Interview with Mr. Akinwumi Ayodeji ADESINA, President of the African Development Bank

  • May 11, 2017

Afdb: Investing big in the “”High FS””. Consider this – between 2012-14, about four million Africans benefited from new or improved access to water and sanitation, 11 million Africans were provided with new electricity connections, about ten million Africans reaped benefits from improvements in agriculture, and about 49 million and 19 million Africans benefited from better health services and improved transportation respectively. These happy statistics are a result of the policies and labour of an institution that now stands at the centre of Africa’s transformation – the African Development Bank Group, which comprises of three component parts: the African Development Bank, the African Development Fund and the Nigeria Trust Fund. The keystone of the Group, however, is the African Development Bank. Headquartered in Abidjan, Cote d’ivoire, the Bank was established in 1964, as a multilateral development finance institution to fight poverty and promote sustainable economic growth and social progress in Africa. In a conversation with The Times of Africa, Mr. Akinwumi Ayodeji ADESINA, the eighth President of the African Development Bank, highlights the significance of the High 5s, his comparative analysis of the financial situation in the 54 nations of the African continent and why agriculture as a business model has the potential to create the next generation of millionaires in Africa.
Sir, what are the ‘High 5s’ of the African Development Bank?
High 5s are the priority sector areas aligned with and building on the 2013-2022 strategy that sets out two primary objectives of promoting inclusive growth and a gradual transition to green growth. The priority sector areas include: Lighting up and powering Africa, Feeding Africa, Industrializing Africa,Integrating Africa and Improving the quality of life for the people of Africa.
You have worked and lived extensively in about 15 African nations, cutting across West, East and Southern Africa. If you were to comparatively analyse the situation of financial inclusion in these nations, which country do you think needs the most assistance?
Everybody needs assistance because here you have a situation – Africa is 54 countries. Hence, you have large countries, you have middle-income countries, and you have low-income countries. Therefore, the kind of support they need varies. For the low-income countries, many of them are quite vulnerable. For some of the middle-income countries, the challenge is how you upgrade them to higher income countries by creating more jobs through industrialisation. In addition, some of the countries that are large which depend on export of oil have been significantly affected by the global commodity price shock. Therefore, as a bank we provide them support to be able to ride through tough times. We also provide financing to help them diversify their economies.
You are one of the 17 world leaders chosen to galvanise international support for fulfilling the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. What has been the progress so far in this regard?
First of all, if you look at the sustainable development goals today, the fastest way which we can reach there is by working in five areas. The first one is power. Today, you have about 645 million Africans which do not have access to electricity. And you cannot develop in the dark. Children cannot go to school and learn in the dark. Businesses cannot function. You have vaccines, which cannot be stored if there is lack of electricity. African industries cannot function because of lack of power. That is why, as the President of the African Development Bank, I decided to invest heavily in providing universal access to power in Africa, not in 30 years or 40 years, but within ten years. Because I think Africans have waited to have access to electricity for way too long. Thus, the African Development Bank is investing about 12 billion dollars in the power sector. In the next five years, this will leverage between 45 and 50 billion dollars. The second area which I think is very critical in attaining the Sustainable Development Goals is agriculture. 70% of the poor live in rural areas, and they depend on agriculture as a source of livelihood. So the more we can make agriculture as a business opportunity, the faster we can grow, and the faster we can get out of poverty. That is why the African Development Bank is going to invest about 24 billion USD on agriculture within a span of ten years. Our focus is to make agriculture as a business opportunity and to have agriculture-value chains to support Africa. Because my own passion is to make sure that we can transform all our rural areas, from what they look like today – zones of economic misery because of lack of real economic activity – to zones of economic prosperity. That requires to make agriculture work. The third crucial area is to create jobs for the young people. By 2050, Africa will have a population of young people of about 840 million people – Africa would be the youngest continent. But today, we have a responsibility. In the sense that 30 million young people will enter the labour market and thus we need to create jobs. Hence, the African Development Bank has launched a program for jobs for Africa’s youth, with the goal to have countries to create 25 million jobs within ten years, a large part of which will come from agriculture and the Information and Communication Technology industry.
But do you think the youth would be interested in agriculture? What are you planning to attract them towards this sector?
You know, when I talk about agriculture, I refer to it as a business. Today, I am the President of the African Development Bank and I come from an agricultural background. I was the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development of Nigeria from 2011 to 2015, prior to becoming the President of the Bank. If you look at food from a commercial perspective in Africa, it is a money-looking business. Presently, Africa spends about 35 billion USD in importing food. And if you do nothing about it by 2025, it would be around 110 billion dollars. Imagine, if you can save that amount of money, then you can do a lot for the economy. So, I believe the future millionaires will come from agriculture business. Look at the Kellogg’s Company. People take Kellogg’s cornflakes as breakfast. And Mr. Will Keith Kellogg became a billionaire by a very simple, but brilliant idea- he took corn, mixed a few ingredients and that’s it. In this regard, we have a program called Enable Youth, where we develop the new generation of young entrepreneurial agri-business people for Africa. So far we have put in about 700 million dollars since the launch of the program, in projects supporting the new generation of young people, with agriculture as a business. Therefore, I am absolutely confident that though some of them are lawyers, some of them are engineers, some of them are architects, the youth of Africa would definitely develop interest in agriculture. Because it’s not the agriculture you and I know, it’s not agriculture as a way of life in a village, it’s agriculture as a business. Nobody can drink oil or eat money everybody eats food.

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