Africa should push to achieve universal access to electricity within a decade while accelerating its transformation to a continent exporting finished goods, rather than raw materials, the new head of the African Development Bank said on Friday.
Akinwumi Adesina, who took over as president of the 50-year-old institution earlier this month, has set an ambitious series of goals to guide it through Africa's increasingly complex financial environment.
He said Africa could achieve full access to power by 2025, sooner than the goal of 2030 set by the United States and other major donor countries, while increasing its infrastructure and industrial capacity.
The bank, which was founded in 1964 to provide capital to foster economic development and alleviate poverty in its member states, is financed by both Africa nations and shareholder countries outside the continent.
Adding value to products is a challenge across Africa, which is rich in minerals and agricultural products but exports few finished products.
"Africa can easily have double-digit growth if it solved the power problem," he said in an interview while attending an annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
The 48 countries of Sub-Saharan Africa, with a combined population of 800 million, produce roughly the same amount of power as Spain, a country of just 46 million. This constrains Africa's growth and keeps hundreds of millions in poverty.
The problem has "put the breaks on Africa's industrialization" and fixing it is vital to drive Africa's economic transformation over the coming decades, Adesina said.
Adesina said the bank will increase its investment in the energy sector "significantly" over the next decade, while working with African countries to commit a larger share of tax revenue to the problem.
Adesina, who served as Nigeria's agricultural minister before taking over at the Ivory Coast-based bank, also said industrialization of the agricultural sector is a major priority, along with adding value to the goods it produces.
"Africa needs to end exporting raw materials because Africa cannot continue to be at the bottom of the global value chain. You're exporting jobs," he said.
Banks hold back funding for African agricultural ventures because "they don't understand the sector" and view it as excessively risky.
"The number one problem faced by private sector agriculture is how to have access to long-term financing," he said. "And this is an area where the African development bank can and will make a difference."