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Probe storm threatens to cut short AfDB boss race

Akinwumi Ayodeji Adesina
Dr Akinwumi Ayodeji Adesina, President of the African Development Bank. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA 

The oft-sharply-dressed Akiwumi Ayodeji Adesina was assured of a successful second shot at the African Development Bank (AfDB) presidency until the US government questioned goings-on during his tenure.

‘Akin’ , as he is fondly referred to by his peers, is an ever-smiling 60-year-old technocrat who has been actively involved in a series of development activities that saw AfDB float a Sh300 billion Covid-19 social bond on the London Stock Exchange, which attracted interest worth Sh460 billion.

This was a major show of confidence and last December the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), during its annual meeting bringing together 15 countries, topped it up by saying that Dr Adesina’s sterling performance had enhanced African economies, notably the regional integration agenda championed by AfDB that birthed the African Continental Free Trade Area.

And last February, 55 foreign affairs ministers attending the African Union’s 36th ordinary session in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, unanimously gave unfettered support to Dr Adesina.

The highly decorated technocrat’s mantra has been to unite African markets as the basis for enhancing local value addition for higher incomes.

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“African agriculture cannot get water out of a rock, but its potential will be fully unleashed when value addition is included in local economic activities, thereby enabling farmers to earn more from their daily endeavours,” he was quoted as saying in August 2016.

Dr Adesina, a deeply religious man fluent in English and French, has endeared himself to African presidents and technocrats whose support he needs to keep his position in the multilateral lender. It appears he has one foot though the door already since no one has expressed interest in vying against him for the post.

Dr Adesina’s ascendancy to AfDB’s top post was an easy ride following his chequered five-year stint as Nigeria’s Agriculture minister where he presided over introduction of a digitised fertiliser distribution system among other reforms in Africa’s populous country.

An agricultural economics graduate from the University of Ife and a PhD from Purdue University in Indiana, US, the bowtie loving Dr Adesina has concentrated his energies on implementing projects that uplift livelihoods in partnership with African governments.

But his admirable run could be cut short. AfDB’s second largest shareholder, the US Treasury, this week successfully pushed for his probe over among others accusations that he is sinking African economies into more debt by ‘fast’ disbursement of loans. He is also alleged to have awarded contracts to his relatives.

The accusations that include two contracts AfDB negotiated with a Kenyan firm at an ‘‘inflated’’ cost of Sh210 million, reportedly 20 times higher than the approved sign-off limit for the manager involved now threaten to lock him out of the August elections for the post.

The unnamed staff who blew the whistle were further aggrieved by Dr Adesina’s failure to take disciplinary action against the manager and instead had the manager rewarded “with a bonus compensation paid by the AfDB.”

AfDB’s ethics committee headed by Ms Paula Santos da Costa recommended cessation of all probes against Dr Adesina to the board, saying no evidence on nepotism had been proved against the Nigerian national, but that was shot down by US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

"Considering the scope, seriousness, and detail of these allegations against the sole candidate for bank leadership over the next five years, we believe that further inquiry is necessary to ensure that the AfDB's president has broad support, confidence, and a clear mandate from shareholders," said Mr Mnuchin’s letter to AfDB’s Board chair Niale Kaba.

Mr Mnuchin called on the board to allow an independent probe into the allegations, but Dr Adesina has strongly rebutted the claims, saying he was 100 percent confident none of the probes would find him culpable of any wrongdoing. He termed the allegations as ‘‘nothing more than spurious and unfounded allegations.’’

While his supporters view the probe push as a ploy to deny him a second shot at the presidency, US and French authorities feel Dr Adesina ought to step aside to facilitate an indepth investigations that may be concluded long after the August elections.

In East Africa, Dr Adesina’s leadership has supported cross-border infrastructure projects such as the 118km Kapchorwa (Uganda) to Kitale highway and the Mombasa-Lunga Lunga/Horohoro and Tanga-Pangani-Bagamoyo roads connecting Kenya and Tanzania.

While attending the Climate Action Summit in New York last September, Dr Adesina optimistically hinted at his continued stay at AfDB for another five years, saying he would work towards doubling funding commitments to Sh2.5 trillion starting in 2020 to 2025 to help African countries address the challenges of climate change.

So far, Dr Adesina is easily riding the storm. In an apparent reference to the allegations, Dr Adesina tweeted, “Africa’s light will always shine. We will continue to develop our continent with pride and dignity. We will stay on course and finish the race.”

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