The Trial of Akinwumi Adesina

Africa should pull all the strings and keep faith with Adesina. The global bully must be tamed

The endorsement of 15 former African leaders adds considerable political weight to the efforts to save the embattled president of African Development Bank (AfDB), Dr Akinwumi Adesina from what appears a power show engineered from outside the continent. What is at stake is not just the career of one man but the sanctity and integrity of the internal governance mechanisms of Africa’s preeminent financial institution. The obvious anomaly of a minority shareholder seeking to arm-twist an organisation to do its bidding is the real issue that stakeholders must understand.

In contravention of laid down rules and procedures, the AfDB Board of Governors last week ordered another investigation of Adesina, even when the bank’s ethics committee had cleared him of allegations of corruption. According to the board, the review of the charges would be conducted by a “neutral high-caliber individuals” within one month. It is the culmination of weeks of pressure from the United States that has been using its financial and geo-political clout to blackmail the rest of the world to do its bidding.

The world order that placed the US in a global leadership position after the Second World War came with responsibilities. Paramount among these is the need to deploy dialogue and consensus in the resolution of issues. Implicit in that responsibility also is the need to seek solutions to multilateral problems in a manner that respects the views and interests of all nations and regions. The current lack of diplomatic candour in US relations with international organisations derogates America’s power and reduces its influence. The AfDB imbroglio, the Paris Climate Accord jettisoning and withdrawal from the World Health Organisation (WHO) are ready instances of a negative turn in America’s behaviour in the world under President Donald Trump. But it would be tragic if the United States is allowed to destroy the AfDB just for power mongering.

The whole controversy started when some unnamed AfDB employees accused Adesina (whose five-year term ends on August 31 and was due to be re-elected unopposed for another term) of breaching the institution’s code of ethics. These Whistleblowers had submitted a 15-page report with 16-point allegations accusing Adesina of preferential treatment, self-promotion, “impunity and bad governance.” But an internal inquiry by the bank cleared the 60-year-old Nigeria’s former minister of agriculture of wrongdoing, describing the allegations as “spurious and unfounded.” Not satisfied, the United States, the bank’s second largest shareholder after Nigeria, in a letter signed by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, voiced reservations about the clearance and called for a fresh and independent investigation. It was a move vehemently challenged by many African leaders. At the end, the US had its way after securing the backing of some European countries like Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland.

While we await the outcome of the new probe, there is no doubt that the “crisis” within the AfDB is an assault on the leadership of one of the foremost multilateral institutions, and more importantly, the credibility of the bank. Established in 1964 with Nigeria as the highest single shareholder, the AfDB has 54 African countries (with 60% voting power) and 26 non-African countries. But since the financial institution established to fund the development needs of African countries was created, perhaps no president of the bank has impacted more on the continent than Adesina, the first Nigerian to earn the position in its 55-year history. His five-year tenure has been remarkable in solid achievements. Only last October, the bank raised $115 billion in fresh capital in what many saw as a personal success for Adesina. The financial institution remains the only one in Africa with a Triple-A credit rating.

It is clear that some external powers are playing politics with the AfDB essentially to undermine the institution. It is gratifying that President Muhammadu Buhari has reaffirmed his (and Nigeria’s) support for Adesina. We hope other African leaders would not cave in under external pressure to withdraw their support for the AfDB president who remains the sole candidate for re-election in August.

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