Who will Africa bank on? - CNBC Africa

Who will Africa bank on?

Special Report

by Godfrey Mutizwa 0

The African Development Bank (AfDB) may be about to get its first president from its biggest shareholder – Nigeria.

The African Development Bank (AfDB) may be about to get its first president from its biggest shareholder – Nigeria.

Africa’s largest country, which holds 9.3% of the AfDB, almost double the total of the two next biggest shareholders, has twice failed to capture the presidency of the bank since its inception in 1964. That may be about to change.

Akinwumi Adesina, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development in the outgoing administration of Goodluck Jonathan, is one of three frontrunners to succeed Donald Kaberuka. Cape Verde’s Finance Minister Cristina Duarte, the first woman to contest the presidency and the first from Portuguese-speaking Africa, and Zimbabwe’s Thomas Sakala, with the backing of the Southern African Development Community, are seen as the other strong candidates. The election takes place on May 28 during the bank’s annual meetings in Abidjan, the commercial capital of Côte d’Ivoire.

Kaberuka’s successor takes over Africa’s only triple-A rated institution that has implemented more than 3,000 programs and projects, worth more than $50 billion. Under Kaberuka, a former Rwandan finance minister, the bank focused on infrastructure, proffered technical advice that some attribute to Africa’s resilience after the 2008 global financial crisis, and has started to attract private capital to help build roads, railways and ports.

“Kaberuka has done an excellent job, becoming the leading voice for African development,’’ says Earl Gast, Senior International Adviser at Covington & Burling.  “The ideal next AfDB president will be a global visionary, an inspirational leader, and an outstanding manager of a large, multinational bureaucracy…”

In addition to Adesina, Duarte and Sakala, there are five other candidates: Ethiopian Finance Minister, Sufian Ahmed, who has overseen the economic transformation of Africa’s second most populous nation; former Tunisian Finance Minister, Jaloul Ayed; Chad’s Finance Minister, Kordje Bedoumra; Sierra Leone’s Foreign Minister, Samura Kamara; and Mali’s Vice President of the Islamic Development Bank, Birama Boubacar.

(WATCH VIDEO: Reviewing candidates for AfDB's top job)

With a PhD in agricultural economics, Adesina, who has led Nigeria’s drive to feed its 170 million people, says he will focus on consolidating Kaberuka’s legacy while building a more cohesive institution to drive Africa’s development agenda through regional integration and innovation.

“I will position the bank into a more nimble and effective institution that can effectively anticipate and address emerging and futures challenges for development of Africa,” says Adesina in his presentation to the bank’s board of governors. “I will transform and revive Africa’s dead economic spaces in rural areas through investments in Africa’s rich agricultural resource and agro-industrial developments that turn those resources into value-added commodities.’’

With regional politics, shareholding, qualifications and language coming into play, analysts say the election is one of the most transparent at a global financial institution and the winner will need to build broad alliances to win both the African vote and the non-regional members’ support.

To win, a candidate must capture 50.01% from Africa’s 53 governments and 50.01% from the so-called non-regional members comprising of donor nations, who hold 40% of the bank’s capital. Africans control 60% and the bank president must always be an African.

Aside from their new initiatives, the next leader of the AfDB will take over the implementation of the bank’s 10-year strategy through to 2022 which focuses on the development of agriculture, fragile states, food security and gender.

They will also need to further other initiatives started by Kaberuka, such as tapping private capital into a new source of funds for developing infrastructure and helping smaller countries utilize their natural resources more effectively and ridding the continent of conflict, says Scott Morris, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Center for Global Development.

Whoever it is, the next AfDB President will be judged on the steps they took to grow Africa’s economy and lift people out of poverty.

*This article first appeared in FORBES AFRICA's May 2015 issue. Subscribe today by emailing Lieria Boshoff: [email protected]