Africa: Wanted

While all our attention is focussed on the forthcoming Nigerian presidential elections, events of global proportions are shaping up elsewhere in the world. Since time will not wait for anyone, and considering that we all have to live with the consequences of those other events whether we pay attention or not, the wise thing to do is take both the local and the foreign in our strides.

In a little over one week — all things being equal — the world will know who among the contending candidates is the next Nigerian President. Apocalyptic naysaying futurologists will turn their attention to the next set of elections. But as always, elections will come and go; the swindled voters and their problems will always be here to provide material for researchers interested in finding out why a bird born in a cage thinks flying is a disease.

Please join me in looking far afield at one global development that could affect our fortunes for good or for ill. Last week, like a bolt out of the blue, the man who has been the President of the World Bank since 2019, Mr David Malpass, announced his intention to step down on 30 June, one year before the end of his term.

The World Bank’s membership comprises187 nations with the United States of America as the largest shareholder. It lends money to developing countries to facilitate development (hopefully) and help reduce poverty. The United States has always enjoyed the privilege of appointing the bank’s president from among its citizens.

“It has been an enormous honour and privilege to serve as President of the world’s premier development institution,” said Malpass in a statement announcing his decision to quit. “With developing countries facing unprecedented crises, I’m proud that the Bank Group has responded with speed, scale, innovation, and impact.” Although he scored his performance high, he declared that institutions deserve to have new energy and that this was a good time for the World Bank to do that.

The World Bank under Malpass’ leadership faced a number of challenges, notably the global pandemic and the War in Ukraine. It tackled the problem by implementing record financial surges and focussed attention on policies to drive economic growth, reduce government debt burdens, and help reduce poverty.

However, Malpass’ tenure was dogged by controversies, especially the perception that he was a climate change denier. He had faced criticism from climate activists last year after he refused to confirm during a discussion session whether he accepted the scientific consensus that burning fossil fuels was dangerously warming the planet. Indeed, many opponents called for his resignation at the time.

The World Bank has noted that it more than doubled its climate financing to a record $32 billion last year. The outgoing president recently restated the World Bank’s commitment to reducing debt payments for developing nations so they can instead fund crucial projects like climate adaptation.

“The reason this is important is because the governments and the people of the countries need the money for food, for health, for education, for nutrition and for climate adaptation. These are all pressing needs,” he said.

The perspective of African countries is hardly considered when the big industrialised nations sit at world fora to make unctuous pronouncements. Take the climate change issue, for example. The industrialised world is responsible for most of the pollution while Africa is badly hit by the consequences. The continent’s climate has warmed more than the global average since the 1850s. The sea level rise along African coastlines is faster than the global average, contributing to frequent and severe coastal flooding, erosion and salinity in low-lying cities.

The world’s top 10 polluters who need to take action to reduce their carbon emissions and also offset their despoliation of the planet by supporting environmental projects around the world, are as follows:

China (More than 10,065 million tons of CO2)

United States (5,416 million tons of CO2)

India (2,654 million tons of CO2)

Russia (1,711 million tons of CO2)

Japan (1,162 million tons of CO2)

Germany (759 million tons of CO2)

Iran (720 million tons of CO2)

South Korea (659 million tons of CO2)

Saudi Arabia (621 million tons of CO2)

Indonesia (615 million tons of CO2)

It is becoming increasingly clear to the world that the much desired global prosperity and sustainable development will continue to be a mirage until Africa is brought into the scheme of things at the topmost level. The ridiculous state of affairs in Africa is best exemplified by the flaring of gas by Western oil drilling companies who destroy the environment and then preach to the local population not to use firewood for cooking!

It is now generally agreed that Africa is the new frontier of development. Smart politics on the part of the top industrialised countries demands that they bring the continent to the table through an assimilation of its highly skilled technocrats on the global stage. That will be a win-win situation, especially considering that Africa has been at the receiving end of global greed for centuries.

I advocate that the African Union, for once, quits being a mere passenger in the global train and rises to its responsibility of pursuing a continental agenda. The exit of the World Bank president is a great opportunity to push for an African as replacement for the first time in the history of the bank. Granted that the US is the largest shareholder of the Bank with 16.57% of its capital shares (which accounts for why every World Bank president since inception has been a US citizen), perhaps, to ensure that the US remains the number one influencer in Africa, this is a strategic sacrifice worth making.

To qualify for appointment as President of World Bank, a candidate must have a proven track record of leadership; have experience managing large organisations with international exposure, and a familiarity with the public sector; ability to articulate a clear vision of the Bank’s development mission; a firm commitment to and appreciation for multilateral cooperation; effective and diplomatic communication skills, impartiality, and objectivity.

Africa is spoilt for choices but the primus inter pares in my opinion is the man who currently runs the African Development Bank (AfDB), Dr Akinwumi Adesina.

My reasons are legion, but they can be distilled as follows:

Adesina is a globally well-respected development economist with ability to work very effectively with diverse shareholders and to galvanise pragmatic actions to deliver development impacts at scale. Under his leadership at the African Development Bank its work has impacted on over 335 million people.

The Africa Investment Forum which he pioneered brings together investors from around the world, including institutional investors, and has so far mobilised over $150 billion of investment interest to Africa within three years.

Global leadership on climate change adaptation for developing countries, and a global leader on green growth and renewable energy for developing countries. He helped to launch the $25 billion African Adaptation Acceleration Program, together with the Global Center on Adaptation, the largest climate adaptation program in the world.

Under his leadership the African Development Bank’s general capital increased from $93 billion to $208 billion. The African Development Bank was ranked by the Washington-based Center for Global Development as the Best Multilateral Financial Institution in the world in 2022.

Solid financial and development economics experience. Impeccable academic and professional credentials. Recipient of several global recognitions, including the World Food Prize.

Strong ability to work effectively with the IMF to optimise the global financial architecture to accelerate the achievement of the sustainable development goals.

Proactive leadership on global issues, e.g., COVID $10 billion pandemic response and $1.5 billion emergency food production facility that will help produce food worth $12 billion, in response to Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Excellent ability to work with leaders globally. In January 2023, he led together with the Chairperson of the African Union, the Feed Africa Summit which brought together 34 Heads of State and Government. He mobilised global development partners to contribute $33.5 billion towards implementing the actions from the Summit.

As an African with an eye for the future, the cascading continent-wide effect of simultaneously having Dr Adesina as President of the World Bank Group and Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as Director-General of the World Trade Organisation, will be unprecedented. Two Africans at the top of their game on the world stage.

This is a continental agenda, no less. If African leaders speak as one, President Biden is gracious enough to oblige.

And if, as a bonus, Nigerians vote for a development-minded president in the coming national election, then the country, like the rest of the continent, is assured of a new lease of life.

About time, too!

Wole Olaoye is a Public Relations consultant and veteran journalist.