Small Enough to Succeed

IMG_9382May 28, one of these candidates will succeed Donald Kaberuka as African Development Bank president.  Kaberuka’s ten-year run got the African Development Bank (AfDB) up to $3.16 billion in loans and grants per annum to infrastructure projects on the Continent, pretty modest compared to the World Bank’s $15 billion. China puts in about the same $15 billion per annum in investments, which some would consider “real money.”

With Africa’s visible problems, it nevertheless churns on at six per cent growth as a whole, positioning it to move up the world scale in the near future as China’s growth slows.  Africa has the natural resources China doesn’t; if the OECD, World Bank, and U.S. Government really mean it in combating corruption in developing countries, the Dark Continent’s future will turn bright.  Optimism on any topic will appear to be naïve until the day it comes to fruition, then predictors get the last laugh.

The AfDB (unfortunately “BAD” in French) is one of the most agile capital pools going.  April 16, seven of the eight candidates came to present themselves at Washington’s most development-friendly think tank, The Center for Global Development.  CGD’s moderator Rajesh Mirchandani led a lively discussion bringing out the best in each candidate.  See the vid below:

The discussion was not so much a debate as a revelation.  Any of the CGD seven could win an intellectual “beauty contest” – more importantly, all incarnated what one wants most in a banker:  boring predictability.  I mean this in the most positive and admiring way.  Mirchandani reminded the audience that we were present not to “vote” but to listen to the candidates for the job.  The AfDB will be in excellent hands, regardless of the outcome – anybody out there disagree?

The world GNP – estimated by “big data” to be $75.62 trillion, dwarfs all development capital funds, but the latter can be crucial pivots to bring benefits for rich, poor, labor markets, manufacturing and services.  In French it’s called “engrainer” – carrying along with micro pulses, sand in the oyster.  Development matters and can succeed, if the CGD agenda has credibility.  Lots of data and anecdotal evidence back them up.

The themes at the CGD discussion were predictable and consistent:  infrastructure, capacity, private sector, transparency, accountability, natural resource management, renewable, consolidation, innovation, regional integration, results. None of these goals will be easily achieved, all will be key in advancing Africa’s future.  As candidate Duarte said (I paraphrase), “China? Patagonia?  No big difference:  the mercantilists did the same.”  This frankness and pragmatic acknowledgment, shared by all seven candidates present, augur well for the AfDB.

Huge challenges remain:  climate change, corruption reduction, visible and measureable results which would bring in more capital, regional integration on a Continent with ridiculous national borders and self-harming tariffs, natural resource management in a field of past and present plunder.  But Africa and its resources are vast, and even waste has not dented its potential.  Imagine, an African middle class able to purchase things.  And there is China (as we others could be) to provide the demand they can now pay for.

Would I vote for Sidibe, Adesina, Duarte, Kamara, Sakala, Ayed, Bedoumra, Ahmed?  I say, anyone will do.  Mali, Nigeria, Cape Verde, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, Tunisia, Chad, Ethiopia: someone saw to it that small countries were represented with the large, francophone with Anglophone with Lusophone, stilted versus flourishing markets.  All are encouraged in a new collaborative openness.  We may not see “The United State of Africa” anytime soon, but borders notwithstanding, a collaborative spirit seems to emerge on the Continent. Some of the candidates put out glossy brochures, like Kordjé Bedoumbra’s “Mes ambitions pour la BAD,” or Akinwumi Adesina’s “Building on the successes of the African Development Bank and positioning to effectively address emerging challenges” (yawn.)

The point is, there is well-focused passion in all these candidates, and one will take over.  Got extra capital to spare?  Put it into the continent where even the plunderers never managed to stifle its potential.  No extra capital, like most of us?  Look, anyway, to the AfDB’s modest past and future investments.  Something could happen here: all boats could yet rise, though impediments could tighten their grip as well.  The suspense merits some close attention, with optimism the paradigm that can best bring the outcome benefiting all.punditwire

Dan Whitman teaches Foreign Policy at the Washington Semester Program, American University. As Public Diplomacy officer in USIA and the Department of State for more than 25 years, he drafted and edited speeches for U.S. ambassadors in Denmark, Spain, South Africa, Cameroon, Haiti, and Guinea-Conakry. A senior Foreign Service Officer, he retired in 2009 from the Bureau of African Affairs, U.S. Department of State.

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