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Africa Empowered: Akinwunmi Adesina

By Onome Amawhe

AKINWUNMI Adesina has worn many different hats at global institutions of varying sizes in his career. His appointment as President of the African Development Bank Group is his first outing in a financial institution.

What he thinks he will enjoy most about being a development banker is to see an improvement on the quality of life of “African women and men” as a result of the operations and projects led by the African Development Bank during his tenure: “My mandate as President of the African Development Bank, affords me the opportunity to work with highly trained and qualified professionals on some of the continent’s most challenging development goals. We have an interesting mandate as a bank, which is to support Africa in areas that constitute a critical part of the continent’s development strategy and we are adopting a selective, focused approach away from the shotgun approach.

Developmental potential

We have identified five elements that we believe if dealt with appropriately will allow the developmental potential of the continent to run free.  Coined “The High Fives”, these five priority areas within the context of the Bank’s Ten-Year Strategy – to light up and power Africa, feed Africa, integrate Africa, industrialize Africa, and improve the quality of life for the people of Africa –  represent the Bank’s proposed blueprint for African countries and to embark on a course of sustainable transformation”.

The African Development Bank Group (AfDB) is a régional development Bank established in 1964  to foster social and economic development in Africa.  Comprising three entites, namely : The African Development Bank, the African Development Fund and the Nigeria Trust Fund. The AFDB’s purpose is to fight poverty and develop  living conditions on the continent through the promotion of public and private funds in projects and programs that could engender the continent’s socio-economic development:”We have identified poverty as a scourge that  the continent must not simply manage but eradicate, and the best way to address this problem is by financing Africa’s Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), which constitute over 80% of the continent’s private sector, and as you know the private sector is the creator of wealth and veritable engine of economic growth in Africa.

*Adesina
*Adesina

We have launched several programs, such as the Africa SME programme and the Trade Finance Program, the Private Sector Credit Enhancement Facility, to increase financial support to the private sector in Africa with the aim of eradicating poverty”.

Adesina is a staunch SME proponent who believes they have potential to play a more pivotal role in Africa’s development.  However, SMEs have been criticized for their high rate of bankruptcy.

While they create many jobs, they also destroy a lot of jobs  on the grounds that they provide low value added goods and services and have short lives. In developed countries, SME growth depends on the business cycles. When the economy is booming the number of new firms is larger than the number of dying firms. This  isn’t the  case  in emerging markets where SME growth depends on crisis cycles.

Buttressing his  proponecy, Adesina explains : “SMEs are crucial for Africa’s development. More than 90% of businesses in Africa are SMEs because they make a huge contribution to GDP. This is not only so in Africa, this is globally the case. In Africa, a lot of SMEs are still operating in the informal sector, often for good reasons, but it hinders their growth. There are challenges in the enabling environment that must be overcome so that SMEs can reach their full growth potentials.

Career options

I also believe SMEs and entrepreneurship are essentially the same because entrepreneurially driven SMEs are the drivers of growth in our economies. We need to create such growth oriented SMEs and assist them, through a level playing ground, to grow, prosper and create jobs.

It is true that growth opportunities may be more abundant in some sectors compared to others; agribusinesses, health, education and clean energy offer tremendous opportunities.

 

But there are also lots of opportunities in many other sectors, and if we can get small businesses to innovate and industrialize, they can also play important roles in local and internal value chains”.

When Young men and women in Africa consider career options, starting their own business is near the bottom on the list. Entrepreneurship does not have a  positive image and is not encouraged by the school system, families, or social networks. Many young people starting on the job market prefer waged employment to being an entrepreneur because of job security and peace of mind. The negative attitudes towards entrepreneurship are part of what the AFDB set out to change: “Africa has, in parts, a legacy that does not promote entrepreneurship amongst young people seeking white collar jobs.  And small businesses are often driven by survival needs rather than through entrepreneurial drive.

The AFDB is preparing an initiative that will ‘boost’ African entrepreneurs, by channeling both ‘patient investments’ and technical assistance through a wide range of funds, incubators and other agencies that support early stage and start-up SMEs. The Bank will also support education systems that prepare students for life as entrepreneurs. There will be a strong focus on agriculture and agribusiness, and in particular on smallholder farmers, to enhance productivity and value chains. After all, agriculture is still the mainstay of many Africans, but it is not commonly viewed from an entrepreneurial perspective”.

One of the challenges managing an African Bank Group, in a continent where the global economic crisis meets an ongoing local crisis of poverty and unrest is certainly that of a slowdown in the global economy.  Africa being a resilient continent- is expected to grow by 4.4% in 2016, above 3.5% for the global economy and slightly behind the 6% for Asia. However, at the back of these challenges lie opportunities. And in the case of Africa, the opportunities are the need to increase energy production, build infrastructure and shift Africa’s industrial base into more technologically oriented enterprises:  “Technological progress offers  Africa tremendous opportunities to “leapfrog” its development and have its own kind of industrial revolution – For instance, mobile phone-based technological innovations are changing the service delivery landscape in Africa in a number of sectors such as mobile-money, pay-to-go energy payment, health care and agricultural services.  Not only are these innovations leapfrogging traditional service delivery constraints, they are also expanding the service delivery frontier—making more and better services available with any given level of resources.

Technology innovation

“They also provide budgetary relief/savings for government and improving service delivery and efficiency gains.The potential for Africa’s technology innovation is evident with enterprises such as Mpesa, Jumia, Iroko TV, etc.  And the Bank is powering these opportunities to new record levels – transforming Africa into an Innovation-driven continent”. By any measure, Akinwunmi Adesina, eighth president of the African Development Bank, has been successful in every chosen career endeavor.  He has worked at the Rockefeller Foundation as a senior scientist.

He has also represented the Foundation for the southern African area. Between 2003 and 2008 he was the foundation’s associate director for food security. In 2010, he was appointed Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture before his sterling appointment as President of The African Development Bank Group:”I think I have been successful for two main reasons.

First, I have always believed in myself- I always set very high targets for myself and I firmly believe that if I can think of something, then I certainly can do it. I wanted to be President of the AfDB, I believed in myself and I worked hard towards achieving this. Second, I believe in excellence.

My father was a farmer and so we lived with limited resources. My father only went to school at the age of 14 and upon completion of his education; he joined the civil service at a very low level and made his way to the top. I therefore believed in my father, who served as my role model.’’


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