Akinwunmi Adesina: A residency of intellect, vision and pragmatism

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Factual Pursuit of Truth for Progress

By Chris Paul Otaigbe

He came into the national limelight as Minister of Agriculture under the administration of Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.

His ability to convince Nigerians and draw their attention to a Ministry that was virtually nonexistent in the administration of many Nigerian governments made him the darling of the people and of course farmers, who had been forgotten in the scheme of governance except to be used as props of economic concern by previous governments.

One of the hallmarks of his notable achievements in that government was when he got the Jonathan government to share cassava bread during one of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meetings.

He was in his fifties at the time and his eloquence coupled with the visionary energy he brought to his job gave the hitherto lackluster Ministry some life and light that won him the hearts of the youths and forgotten farmers. He was truly the leading light of that government.

Unfortunately for him, his visionary fire was not sufficient to burn down the camp of the enemies of that sector of the economy as the politicians, in their characteristic style frustrated his good efforts and almost diminished his achievements in that sector.

However, before his light could be extinguished by some of the evil men in Nigerian politics, he was elected President of the African Development Bank from where the full force of his visionary strength is now being felt by the entire world and Africa in particular.

‘Biased risk… perceived risk against lending to a small scale business person…’

was Akinwunmi Adesina’s response to the first question posed to him during the question and answer session at the just concluded Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) summit held in Lagos at which he featured alongside Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, the vice president of Nigeria, two weeks before his 60th birthday.

The question had been sent in via the social media during the livestreamed event by a young entrepreneur who lamented the 29% interest rates charged by banks who even accept to lend money to the youths. Akinwunmi did not mince words in his response when he said there is no business you can do and break even at 29% interest rate on the loan you take “even if you are selling drugs…” he said.

The president of the African Development Bank said when you ask the banks why they have to lend at an exorbitant interest rate, they would tell you it is all about risk: political, infrastructure, business etc. Being a banker himself, he deconstructed all those excuses as none existent. His passion  and conviction that the asset of the African continent today, is the youth, led him to advocate for the setting up of a youth entrepreneurship development bank and for good reason as captured in his objection to the attitude of the financial sector in Nigeria or Africa to youth aspiring to start off a business. When the youth come asking for a loan, the banks would ask them to pay 15 years of tax return. “From where? How? Or they ask them to go bring collateral. From where? How?” He asked.

According to him, how can banks in the continent say they cannot put their investment at risk for the over 643 million youths in Africa? For him, the youth has nothing but his ideas to bank on and the banks must back them up to ensure shared prosperity for the continent. He said Africa needs a bank that would inspire hope for the youths and for the continent at large.

His idea of a youth entrepreneurship bank is super. He said the youth bank would invest in the ideas of those it qualifies to access the loan and make them pay 15% instead of the 25% tax to government. That 15% is then spread to cover 9% to government coffers, while 6% goes to the capital pool for the youth bank to boost the capital of the bank so it can have the capacity to support others.

To those who say Africa is a risky continent, Akinwunmi said “that lie can be likened to one who cannot swim saying the swimming pool is risky.

If they know how to swim, then the water would not be risky.” He said.

He then went on to buttress his point by saying that Africa has the least rate of default on loans in the world. “So, the point really is this: it is not Africa that is risky but your bias that is. You are simply biased against the movement of capital to the continent.” He said.

What makes it more interesting is that each visionary point he made, he would always connect the Vice President, who has a similar visionary heart for the country. The AFDB boss insisted it is time to build an ecosystem for success around the youths of Africa.

That is the mind of Adesina and that is how it works for the good of the African continent.

Adesina is the true visionary who is fiercely loyal to his roots and who, true to that idea in literal and metaphoric terms, wants it manifested in the eventual prosperity of his country and continent.

Currently, he may jolly well be the most visible Ambassador of the cause of the African prosperity as he has made himself the Chief Marketer of the African cause and course to the rest of the world.

In his keynote address at a UK Parliamentary Symposium. The Africa of the 21st century is very different. The Africa of the 21st century is new and more confident, Akinwunmi said Africa is on the cusp of unmatched economic transformation, and the UK must engage in a “partnership of change.”

He argued that Africa and the UK should be significant trading partners. “The reality, however, is that UK’s trade with Africa is trending downwards. From a $49 billion peak in 2012, trade decreased to $30.6 billion in 2018,” he noted.

The decline in UK trade and investment in Africa is against a backdrop of projected business-to-business and consumer-to-consumer expenditures of $5.6 trillion by 2020, and a food and agriculture market worth $1 trillion by 2030.

Adesina used his engagement at the House of Commons to share Africa’s investment opportunities, “which speak for themselves.” Trading under the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, which represents a market of more than 1.3 billion people and a gross domestic product of $2.5 trillion, and is the world’s largest free trade area since establishment of the World Trade Organization, starts in July.

Speaking earlier in the morning at the UK-Africa Investment Summit Sustainable Infrastructure Forum, the AfDB boss said investing in quality and sustainable infrastructure can spur Africa’s economic transformation.

The Bank has been a forerunner in the race to rapidly close the continent’s infrastructure gap, which Adesina suggested be renamed “Africa’s infrastructure demand opportunity.” Investors who tapped early into information and communications technology infrastructure in Africa have seen those investments become game changers for Africa, he noted.

“Just under two decades ago, Africa had fewer telephones than Manhattan in New York. Today, Africa has over 440 million cell phone subscribers. Returns on digital infrastructure are very high as the continent expands broadband infrastructure to boost connectivity and improve services,” Adesina said.

The African Development Bank has been a major investor in infrastructure development in the electricity, transport, and water sectors across Africa. Cumulative Bank funding for infrastructure on the continent rose by 22% from $66.9 billion in 2016 to $81.6 billion in 2017. During the same period, the value of infrastructure projects with private sector participation has increased from $3.6 billion to $5.2 billion.

To meet Africa’s unmet infrastructure needs, project preparation is critical, the Forum heard.

The Bank has established several project preparation facilities to address the lack of bankable projects and ensure a robust pipeline of projects. These facilities collectively provide $30-50 million annually in support for project preparation.

The African Development Bank and DFID are collaborating to explore how to better support fragile states, which are facing huge financing needs. DFID has been the Bank’s key strategic partner since it joined the Bank group in 1983. And its “strong and consistent” support for the African Development Fund has helped the development of low-income states, especially the fragile states.

Instruments, such as the Private Sector Credit Enhancement Facility, a credit-risk participation vehicle from the African Development Fund, (ADF)’s concessional window to support Non-Sovereign Operations in low-income countries, are showing tremendous results.

With $500 million in credit guarantees, provided through ADF, the Bank has leveraged $2.5 billion of financing into fragile states, with a zero-default rate.

“We are committed to quality infrastructure and ensuring that no one is left behind!” Adesina concluded.

In the speech he delivered on January 30, 2020, at the African Development Bank Headquarters, Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, Akinwunmi said Africa is where the focus of the world is right now as the growth and investment frontier.

“Just last week, I was in London for the UK-Africa Summit. There has been China-Africa Summit, Japan-Africa Summit, India-Africa Summit, Korea-Africa Summit, Russia-Africa Summit, US-Africa Summit and several others.

What do all these countries see? They see opportunities that Africa offers.” He said.

With a population of 1.2 billion people that is expected to rise to 2.5 billion by 2050, a rising middle class, rapid urbanization – and a labor work force that will rise from 705 million today to well over 1 billion in the next 10 years – Africa offers huge market and investment opportunities. The Africa Continental Free Trade Area makes Africa a market worth $3.3 trillion.

Africa can no longer be ignored.

African economies are growing well, higher than the global average. Our African Economic Outlook estimates show that growth is projected to rise from 3.4% in 2019 to 3.9% in 2020 and 4.1% in 2021.

This aggregate growth rate masks highly diversified and resilient growth patterns. Indeed, 20 countries are projected this year to grow at 3-5%, while 20 countries are projected to achieve growth rates of 5% and above. That’s impressive!

Even more impressive is that 6 of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world are now in Africa: Rwanda (8.7%), Cote d’Ivoire (7.4%), Ethiopia (7.4%), Ghana (7.1%), Tanzania (6.8%) and Benin (6.7%).

Some regions are growing faster than others. East Africa is the fastest growing region with growth rate of 5% in 2019, followed by North Africa (4.1%), West Africa (3.7%), Central Africa (3.2%) and Southern Africa (0.7%).

For the first time in more than one decade, growth in Africa is due largely to expansion of investments rather than consumption, as well as from exports.

Just think of the following: Foreign Direct Investment to Africa rose by 11% in 2019, compared to just 4% in Asia, while it declined by -13% globally and by -23% for developed economies.

However, Africa faces important economic headwinds that could affect future growth. Global trade tensions have weakened global trade volumes, whose growth rate declined from 5.7% in 2017 to just 1.1% in 2019.

Another challenge has been the impact of climate change, especially from the extreme weather patterns such as cyclones that devastated Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, as well as widespread drought across southern Africa and East Africa.

The African Development Bank provided $106 million to support Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi in the immediate aftermath of the cyclones, in addition to other emergency support.

African countries cannot continue to reel from one emergency to another emergency. The African Development Bank has used its Africa Disaster Risk Insurance Facility to pay for insurance premiums for countries facing extreme weather events that have helped to provide $36 million in payout to countries. It is time now for the international community to help scale up this facility to reach many more countries.

We must also address issues of insecurity. Growth in West Africa, which improved as Nigeria’s economy recovered from recession, has been dampened by the rising insecurity challenges, especially in the Sahel. Several countries in West Africa, such as Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso and Chad are spending a very high share of their budgets on security.

It is now time for the African Development Bank, IMF and the World Bank to work out a financial support system that will help address these exogenous security shocks, which if left unaddressed, will have broader spillover effects that will lower growth and investment in the region. In this context, I wish to commend the ECOWAS Heads of State and Governments for their bold decision to set up a fund to help address these insecurity issues in the sub-region.

We must tackle rising debt levels. Total debt stock (external and domestic) currently stands at $500 billion. Median Debt to GDP has risen from 38% in 2008 to 54% in 2018. But there is no need for the panic button.

Let me be clear: Africa does not have a systemic debt crisis.

However, we must watch the quality of debt, the mix of debt in terms of concessional and non-concessional, the potential negative effects of rising domestic debt in crowding out private sector access to finance, the increasing level of non-Paris Club bilateral debt, and rising volumes of Euro bonds.

While there is no cause for alarm, greater prudence is needed. We all must now collectively focus on sustainable debt management and greater reliance on domestic resource mobilization to finance rising fiscal deficits.

The bulk of the debt is actually spent on infrastructure, which remains a major challenge for many countries. Governments can improve the cost effectiveness of their expenditures on infrastructure by sharply focusing on quality infrastructure, improved efficiency of public expenditure on infrastructure, while promoting greater participation of private sector in the provision of infrastructure.

Physical infrastructure, while important, is not enough to drive much needed greater growth and productivity of African economies. African countries should accelerate investments as well in the development of human capital.

Youth unemployment must be given top priority. With 12 million graduates entering the labor market each year and only 3 million of them getting jobs, the mountain of youth unemployment is rising annually.

Given the fast pace of changes, driven by the 4th industrial revolution – from artificial intelligence, to robotics, machine learning, quantum computing – Africa must invest more in re-directing and re-skilling its labor force, and especially the youth, to effectively participate.

The youth must be prepared for the jobs of the future – not the jobs of the past.

Especially critical is training in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The Bank is already working on this, with our support to build scientific centers of excellence, such as the African universities of science and technology – all part of the Mandela Institute of Science and Technology. We have invested in the Kigali Institute for Science and Technology that is providing world-class training in ICT at the Masters level in collaboration with the Carnegie Mellon University.

As part of our Jobs for Youth in Africa strategy, the Bank launched the establishment of Coding for Employment Program, designed to develop young digital entrepreneurs. We hope to develop 130 centers of innovation over the next five years to help create 9 million direct and indirect jobs. Our experience so far from ongoing programs in Rwanda, Nigeria, Kenya and Senegal has been impactful. Some 2,000 youth (46% women) were trained in just three months, between March and June 2019.

Without any doubt, there is need to expand financing for education at all levels, primary, secondary and tertiary. The educational system must adequately prepare the youth for the labor market. Priority must be placed on improving access to vocational skills training, reducing the mismatch between training and needs of the labor market, and providing greater incentives for the private sector to support young people with on-the-job training opportunities, as well as entrepreneurship.

At the end of the day, it is not GDP growth that matters. Nobody eats GDP.

Growth must be visible. Growth must be equitable. Growth must be felt in the lives of people. That is why the African Development Bank places particular emphasis on one of our High 5s: Improving the Quality of Life of the People of Africa.

We are a “People-focused Bank”. People are our core business; and their quality of life is our greatest return. It is the people of Africa who motivate us to keep doing what we do best: making prosperity a reality for all.”

Such engaging rhetoric is the strength of Akinwumi’s heart for the continent fate has entrusted in his care to fulfil the passion that drives his desire to see his people tap into the possibilities that could make them one of the superior nations in the comity of sovereign entities.

He sees it and feels it and desperately desires his fellow Africans see and feel how easy it is for the continent to take its place as the new frontier in the global economic space just by doing, albeit, in the language of today, what her forebears had always done to make them the strongest of human species that ever lived.

It was in recognition of this, President Muhammadu Buhari, former President Goodluck Jonathan and Governors showered encomium on him as he marked his 60th birthday.

Buhari said the AfDB President demonstrates uncommon leadership qualities of modesty and foresight in tackling the challenges of hunger and poverty in Africa.

AfDB, under his leadership, exudes unusual positive energy in devising policies, deploying resources and rallying leaders to improve the continent’s human development index.

Former President Jonathan, and his former boss, described him as an African patriot who, by dint of hard work and service, had brought glory and honor to Nigeria and Africa.

Gov. Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State said his impact on the continent was commendable just as his leadership at the AfDB has been largely characterized by an outstanding vision in tackling issues of hunger and poverty in Africa.

“His programs and policies have impacted well over 181 million people directly on the continent in the past four years.” Okowa said.

Gov. Dapo Abiodun of Ogun State described him as a visionary leader. “Your enviable records and footprints span academic excellence, uncommon vision and a passion that inspires, motivates and unleashes potentials.” Abiodun stated.

His strength, skill and passion have always been agriculture and he has never made any bones about spreading the gospel of the largest employer of labor. It is no wonder because he was born to a Nigerian farmer in IbadanOyo State.

He attended a village school and graduated with a Bachelors in Agricultural Economics with First Class Honors from the University of Ife, Nigeria in 1981 where he was the first student to be awarded this distinction by the university.

He pursued his studies at Purdue University in Indiana, briefly returning to Nigeria in 1984 to get married. He obtained his PhD (Agricultural Economics) in 1988 from Purdue where he won the Outstanding PhD Thesis for his research work.

From 1990 to 1995, Adesina served as a senior economist at West African Rice Development Association (WARDA) in Bouaké, Ivory Coast.

He worked at the Rockefeller Foundation since winning a fellowship from the Foundation as a senior scientist in 1988. From 1999 to 2003 he was the representative of the Foundation for the southern African area. From 2003 until 2008 he was an associate director for food security.

Akinwumi Ayodeji Adesina is the 8th elected President of the African Development Bank Group. He was elected to the position on May 28, 2015 by the Bank’s Board of Governors at its Annual Meetings in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.

He took office at the Bank’s headquarters in Abidjan on September 1, 2015 for an initial five-year term, which ends this year. He was recently nominated for another five-year term which will see him remaining on the job till 2025.

Dr. Adesina is a distinguished development economist and agricultural development expert with over two decades of international experience.

He is the first Nigerian to serve as President of the Bank Group. Dr. Adesina served as Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development from 2011 to 2015, during which time he implemented bold policy reforms in the fertilizer sector and pursued innovative agricultural investment programs to expand opportunities for the private sector.

A bold reformer, as Minister, he turned the agriculture sector of Nigeria around within four years. Under his tenure, Nigeria ended 40 years of corruption in the fertilizer sector by developing and implementing an innovative electronic wallet system, which directly provides farmers with subsidized farm inputs at scale using their mobile phones.

Within the first four years of launch, this electronic wallet system reached 14.5 million farmers, dramatically transforming their lives. A firm believer in private sector led growth, he changed the perception of agriculture in Nigeria from that of subsistence to a viable business undertaking, which successfully attracted $5.6 billion in private sector investment commitments.

He also led financing initiatives to support youth engagement in agriculture as well as small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Ultimately, under his leadership, Nigeria’s food production expanded by 21 million metric tonnes, surpassing the 20 million metric tonnes target set out at the start of his tenure.

Prior to his appointment as the Minister of Agriculture, he was the Vice President (policy and partnerships) of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) where he led several bold policy and innovative finance initiatives that leveraged over $4 billion in bank finance commitments towards Africa’s agriculture sector.

Working with Heads of State and Finance ministers, leaders of the commercial banking industry, and central bank governors across several African countries, Dr. Adesina successfully led one of the largest global efforts to leverage domestic bank finance for the agricultural sector.

A consummate and highly effective builder of strategic partnerships, Dr. Adesina has worked effectively across several sectors of the economy to lift millions of people out of poverty. Before joining AGRA in 2008, he served as Associate Director and Regional Director for the Southern Africa Office at the Rockefeller Foundation, for over a decade.

At the Rockefeller Foundation, he initiated programs to develop markets for African farmers, philanthropy for African business leaders, and improved access to education. He also served on the Technical Board of the Forum for African Women Educationalists. Dr. Adesina was Principal Economist for the West Africa Rice Development Association (1990- 1995), Senior Economist and Social Science Coordinator for the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (1995-1998) and Assistant Principal Economist of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semiarid Tropics (1988-1990).

A prolific writer, Dr. Adesina has written over 70 scholarly publications on policy, agricultural development, and African development issues. A globally respected economist, he has served as President of the African Association of Agricultural Economists, as well as on the Editorial Board of several academic journals, including the International Journal of Agricultural Economists.

He was awarded the Outstanding Black Agricultural Economist award by the American Association of Agricultural Economists. He was a Distinguished Africanist Scholar at Cornell University, USA. In 2007, Dr. Adesina was awarded the prestigious YARA Prize in Oslo, Norway, for his leadership in pioneering innovative approaches to improve access to agricultural inputs for African farmers.

He received the Distinguished Alumni Award from Purdue University, USA in 2008, the Distinguished Alumni Award in 2009 and the Grand Commander of Great Ife in 2013, both from the Obafemi Awolowo University.

He was awarded the Borlaug CAST Award in 2010 by the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology, USA, for his global leadership on agricultural science and technology. Dr. Adesina was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters by Franklin and Marshall College, USA, for his innovative reforms and global leadership in improving the lives and livelihoods of the poor.

In 2010, Dr. Adesina was appointed by the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, as one of 17 world leaders to galvanize international support for the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.

Dr. Adesina also serves on the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition, launched at the G8 Food and Nutrition Summit 2013 in London. In 2012, he was conferred with Nigeria’s second highest National Honor, the Commander of the Order of Niger, for his outstanding service to his country.

In 2013, Dr. Adesina won the Forbes Africa Person of the Year award for his bold reforms in Nigeria’s agriculture sector, which have empowered more than eight million farmers across Nigeria to embrace agriculture as a business.

He is the first public sector Minister in Africa to win the award. The influential Leadership Newspaper selected him as the 2013 Public Servant of the Year, for his bold policy reforms, transparency, and public accountability.

Dr. Adesina has wide on-the-ground development experience in Africa having worked and lived extensively in 15 African countries, cutting across West, East and Southern Africa.

While in Côte d’Ivoire he supervised 10 Doctoral theses in agricultural and development economics at the University of Abidjan, Centre Ivoirien de Recherches Economiques et Sociales (CIRES).

He is bilingual and speaks fluent French and English. Dr. Adesina is Nigeria’s Governor and Board member of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and is widely consulted by global development institutions, including the World Bank, the African Development Bank, the International Finance Corporation, the World Economic Forum and the Africa Union.

He is celebrated as one of Africa’s leading development entrepreneurs based on his ability to develop and successfully execute bold initiatives that transform the lives of millions of people.

His passion is to unlock wealth for African economies, end poverty, hunger and malnutrition and lift millions of Africa’s poor, especially women and youth, into Africa’s emerging middle class.

Born on the 6th of February, 60 years ago, nine months before Nigeria got her independence, Akinwunmi came into this country at the time, he did, as a child of hope and carrier of the vision that was supposed to define the future of his nation. Today, 60 years later, he stands tall to celebrate the accomplishment of those two aspirations not just for himself but as an illustration of a mission.

A visionary task he has taken on as his life’s work to finally liberate his country and continent from poverty and use the opportunity and power of his position to place his people on the path to permanent prosperity.

In appreciation, an accepting and excited continent honored him with some of the highest citizens awards ever given to the people of the individual countries. In 2012, Nigeria made him Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. In 2015, Senegal appreciated him with the Grand Officier of the National Order of the Lion of Senegal. Two years later, in 2017, Cameroon awarded him to Grand Officier of the Order of Valour of the Cameroon. In the same year, Niger also gave him Grand Officier of the National Order of Merit of Niger. One year, after, in 2018, he got Grand Officier of the Order of Mono of Togo. With liberating heart, he was awarded with the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Star of Africa of Liberia, while just last year, Tunisia honored him with the Grand Officer of the National Order of Merit of Tunisia.

Created on the tenth day of the ninth month four years after his birth, on September 10, with its inaugural meeting held from the fourth day of the eleventh month of that year, in November, Africa Development Bank is currently based in AbidjanCôte d’Ivoire again. It employs approximately 1,865 employees as of 2016, and has 80 members: 54 countries in Africa and 26 American, European, and Asian countries.

Eight Presidents, thereabout, have led the 56-year old organization, none had been so honored as Akinwunmi. Not because they were not as good or competent. Akinwunmi got these appreciations because he came into the building determined to build the lives of every African using all the visionary energy his predecessors left on the seat, he is sitting on combined with the force of his passion and the flame of the vision to light up the continent for a needed peace, progress and prosperity.

Africa saw it, felt it, believed it and thanked him for it.

For Nigeria, his home country, fate took him away to insulate him from the vision-annihilating cynicism and sabotage that has killed and dropped many of her stars from the global firmament of heroes, to a place he would fulfill his purpose to humanity and his fellow Africans particularly.

Nine months from today, Nigeria would be 60, just like Akinwunmi. One of the passionate desires of this true son of his fatherland would be to ensure that Africa’s most populous country finally liberates herself from the unprogressive mindset that has continued to set her back for decades.

He is not leaving it to chance and as he established at the RCCG’s summit he held alongside the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, Akinwunmi is bent on working to make Africa and indeed Nigeria achieve full economic independence before the end of the year. That day when he can boldly say, through his many ongoing efforts, he was able to put on the ground programs that got his country to become a global economic powerhouse using her asset, the youths;  that is the day, he would gladly pop champagnes to celebrate his 60th birthday.

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