ON MAY 19, 2014, about 3,500 eminent business personalities and economic planners will converge in Kigali for next year’s African Development Bank (AfDB) annual meeting.
Rwanda has waited for 40 years, since joining the continental development finance institution, to host the biggest event in its calendar.
So, when participants from 77 countries from across the globe meet in Kigali for four days scheduled to run on May 19-23, 2014, it will be a milestone for both the host and the Bank.
In the words of finance minister Claver Gatete, this will be a landmark event for the Bank that will be marking 50 years of it existence and Rwanda that will be celebrating 20 years since liberation as well as 40 years since it joined the continental financier.
Yet as the Bank marks its jubilee in business, critics say its efforts to purge poverty are yet to yield tangible results with most of Africa still coarsely dependent on aid from the West.
Despite having injected $ 500 billion in grants to both private and public sectors in Africa during its 50 years of existence, the Bank is yet to make significant gains against poverty.
The 2009 UN Human Development Index showing that 22 out of 24 nations identified as having “low human development” are in Sub-Saharan Africa, the AfDB’s main clientele.
At the same time, about half of the least developed countries are in Africa, with annual GDP per capita of less than $200.
So, why is the continent still hungry and hugely dependent on foreign aid despite reported growth by many countries?
Donald Kaberuka, the President of AfDB, says “Yes, economic growth is strong but economic transformation remains a challenge.” These were his remarks at the AU meeting early this year.
AU statistics show that the continent is blessed with abundant human resources, with its annual population growing at 2.2 per cent, 1.1 percent higher than Asia’s – and by 2050, Africa will be home to about 2.2 billion people.
The economy has also more than tripled since 2000, to $2.2 trillion from $600 million.
Yet despite such positive trends, the continent’s industrial sector is still very small, with countries relying on imports from Asia and Europe.
The Bank however, says that now is the time to turn round the continent’s fortunes.
According to Cecilia Akintomide, AfDB’s Vice president, the Bank has refocused to help Africa attain economic transformation.
“The clients we had were focusing on issues of stabilisation in the short term, but now what we are looking at is long term infrastructure development – meaning that many of the short term needs have actually been stabilised,” she said.
The Bank, she said, no longer focuses on direct funding to governments but to the private sector, which is well positioned to create jobs, provide services and produce goods.
“I think we have achieved considerable success to get to where we are now. For example, in a lot of countries we do have private sector transactions without government being involved,” Akintomide said.
“Several governments have spent the last few years creating an enabling environment for the private sector and our relationship in the past with government has changed.
Now we are directly investing in the private sector because the enabling environment exists and there is confidence from the investors that they can conduct business without the government being involved.”
On top of running several projects that fund the African private sector, AfDB provides concessional funds to governments of over 40 Africa nations to finance economic and social development.
In Rwanda, AfDB funds several multimillion projects in energy (the $41 million grant to Scaling up Energy Access Project), agriculture and education.
It also directly funds the Private Sector Federation to support business development.