AfDB wars: Targeting an African man or an African bank?

Thursday June 04 2020

Dr Akinwumi Adesina was probably more known for working with rural agricultural communities than scandal. Now, as President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), he may be punch ball of a global political agenda pitting the US against African leaders, and maybe China.

Since last month, Dr Adesina has been fighting allegations of inappropriate acts that could ruin his career and roil a near-certain unopposed re-election this August. But his stay, or going, could punctuate relations between Africa and the US.

On Tuesday, some observers told The EastAfrican the impasse over the credibility of the Bank’s President could ruin more than his career.

“The leadership crisis at the AfDB is too important to ignore, especially at this time when the lender is raising funds to shore up its capital base for onward lending to African countries, many of which are battling debt crisis and the corona pandemic,” Dr Peter Mwencha, a specialist in international political economy and CEO of the International Relations Society of Kenya said, referring to the Bank’s bid to raise more than $100 billion from shareholders.

“From a geopolitical perspective, this issue has brought up concerns about allowing foreigners an outsized stake in African affairs. Africans are questioning why foreigners should have such a huge influence in such an important African institution,” he added, but challenged African leaders to consider raising their shareholding of the Bank.

Here is how: As Nigeria’s Agriculture minister, Dr Adesina was named Forbes Person of the Year in 2013, for ‘revolutionising’ agricultural policies in his country.


There had been no scandal against him since he took over as President AfDB in 2015. In fact, he has led the institution, formed in 1964, on a campaign to steer clear of fossil fuel projects, dumping all dirty coal-related funding and instead focusing on powering rural homes using renewable energy.

That was until January this year when anonymous employees of the bank wrote to some directors alleging Dr Adesina had overreached his hand, awarding contracts to his cronies and relatives as well as using the position to enhance his personal stature.

When more allegations, anonymously, emerged in April about how he had paid employees who resigned mysteriously, the AfDB board endorsed an internal audit.

That committee returned a report suggesting there had been no evidence linking Dr Adesina to the allegations.

But the US government wasn’t satisfied so Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin wrote a letter rejecting the results of the internal audit.

He argued the dismissal of all allegations against Dr Adesina will “tarnish the reputation of the institution,” according to a May 28 letter to the AfDB board.

One employee of the Bank, who wished to remain anonymous told the The EastAfrican AfDB has witnessed high profile resignations in the past five years, with the officials being paid handsome severance packages suspected to buy their silence. Dr Adesina denies any wrong doings.

But the US stance, to have Dr Adesina re-investigated, has seen African leaders, including Nigeria where he comes from rally behind their man.

Nigerian ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo rallied more than a dozen other former leaders to endorse an open letter to Washington, warning the stance would divert the Bank’s attention to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“At this critical time that Africa is battling with Covid-19, the Bank and its President should not be distracted,” Mr Obasanjo argued in a letter that was also signed by Mr Jakaya Kikwete, Mr Goodluck Jonathan, Mr Joachim Chissano, Ms Ellen-Johnson Sirleaf, Ms Joyce Banda, Mr Tandja Mamadou and several other leaders.

While the leaders called for respect for protocol, they raised a pan-African issue, indicating the Bank was the most important institution on the continent and that it was “the pride of Africa.

All African countries are members of the Bank, but it also has 27 members from countries outside the continent. It, however, lends exclusively to Africa.

Nigeria and the US are the biggest AfDB shareholders. The two command a 15 per cent share combined, but Nigeria has 9.1 per cent in the institution formed 55 years ago.