After a week of talks, Africa awaits action from AfDB

Three men emerged as stars at the just concluded African Development Bank (AfDB) 51st Annual Meetings held in the Zambian capital Lusaka; they’re Edgar Lungu, the Zambian President, Kelvin Doe, a teenage scientist from Sierra Leon and Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, the Bank’s President. Here is why.
AfDB President Dr. Adesina Akinwumi speaks at the opening ceremony of the 51st Annual Meeting of the African Development Bank  in Lusaka. (Courtesy)
AfDB President Dr. Adesina Akinwumi speaks at the opening ceremony of the 51st Annual Meeting of the African Development Bank in Lusaka. (Courtesy)

Three men emerged as stars at the just concluded African Development Bank (AfDB) 51st Annual Meetings held in the Zambian capital Lusaka; they’re Edgar Lungu, the Zambian President, Kelvin Doe, a teenage scientist from Sierra Leon and Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, the Bank’s President. Here is why.

Edgar Lungu, whose personality comes across as too laidback for an African President, is facing a tough election just five months away.

Hosting the AfDB’s Annual Meetings provided a very important platform for Lungu to make Zambians proud before guests; the event was generally well organised and delegates were well facilitated, this credit will be attributed to the efficiency of his government.

The event also created short terms jobs for urban Zambians in Lusaka with thousands of young university students getting hired as guides and ushers while the transport sector cashed in on transporting thousands of delegates to and from their hotels to the conference hall.

These might be small elements in the larger scheme of things but Lungu’s strategists should be able to draw dividends from the successful hosting of the Meetings and rally Zambian voters to renew the President’s term in office, amidst tough economic times.

So far, things are pretty tight for as I left the city Lusaka, Saturday morning, a headline in Zambia’s Saturday Post was reporting about an alleged split in the ruling party, the Patriotic Front. Nonetheless, local analysts think that the incumbent will win.

To Kelvin Doe now, a brainy teenage boy from Sierra Leon who made adults at the Annual Meetings, appear less smart. Kelvin was facilitated to travel from his country to Lusaka, to help AfDB President Adesina, make his point about youth empowerment through innovation.

It worked.

During his speech at the official opening of the Annual Meetings on Tuesday morning, President Adesina had Kevin brought up to the stage where his story was shared before African heads of state including President Paul Kagame, and other high profile dignitaries.

At the age of 12, Kelvin developed, from scratch, his own batteries using acid, soda and metal mixed in a cup at home; his batteries are now powering his village.

He then went on to develop a generator for his village, using metal scraps; it now provides services to his community to charge their mobile phones, and powers his own radio FM station. He became an employer, providing part time jobs for youths, to become broadcasters in his own FM station. 

Delegates follow proceedings at the 51st Annual Meeting of the African Development Bank (AfDB) in Lusaka. (Courtesy)

Kelvin was invited to MIT Innovations lab and lectured students at Harvard and MIT to show off his ingenuity; in the process, he became the youngest person ever to be invited to the visiting practitioners program at MIT, following in the footsteps of his other young mentor, another young Sierra Leonean, David Sengeh, a PhD student who is spearheading cutting-edge bio-engineering innovations for prosthetics at MIT. 

President Adesina said of Kevin, “He is from a fragile state, but Kevin has an agile mind. Fragility cannot thwart creativity. Kevin shows us the power of Africa's youth to be creative. He did not run away on a rickety boat to Europe but stayed back in his home in Sierra Leone to continue his inventions. Kevin is right here in this room with us today.”

As the short and petite bodied teenage inventor walked up to the high stage for recognition, Presidents stood in his honour and shook the boy’s hand, in turn, stirring up tears of joy; Zambian Minister of Finance Alexander Chikwanda pulled out his white handkerchief and wiped the boys tears, President Adesina then hugged him, like a dad does to a son.

Kelvin became an instant hit among delegates and a target for journalists. High profile delegates could be seen flocking to the boy, to have a word with him and hand over their business cards; it was simply hard to imagine, he is only 14 years old.

But the star of the week was AfDB President Akinwumi Adesina.

The Annual Meetings are organised in a way that dozens of meetings are ongoing in different conference rooms at the same time. Delegates have to plan their schedules, deciding which meeting to attend based on their line of interest. It is harder for journalists who are expected to cover almost everything, by their bureaus.

For President Adesina, these were his first Meetings since being elected President, twelve months ago. As President, he is also the chief host meaning that he’s expected to make an appearance in at least most of the sessions.

At only 56 years old, the former Nigerian Agriculture Minister is not only fast paced but also full of exuberance; throughout the week, he managed to dash from one meeting and rush right into another making intelligent contributions to each session, regardless of the topic at hand.

He also stood out for his fashion sense. Akinwumi maintains an elegant look in impeccably dressed suits with his trademark bowties and a prominent moustache that makes him look more of a film-star than the agricultural scientist and economist that he is.

With his unconventional fashion sense and great speeches flavored with powerful memorable quotes, President Adesina without a doubt stamped his mark in the minds of every delegate.

He might have made several speeches during the course of the week but it is the one that he gave at the opening of the Annual Meetings, on Tuesday morning that unveiled his brand and mindset, two things that are going to shape his legacy at the African Development Bank.

He confessed to being impatient, ambitious and pragmatic in his pursuit for results and offered no apologies for those traits but instead endorsed them as the kind of attitude needed if the Bank is going to actively play its role being at the vanguard of Africa’s transformation.

“Some have said we are too passionate or ambitious. Well, there is no other option for Africa. Africa has already waited too long,” he told his high profile audience composed of Presidents, Vice Presidents, Prime Ministers and other dignitaries from all over the world.

Off record, a number of sources in the know, have quoted his fast-paced style of leadership as being ‘American’ and that those used to doing things the ‘African’ way might have a lot of catch-up to do.

If that is true, then it must be because of his years as a student in USA. Dr. Adesina holds a Master’s and Ph.D. in agricultural economics from Purdue University where he won the outstanding thesis award. He graduated with First Class Honors Bachelors’ degree in agricultural economics from the University of Ife, Nigeria in 1981.

Prior to his departure as President of the Bank, Dr. Donald Kaberuka had led the design and launch of the AfDB ten-year strategy for Africa which Dr. Adesina will now be counted on to take forward and yield results for Africa.


Within six months, Adesina embarked on drawing an implementation plan to accelerate the Bank's ten-year strategy. The result of that is now what is popularly referred to as the ‘High 5S’ at the Bank. The High 5s include ‘Light Up and Power Africa; Feed Africa; Industrialise Africa; Integrate Africa; and Improve the quality of life for the people of Africa.’ 

Two of the High 5s, ‘Light Up and Power Africa’ and 'Improve the quality of life for the people of Africa were launched during the Annual Meetings under ‘the new deal on energy’ and ‘jobs for youth initiative’ respectively.

New deal on energy

Under the new deal, AfDB will set out to light up and power the 645 million people that lack access to electricity as well as the over 700 million that do not have access to clean energy for cooking.

“We will do more to deliver on the New Deal on Energy for Africa. The Bank will invest US$12 billion in the energy sector over the next five years and we expect to leverage US$45-50 billion into the energy sector,” said Adesina.

But the Bank recognises the fact that it can’t do much on its own and in order to meet the ten-year targets, the ‘co-development’ approach will be adopted to allow for strategic partnerships.

Candidates for such partnerships include African Union, the Africa Progress Panel, NEPAD, President Obama's Power Africa, the World Bank, Sustainable Energy for All, African Energy Leaders Group, the European Union, the UK Government's Initiative, China, France, Germany, Scandinavian countries, Japan, Korea, India, private sector and others.

“Africa is simply tired of being in the dark. Our goal is clear: universal access to energy for Africa within ten years. Expand grid power by 160 Gigawatts. Connect 130 million persons to grid power. Connect 75 million persons to off grid systems. And provide access to 150 million households to clean cooking energy,” Adesina declared.

While talking about energy, emphasis will be on investing in clean energy to combat climate change. This informed the theme under which the meetings were held; energy and climate change.

The Bank has announced a large wallet to finance climate change related interventions. Adesina announced that the Bank will lead the way on green growth and will triple its climate finance to $5 billion per year by 2020.

25 million jobs for the youth

Through the Bank's Jobs for Africa's Youth Initiative, Adesina said the Bank will support digital literacy, logical thinking and computational skills in secondary and primary schools and support coding academies that will drive advanced computational skills for employment focusing on youths in universities and polytechnics.

Again through the co-development model, AfDB will work in partnership the European Investment Bank and private equity funds to help boost businesses of young people by leveraging US$5 billion to support businesses of young African entrepreneurs.

The Bank’s goal is to create 25 million jobs for the youth, over a ten year period, in agriculture, ICT and other sectors.

“The future of African's youth does not lie at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea. It lies in a more prosperous and inclusive Africa – one that promotes creativity and innovation, that expands economic opportunities for the youth. It lies in an Africa that creates jobs for its own people,” said President Adesina.

It is also at that point that he introduced the live anecdote of the young Kevin Do, who was seated somewhere at the back, part of the audience. Before his mention, people were perhaps wondering what a kid was doing at an assembly of elites.

After his mention and introduction, everyone wanted a word with him. In Kevin, Adesina sees a new generation of young Africans who don’t run away to Europe to seek a better life but those who stay at home and innovate their way to success, like young Kevin.

Too fast for Africa

At the end of what was a great speech, Adesina retreated from the pulpit, looking satisfied with his delivery. It had been a great delivery. But unlike most deliveries, there was no standing ovation for this one. Delegates looked on in what could have easily been described as awe.

Adesina’s High 5s are not news. These are problems Africa has been battling since independence. Yet not much has been achieved. Why?

The new AfDB President says there is no time to waste. He says he will work with impatience, under pressure to deliver before the ten-year deadline.

But if Adesina is to metaphorically be looked at as a commander ready to launch a war against Africa’s challenges, he will need an army, equally willing to fight at the frontline.

However, what one saw in the audience before him on Thursday morning was an uncertain Africa that appeared to favor taking its time planning the war and finally walking to the frontline.

Adesina says the plan is ready. All he wants is an army ready to fight. In this, he will need allies among some of Africa’s more influential leaders. The line-up of Presidents present at his inaugural Annual Meetings was telling enough.

These included President Paul Kagame, Uhuru Kenyatta, Edgar Lungu and Idriss Deby, President of the Republic of Chad and Chairperson of the African Union.

Will these be enough to convince their other African counterparts to support Dr. Adesina’s new war on barriers to African problems?

During a televised TV debate in Lusaka on which President Kagame and Kenyatta appeared alongside Adesina, the two heads of state assured the AfDB leader of their full support with both of them noting that, Africa has heard the talk, now the continent will be awaiting results.

The 2017 AfDB Annual Meetings will be held in India; perhaps then, there will be tangible results to report, a year later.

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