AfDB’s Akinwumi Adesina: The fresh face of investment in Africa

The man behind it is on a mission with his two passions – encouraging the world to invest in Africa and getting his fellow Africans to grow food.

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The fresh face of the case for investing in Africa beamed out to millions across the continent at the launch of the first ever Africa Investment Forum. The man behind it is on a mission with his two passions – encouraging the world to invest in Africa and getting his fellow Africans to grow food.

Akinwumi Adesina is like a breath of fresh air in the often stifling world of African leadership. He is smart, charismatic, speaks in quotable sound bites and loaded with international and government experience. He can hold a room, with style and a smile, sporting a trademark bow tie and quip for all occasions.

“I wear it because it is sexy and cool to be in the agriculture business. You mustn’t forget that by 2030 65% of the world’s arable land will be in Africa,” says Adesina at the launch of the AIF, which will be held in Johannesburg between November 7 and 9.

Adesina has been first in the field for years. He earned a PhD in agricultural economics in the United States, but cut his teeth across Africa. By his own admission, he was happiest when treading the red African soil in gumboots.

As Nigerian agriculture minister he pioneered a large scale plan to get tens of thousands of his countrymen to grow their own food. One of the unintended consequences of the flow of petro dollars into Lagos in the 1970s was that Nigerians abandoned the fields and imported their food. This effort helped make Adesina Forbes Africa Person of the Year in 2013; his ascension to head of the African Development Bank followed in 2015.

Adesina is also rare among African leaders in that he appears to look forward, with a global view, rather than raking over the past. I have never heard Adesina talk of the sins of the former colonial masters, nor errant past governments.

“When I watch on TV Africans clinging to rickety boats trying to get to Europe that is not the Africa I want to see,” says Adesina.

“I want a new Africa that people want to come to and not move out of.”

Adesina also paints pictures with his public words and salts them with a little memorable humour. He relayed the story of President Paul Kagame out jogging one morning in Kigali. A young woman ran across to the president, only to be challenged by security; Kagame relented and it turned out the young woman merely wanted to say thanks for a grant from his government to go to Kigali Institute of Technology after which she opened a business that she had recently sold for $10 million.

“I know your president [Cyril Ramaphosa] here jogs too. He is a businessman too and maybe can help young people get on in business too,” says Adesina to laughter wearing a smile as bright as a Kigali sunrise.

“What we need to build in Africa is a landing strip for foreign investors.”

Foreign investors hope for happy landings in the era of Adesina.