The brewing crisis of succession at the African Development Bank (AfDB) calls for serious concern. It has thus deservedly elicited a series of comments across the continent and even beyond. The bank, which is the outcome of Pan-African diplomacy in the earlier years of political independence from colonialism, was structured to be an engine of economic development on the continent, following from an agreement of August 1963 by the founding fathers, which came into effect in September 1964, leading to an inaugural Assembly in November 1964 in Lagos, Nigeria. According to Article 1 of the Agreement establishing the AfDB, its mandate consists of “contributing to the economic development and social progress of its regional members, individually and jointly,” through loans, equity investment and technical assistance. The bank has a shareholding made up of 54 African (regional member) countries and 27 non-African (non-regional) countries. Basically, the AfDB is thus an African bank. Nigeria, a regional member is the overall largest shareholder and the United States of America, the largest shareholder among the non-regional members.
The current crisis of succession in the bank appears to be a battle for the soul of Africa given the increasing influence of China on the continent with the U.S. appearing to use the crisis to re-launch itself on the continent. This appears plausible given that the current U.S. administration is evidently not well disposed to multilateralism in the global financial architecture. This is indeed worrisome given the disruptive role the U.S. has been playing globally in recent times particularly with its withdrawal from the Paris Climate Change agreement, its unhealthy intervention in the World Trade Organisation, which led to the Director-General resigning his position, the current imbroglio at the World Health Organisation and repeal of the North America Free Trade Agreement and withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement in recent times. The suspicion of the motive behind the U.S.’s role in the AfDB saga is being fuelled by its setting up of the Development Finance Corporation in 2019 with a $60 billion capitalisation to, in conjunction with its control of the World Bank re-launch itself on the continent to checkmate the influence of China in Africa. These speculations are fuelled by the U.S. recent antecedents in this regard. Could the instigation of a crisis in the AfDB be the trigger the U.S. needs to set up an alternative financing mechanism for Africa under its firm control? This is a question begging for an answer.
The issues concerning the brewing crisis at the AfDB appear quite straightforward. A group of disgruntled staff within the bank sent in a petition in January 2020 against Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, the president of the bank on various issues in conformity with the bank’s “Whistle blowing and Complaints Handling Policy” of January 2007. This is considered normal in the conduct of corporate governance in any organisation. The disturbing part is that a “Disassociation Note” allegedly sent in by one of the petitioners on March 9, 2020 stated that they were instigated by the U.S. representative on the Board of Directors, to make the petition. This is weighty and quite disturbing. The petition, which raised 16 alleged infringements of bank rules by the President hovered on transparency and favouritism issues.
Gratuitously, the bank, in accordance with its corporate governance procedures has in place an Ethics Committee made up of both regional and non-regional executive directors to address such petitions whenever they arise. Accordingly, Dr. Adesina was notified of the petition to which he responded. The Ethics Committee, in considering the petition and the response, found the petition to be “frivolous, baseless and without merit or evidence.” It thus cleared Adesina of every single allegation. In our opinion, that should lay the matter to rest. However, the rejection of the outcome of this internal investigation, by the U.S. and its call for an independent external investigation appears to be a vote of no confidence in the internal crisis resolution mechanism of the bank and a seeming slap in the face of the bank’s regional members.
It can be recalled that this Code of Corporate Governance practice was duly approved by the bank’s Board of Governors of which the U.S. is a member. Should an internal due process mechanism be discarded simply because a non-regional member is dissatisfied with the outcome of an investigation? If this is allowed to stand, it will send a wrong signal to future mischief makers who may want to destabilise the functioning of the bank by bringing up frivolous petitions, discrediting internal corporate governance procedures and calling for external investigation unnecessarily. It is however gladdening to note that the Chair of the AfDB Board, Niale Kaba, who is the minister of Development in Cote D’Ivoire has affirmed that “no decision has been taken” as to whether an investigation by an external body should be undertaken. The bank is well advised to stick with its internal conflict resolution and corporate governance processes and never allow the process to be hijacked.
Dr. Akinwumi Adesina is reputed to have performed creditably in his first term as President of the African Development Bank. This has not been faulted, even by the United States of America. The seeming bone of contention is that he is largely perceived by the West as being un-apologetically Pan-African and a second term in office could affect some vested interests on the continent. Under Adesina’s Presidency, the bank increased its capitalisation from $93 billion to $208 billion, a move considered unprecedented in its history. By this move, the AfDB can reasonably intervene in economic development projects across the continent comparable to what the Asian Development Bank and the Inter-American Bank are doing in their delivery of credit to Asia and Latin American countries respectively. Under Adesina, the African Investment Forum was formed in 2018, which attracted over $80 billion infrastructure investment interests into Africa, to the dismay of the U.S. which felt that this was a deviation from the core mandate of the bank, contrary to the view of many who see AfDB role on the continent as broad and development-focused.
The core issue here in all this brouhaha is the control of the African Development Bank. Is the U.S. out to control this Pan-African development finance institution or is it out to discredit it, pull out its shareholding and then provide its Development Finance Corporation alternative, which will enable it to fully establish its hold on Africa, in continuation of its global economic muscle-flexing with China, on who calls the shot on the continent? It can be recalled that the U.S. Treasury Department had expressed its unhappiness that Adesina has not publicly criticised China’s growing influence in Africa when he stated more concern should be about “America’s absence.” The interference exhibited by a recent comment by the World Bank President, that the AfDB is quick to give out loans to African countries calls for closer scrutiny. In as much as globalisation and multilateralism should be encouraged, the point should be made that the African Development Bank is still an African Bank and should not be remotely controlled from outside the continent.
It is gladdening that Nigeria, the largest single shareholder of the bank as well as other eminent Africans and leaders have come out to fully express their support for due process in addressing the crisis. The ruling of the Ethics Committee should be sustained. Otherwise, a wrong precedent would be set in handling similar issues that may arise in future. This could further damage the credibility of the bank and deter it from fulfilling the dreams of its founding fathers. This newspaper believes that Adesina deserves a second term in office, having performed creditably in his first term in office, notably as the Ethics Committee has cleared him of any infractions. The re-election governance process should be solely handled by the bank’s Board of Governors according to the rulebook of AfDB.