It was exactly 16 hours (GMT) on Friday, and the main hall of Accra International Conference Centre exprienced momentary pin-drop silence. It was time to draw a curtain on the five-day yearly general meeting of the African Development Bank (AfDB) Group after a series of public meetings, knowledge events, closed-door negotiations and media sessions on Africa’s emerging challenges, and prospects that could turn out to be cutting-edge solutions.
Of course, after five days, most participants were completely bone-weary, but not too bad to want to listen to Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, the president of the AfDB.
After protocol observation and a few speeches, the ex-Nigerian agriculture minister mounted the rostrum with the zest of ‘the African development evangelist’, a new title some regional leaders lavishly conferred on him in the course of the week.
The AfDB President had paused to appreciate his team, Board of Governors and other participants for their commitment to the cause of African economic development. For a couple of minutes, he stole the hearts of many, regaling the audience with Johnny Nash’s ‘I Can See Clearly Now’. The participants could not help but stand in ovation for that genre of Adesina – a philosopher, inspirational speaker and a prophet rolled into one.
For Africans who converged on the ancient city of Accra, the “bad feelings” of the region being a cesspit of endless agony and helplessness had gone. But that was not because the sky was completely blue or will it be anytime soon – that will be wishful thinking.
The dark clouds could remain for many decades (in any case, every region is battling with economic dark clouds) but there was a rare hope that Africa had enormous innate resources it could explore to feed itself, power itself and industrialise itself.
But to borrow the words of Adesina, there is no market in the world where potential is traded. That means Africa must do something urgently to begin to add value and earn a dignified place in the global economy rather than merely brandishing its natural resources.
These are the central themes of the Adesina symbolism – that Africa stops going about with bowls on its hands, takes full responsibility for its destiny and creates an economy where everybody has a fair chance to succeed – since he took over the reins of the bank seven years ago. Also, it is an ideological pursuit that does not exclude the economic and geopolitical realities of the region as well as financing constraints. He often points at the challenges while building faith in the process of finding solutions to them.
The twin focus of the Accra meeting – ‘Achieving Climate Resilience and a Just Energy Transition for Africa’ – is symbolic of the pains of the region today. Nine of the top 10 most vulnerable countries to climate change are in Africa, a continent that contributes less than four per cent to global emissions. The United States’ per capita metric ton of emissions is 16 while that of Mali is about 0.1.
Climate change poses systemic risks to African economies, infrastructure investments, water and food systems, public health, agriculture and livelihoods, threatening to undermine its modest development gains and push the region into a higher extreme level of poverty. Already, about 300,000 African women and an equal number of children are said to have been lost yearly to harmful cooking practices.