwhile, his passion, vision and ability to build effective partnerships are getting rave reviews in global and African media.
In addition, his candidacy is receiving strong boosts from key non-regional member countries, with support from prominent global leaders, including Kofi Annan, the former UN Secretary General, who described Dr. Adesina as, “a dynamic and inspirational leader who can lead the process of transformation with commitment and determination. He is able to reach out across organizational boundaries to connect people and institutions, including those in the private sector, which are needed to help develop and implement the Bank’s strategy and goals for the years ahead.” This is not surprising for a man globally respected in the development community, with a record that encouraged current UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon in 2010 to name Dr. Adesina among the 17 global leaders helping to drive the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, a group that also includes Bill Gates, Prime Minister Jose Zapatero of Spain, and President Paul Kagame of Rwanda.
In all, Dr. Adesina has an ambitious plan that both addresses our continent’s challenges and embraces its opportunities. And he looks poised to win the African Development Bank race and put his plan into action.
. Toomey, Director, The Portrait Building writes from Washington, DC

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