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The African Development Bank almost wasn’t. Twenty years ago, the Bank lost its crucial AAA credit rating and its future was very much in doubt. Yet now it is held up as one of the largest sources of infrastructure finance for the region, a multilateral financing institution owned by 53 African and 25 non-regional governments, akin to a regional World Bank. This turnaround was spearheaded by the then-President Omar Kabbaj who worked to tighten the ship and regain the lost AAA credit rating. And it speaks to the crucial role played by the person leading the AfDB.

Listen to this week's CGD Podcast, where Scott Morris discusses his take AfDB candidate short-list.

After Kabbaj’s rescue, the next phase was rebuilding, a task undertaken with vision and enthusiasm by former Rwandan finance minister Donald Kaberuka, who assumed the Presidency in 2005. Looking back, the task ahead was daunting. But the revival has been remarkable. The Bank’s portfolio shifted toward infrastructure and demand for Bank lending grew. Not only were the finances saved, but more importantly the Bank became a leader and voice for the continent. Kaberuka moved the AfDB from the policy and finance fringes to the center of Africa’s economic surge. 

The African Development Bank now faces a new third phase of consolidation as Kaberuka’s tenure ends and a new president is chosen by shareholders at the annual meetings in May. Now the Bank has released the official list of eight candidates proposed by shareholders:

  • Akinwumi A. Adesina - Nigeria, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development
  • Sufian Ahmed - Ethiopia, Minister of Finance and Economic Development
  • Jaloul Ayed - Tunisia, President, MED Confederation; former Minister of Finance
  • Kordjé Bedoumra - Chad, Minister of Finance and Budget
  • Cristina Duarte - Cape Verde, Minister of Finance and Planning
  • Samura M. W. Kamara - Sierra Leone, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation
  • Thomas Z. Sakala - Zimbabwe, former VP Country and Regional Programs, AfDB
  • Birma Boubacar Sidibé - Mali, VP Operations, IsDB

Again showing the Bank’s global leadership, it is holding arguably the most open and competitive selection process of any multilateral development bank. In that spirit, here are five questions I hope shareholders ask the candidates, one of whom  will have to steer the Bank into a new phase:

  • Where would you shift the Bank’s lending portfolio and why?
  • How should the Bank respond to the commodity price downturn?
  • What more would you do to help attract private capital to the continent and sustain recent high growth rates?
  • Does the Bank need additional capital and/or more shareholders? If yes, how would you do that?
  • How can the Bank make progress in the region’s fragile and conflict-affected environments?

Another question we’re really interested in is how the candidates intend to use the platform of the Presidency. Donald Kaberuka has been a major African voice on global issues including global health, food security, taxation—and especially Africa’s needs during the 08-09 crisis. Under his leadership, the AfDB has done a lot more than lend money. So what issues will his successor use the profile of the Presidency to promote?

In another encouraging sign of a truly  competitive process, the field appears wide open. The voting system, whereby the lowest vote-getter is dropped in successive rounds, also allows for unpredictable outcomes. The onus is now on shareholders to ask hard questions and ensure that they select the very best candidate to take Kaberuka’s legacy forward—and hopefully the African Bank to the next level.

Disclaimer

CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD does not take institutional positions.