Scuttling Adesina’s AfDB Presidency: the Hand of Trump and the Voice of Macron?, By Simbo Olorunfemi
The history of the African Development Bank (AfDB) Group, in a way, is the history of post-colonial Africa, weighed down by the overwhelming influence of colonialists, imperialists, intending-colonialists and an African leadership tied to these apron-strings, lacking in vision and political will to pull in the right direction.
Presidents Donald Trump and Emmanuel Macron, on the face of it, are like Esau and Jacob. Beyond their dispositions, they are worlds apart in terms of poise and outlook – one gruffy, the other polished. One tending towards being courteous, the other, not as enamoured with grace, as should come with the office he occupies. But opposites attract, they say. Coming into office just about six months apart, under circumstances that leaned in the direction of a paradigm shift in both countries, they probably thought there was something to that and began a relationship which might have come across as odd and awkward to some, but which actually elicited a lot of interest. At a point, the media tagged it a ‘bromance’ before it sharply deteriorated, like the ‘friendship’ tree they planted, with both men becoming ‘frenemies’, and openly voicing their frustration and disagreements with each other.
It is interesting and ironic that it is in fact the younger one who is the more knowledgeable and experienced player in governance and international relations, having been baked in France’s age-long tradition of immersing future leaders in the waters of preparatory schools. But the older one, as inexperienced and lacking in understanding of the underbelly of the world order governing international relations, is the one with an upside-down view of the world and a dated understanding of the place of his country in it. But beyond the two men and their personal predilections or foreign policy outlooks, France and the U.S. have behind their political leadership, a large enterprise of state machinery and institutional banks built over the decades that shape their international relations. No matter how much threatens to change on account of the leader, not much really gets to change in terms of the structural and fundamental attributes of these countries. For France, Africa has always been a playground. Nothing, of great significance, happens in large parts of Africa, without her hands in it or concurrence. France and America might be on opposite sides on major issues of significance, but where interests coincide, rather than collide, it is not unexpected that they will play along. After all, as Henry Kissinger said, the only permanent thing is the individual interest, as there is no permanent friend or enemy in international relations. It will be unusual for America to play the card it has placed on the table against Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank (AfDB), without the nod or acquiescence of France.
The history of the African Development Bank (AfDB) Group, in a way, is the history of post-colonial Africa, weighed down by the overwhelming influence of colonialists, imperialists, intending-colonialists and an African leadership tied to these apron-strings, lacking in vision and political will to pull in the right direction. In all of these, one recurring factor is the dominance of France through direct interference or management in Francophone Africa; the manipulative, even if subtle run-in in the Anglo/Lusophones parts; and the wily ways she employs in influencing the direction of intra-African organisations, the African Development Bank (AfDB) being no different.
The idea of a regional development bank with the mission to help reduce poverty, improve living conditions for Africans and mobilise resources for the continent’s economic and social development, crystallised following the end of the colonial era and it was mooted alongside the establishment of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), which was founded in 1963. The AfDB came into being, following an agreement signed by 23 member states on August 14, 1963 at a conference convened by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) in Khartoum, Sudan, which then became effective on September 10, 1964. The inaugural meeting of the board of governors of the Bank was held in November 1964 in Nigeria, and the headquarters of the organisation is officially in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. The AfDB comprises three entities: the African Development Bank (ADB), the African Development Fund (ADF) and the Nigeria Trust Fund (NTF).
In 1982, the membership of the Organisation was expanded beyond Africa, to increase its capacity, in a decision that might be coming to haunt it now. It has 54 African member countries (regionals with 60 per cent voting power) and 26 non-African member countries (non-regionals, with a 40 per cent voting power), and Nigeria, with 9.369 per cent of the shares has the largest holding, while United States of America with 6.651 per cent is the non-regional member with the largest shareholding. France has only 3.774 per cent holding, even though its presence and influence looms large over the Organisation, as has come to be with many things African. At the apex of the organisational structure is the board of governors, its highest decision-making body, which elects the president who superintends over the day-to-day running of the bank, alongside with the board of directors.
As with other organisations in which Nigeria played a prominent role in their formation and has substantial holdings in, the country has not quite been able to leverage upon these to attain a level of influence commensurate with its investments and stature, and is often reduced to playing at the second level where it really matters. Since the formation of the organisation, it was not until 2015 that Nigeria was able to produce its president, with the failure to clinch the position in 2005 by the Bisi Ogunjobi candidacy particularly biting. A vice president of the AfDB at the time, at the first ballot, he had 41.74 per cent of the total votes, even though he had 59.46 of the regional (African) votes. To win the AfDB presidency, a candidate has to secure at least 50 per cent of the total votes and 50.01 per cent of the regional votes. Mr. Donald Kabureka of Rwanda had then scored 40.53 per cent of the regional votes and 58.22 per cent of the total votes, leading to a stalemate. In the second ballot held, Kabureka pulled clear with 78.8 per cent of the total votes and 68.2 per cent of the African votes. Ogunjobi’s votes from African member-countries magically shrunk by almost 30 per cent in elections held only two months apart. There was no doubt that the strings were pulled from elsewhere. Such is the level of influence of the non-African powers in the Bank that the first choice of Africa in the initial election lost the chance to lead the body.
Nigeria will have to put on its thinking cap and fast too. This is not about Akinwunmi Adesina, even though some flanks might have been left inadvertently left open, allowing for penetration. But the stakes are much higher for Nigeria, Africa, AfDB and even those on the other side. This is a battle for the soul of the organisation, and by extension, Africa. It is one battle which Nigeria and Africa must win.
The Adesina run for office was not easy as well, coming like a bolt out of the blue, as some of the contenders were already established front-runners before he got into the race. While the Africans members were split between Chad’s Bedoumra Kordjé and Zimbabwe’s Thomas Zondo Sakala, the non-African members appeared to have settled for Cristina Duartee of Cape Verde. But there was intense lobby on behalf of Adesina, with President Obasanjo pressing diplomatic buttons and the then President-elect Muhammadu Buhari having to send former Vice President Atiku Abubakar to South Africa to lobby then President Jacob Zuma. Yet, it was no walk in the park, with the candidate from Zimbabwe having locked down the Southern African 14 per cent votes in a controversial primary election, which would turn out to have no guarantee. It took rounds of voting, with contenders falling out, one after the other, before Adesina finally emerged, but the feathers ruffled would only hold their knives until an opportunity presented itself.
The friction barely eased. For the French, historically uncomfortable with Nigeria’s eminent position and level of influence in Africa, anything that raises Nigeria’s head always give them some headache. As early as July 2016, a report was said to have been issued by the French Treasury, lamenting that “the AfDB’s new president very seldom speaks in French, and uses the language rarely, if at all, when talking about strategic or financial matters”. That disregards the fact that Adesina does not only speak the language, he is quite fluent in it and has made public presentations in it. Indeed, without an understanding of the background to his election and the long-standing Franco-Nigerian ‘rivalry’ in the continent, the long list of allegations against Adesina bordering on ethical misconduct, Nigerianisation and sundry complaints, might be interrogated out of context. It is about Adesina, but it is also not about Adesina. He has not been forgiven for the manner he emerged; that he has been visible on the global stage, winning major prizes, building a towering image, possibly outshining the institution, could not have gone unnoticed, hence the determination to cut him to size.
It is not surprising that a lot of the pushback against Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina comes from the Francophone quarters. The French influence in AfDB has been as dominant as Nigeria’s looming lack of presence. An analysis of the staff strength pf the bank across member-countries would give one an idea of the restiveness on the part of the Francophone community, given the hold they have had for a long time. On the professional staff, immediately below the executive organ of AfDB, while Nigeria, with a 9.369 per cent subscription had a 4.1 per cent representation as at 2015 and 5.2 per cent as at 2017, France, with 4.1 per cent shares had 5.2 per cent as at 2015 and 5.7 per cent as at 2017. Five Francophone countries – Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroun, Burkina Faso, Senegal and Mali – together had 22.5 per cent representation in 2015 and 21.5 per cent in 2017, among the professional staff, with only 6.5 per cent subscription. That there has been a bit of disquiet that Nigeria finally shows up is understandable, just as it is with the unease over the regionalisation programme, which has 39 per cent of the staff having to work from regional offices.
Obviously, the issues are varied and complicated. That is to be expected. A former AfDB president has described the job of the president as “complex and merciless”. Yet, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina is said to have done creditably well. He has succeeded in raising the Bank’s capital from $93 billion to $208 billion, the highest in its history, while also raising its donor funds, securing investment interests for the bank and pursuing other programmes to improve the quality of life in Africa. But it would appear that it is for these reasons that he stepped on toes, including those of the World Bank president, David Malpass, who panned AfDB’s lending policy, to which the AfDB retorted by pointing the mirror back at it.
It would seem that it is politics that is again at work, determined to erode the gains that have been made and abort the journey mid-way. Those on the other side of Adesina do not care much about policy or the gains that Africa might be making. Their position is fundamentally different and they are out for a pound of flesh, for reasons that might just be personal between two men. Even though Steven Dowd, the American representative on the board of the Bank, said to be at the centre of the crisis, appears to be on his way out of the AfDB, having been nominated as the U.S. executive director of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, with his confirmation by the legislative arm pending, there appears to be no letting off. It appears that they are not ready to let go. Dowd is not happy and he has a good ally in David Malpass, World Bank president and a staunch Trump loyalist. Malpass is said to be the one who nominated Steven Dowd, a businessman and his good friend (the best man at each other’s wedding), and they are determined that neither Adesina’s record of performance nor the decision by the Ethics Committee in his favour will stop them from achieving their objective – ensuring that the man does not return to office. David Malpass definitely will have no issues getting through to President Trump, with whom he agrees on a number of issues. Malpass was put forward as World Bank president for these reasons. He is highly critical of China and opposed to the current international economic order. Announcing Malpass’ nomination, President Trump said, “My administration has made it a top priority to make sure U.S. taxpayers’ dollars are spent effectively and wisely.” Making that the issue at AfDB is all that Trump needs to double-down on to push the anti-Adesina position.
International relations is no tea-party. It is a slippery arena where you must be many steps ahead of the game. That there was an endorsement by the ECOWAS and African Union (AU) leaders on the Adesina candidacy is a good one. But it does not take much for the ball to roll away. The circumstances under which Adesina emerged as president, against the run of play, beating well-established candidates with strong backers, offers proof of that.
There are other dimensions to the issue. One is the unwritten rule against Nigeria and South Africa serving as president of the bank, not to further put them at advantage, with the substantial subscription base and voting powers of both countries. There are other issues that are not directly related, apart from the abiding French interest, which itself is complicated. The French representative at AfDB is the 36 year old Vanessa Moungar, daughter of a former prime minister of Chad. Who knows where she stands on this? Chad is known to have been publicly critical of the Adesina presidency.
Whatever it is, a Franco-American play cannot be ruled out. This is the time to act if the situation must be saved. I have read the letters by Nigeria’s Finance minister, Zainab Ahmed, a member of the board of governors of AfDB, and that by President Olusegun Obasanjo. Good as those are, the issue sure goes beyond writing letters, as they would know. It calls for serious diplomatic legwork. The ‘I stand with Adesina’ campaign, good as it is, can only cater to the domestic audience. Not sure to what effect these and the string of articles in newspapers in Nigeria are meant to achieve. I am not convinced that playing this matter up in the international media will serve us well, as we are dealing with a man who thrives on that and will gladly jump on this matter to make a point.
Trump likes to have his way and loves a fight. He will back his loyalists all the way, as long as he doesn’t have anything to lose. He does not have any, in this case. Rather, this plays exactly to his hands, falling in line with his playbook. It offers another opportunity to posture as fighting against another corrupt multilateral institution, not serving American interest and not willing to accord her the respect she deserves, in spite of her ‘enormous’ contributions. He abhors multilateralism, embracing unilateralism, with his much-trumped American exceptionalism serving his politics. Trump does not play by the rules too. The recent experience with the World Health Organisation is a pointer to how low and far he can go. Who knows, we might soon be having threats of pulling funding or holding back on subscription for the bank, even though China, with only 1.2 per cent shareholding would be watching and waiting in the wings.
Nigeria will have to put on its thinking cap and fast too. This is not about Akinwunmi Adesina, even though some flanks might have been left inadvertently left open, allowing for penetration. But the stakes are much higher for Nigeria, Africa, AfDB and even those on the other side. This is a battle for the soul of the organisation, and by extension, Africa. It is one battle which Nigeria and Africa must win. If we lose now, we just might have lost tomorrow. Good enough, Adesina is the sole candidate, but the game plan of the opposition is not built around that. The plan is to get him out of the way, to put him in a position where he will be ineligible to stand for the election. We must build up a coalition around the possibles and probables. It is a game of numbers. We must plan with that. We must tap on South Africa again. We have to work on Ghana and Angola and even look in the direction of Egypt, while making a stronger alliance within the Anglophone bloc, while looking for any opening to weaken the hold over the Francophone, especially within the Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS) region. We have to build around Germany, Japan, Canada and China and tap on United Kingdom as a counterbalance against a possible alignment between the frenemies who control about a quarter of the voting power among the non-regionals and can easily prevail on the ever-cohesive Francophone bloc on the direction to go. We have to quickly move before it is framed as a pitch between the future of one man and that of an organisation
International relations is no tea-party. It is a slippery arena where you must be many steps ahead of the game. That there was an endorsement by the ECOWAS and African Union (AU) leaders on the Adesina candidacy is a good one. But it does not take much for the ball to roll away. The circumstances under which Adesina emerged as president, against the run of play, beating well-established candidates with strong backers, offers proof of that. It was a win that is now threatening to bite back, but a win we can learn from on what is possible. We must move now, if we have not already done so. We must do what we can to rescue the situation so that we do not lose tomorrow before it comes. Africa has too much at stake to lose now. It is about the past. It is about the future.