If one issue should unite African leaders for immediate action today, it is the attempt by America’s Donald Trump to block the reelection of Dr Akinwumi Adesina for a second term as president of the African Development Bank (AfDB). Having served five years with distinction and emerged as the sole candidate for the position, the Trump administration is objecting to Adesina’s contract renewal on allegations of flouting the bank’s internal rules and regulations. He stands accused of nepotism and favouritism in appointments and contracts.

Though the bank’s Ethics Committee has investigated the alleged breaches and exonerated Adesina, the Americans are calling for fresh and deeper probe by an independent investigator. A non-African member with 6.5 percent shares in AfDB, the US falls behind Nigeria, Egypt and Germany as major shareholders. Nonetheless, the Americans insist on having their way, which will not only destabilize the bank but will severely disrupt its agenda to transform Africa’s development.  

Since the assumption of leadership by Adesina five years ago, the AfDB has set itself apart as the most committed and dedicated agency to address the fundamental barriers to Africa’s progress. An unconventional banker, he has aligned the bank’s financing and operation to the AU’s Agenda 2063. Through the “High 5” strategic initiatives of Light Up and Power Africa, Feed Africa, Industrialize Africa, Integrate Africa, and Improve the quality of Life of the People of Africa, the bank is speeding up heavy infrastructure projects as foundation for sustainable development.

Results from the five-themed development strategy have been remarkable; they are changing lives on the continent. A few examples will suffice. In the energy sector AfDB has financed the Kariba North and Ithezi-Thezi Power Hydro Generation in Zambia-Zimbabwe and East Africa’s first high voltage direct current power line to boost the exchange of electricity between countries.

In transportation infrastructure, it is financing the construction of airports, multinational road corridors, giving landlocked countries access to seaports. In Ghana recent projects include Terminal 3 at the Kotoka Airport, the four-tier road interchange at Pokuase and agricultural projects in the north. Also sponsored by the Bank is the ‘African Leaders for Nutrition’, which prioritizes healthy diets and nutrition.

In all this, the AfDB has gained the highest ratings (AAA) from all four global rating agencies. Not surprisingly, investment forums in 2018 and 2019 were oversubscribed. Last year the shareholders’ capital increased from $93 billion to $208 billion. Notably, both capital injection initiatives were opposed by the Americans.

They don’t appreciate the unconventional and speedy way AfDB is pursuing Africa’s development. Also, the US is increasingly concerned about the West losing grounds in Africa to Chinese investments and influence; they believe Adesina to be sympathetic, if not supportive of China’s forays on the continent.

But Adesina is doing the right things at the bank for Africa. The Bretton Woods’ institutions and donors often shy away from supporting heavy infrastructure projects. They seldom get excited about investments in transportation, energy, agribusiness and intra-African trade – projects that will turn the fortunes of Africa around. They rather support the “soft” sectors whose results are often intangible and ephemeral. Thus, despite the billions of dollars in donor grants and loans over the decades, Africa still staggers with the development burden.

African leaders must watch out! With his “America First” slogan, Trump has shown little respect for partners and flouted many conventions and protocols of international engagements. He has bullied and sullied the longstanding Western Alliance and undone agreements that ensure stability and predictability in global politics, including nuclear weapons treaties. On spurious grounds Trump has lately withdrawn the US from membership of the WHO – in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic which requires global action.  

With his infamous “shit-hole” characterization, Trump sidelined Africa earlier in his administration. With no known African policy of his, not to mention any assistance program, his interest in the continent’s progress can be least genuine. We can surmise, therefore, that instructions to his Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, to scuttle Adesina’s reappointment can only serve the self-centered America First agenda, not the advancement of Africa.

Though the AfDB Board has now agreed to setting up an independent inquiry, as demanded by the Americans, African leaders should stand firm on what they believe to be in the continent’s best interest. They should look more at what Africa stands to gain, not what America wants.

Dr. Akiwumi Adesina is certainly no saint. With exuding self-confidence and a tunnel vision to make “Africa Great” with the Five Highs, he probably has stepped on a few toes and rubbed people at the wrong places. The bank’s internal politics and dynamics could also play against him. But that should be no reason to disown him at this time and throw him to the dogs. His laudable initiatives that are already showing results must not be allowed to be killed by those who can least be said to have Africa’s best interest at heart.


Prof Baffour Agyeman-Duah was appointed the CEO of The John A. Kufuor Foundation in 2014 by the founder, John Kufuor, former president of Ghana.

Earlier he worked for the United Nations from 2005 to 2013 first as Senior Governance Advisor in Tanzania and subsequently as Senior Special Advisor to the United Nation Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).

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