AfDB's Annual Meetings - The Afro-optimist, the Afro-realist: Historic Progress, Historic Challenges

30May2013
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Day 3

The 48th Annual Meeting of the African Development Bank – and the 39th of the African Development Fund – were officially launched under the high patronage of His Majesty King Mohammed VI of Morocco this morning. The King himself may only have been able to send us a message – we are “a solid, reliable and strategic ally”, he said – but he sent hundreds of his subjects. And, with hundreds more from each of the Bank’s 77 member countries, there must have been 1,500 people in the audience as I looked out and squinted under the lights at the podium.

My annual speech to this meeting is a strong personal statement of belief. Many of my colleagues contribute, and many care deeply about it, but for better and worse every word is mine. When I talk about Africa, there is fire in my belly – I have sometimes been seen as an outrider, as an Afro-optimist, and at times I have been castigated for being if not an Afro-pessimist then, when I have to be, an Afro-realist. I cannot please everyone all the time, but today I could speak with passion about historic progress, historic challenges, and historic responses. I was as frank today about fragile Africa as I was excited about a robust and dynamic Africa. Thirty-two minutes is a long time at a podium: had I not been excising text late last night, I could have been there for three-quarters of an hour. I held on to the last line, come what may: “the world needs Africa, and Africa needs the world”. Africa can give the global economy a shot in the arm.

Days such as these are spent shuttling between private meetings – each of our member country constituencies is unique; each is valued; each bears its own, often wildly varying concerns – and public and plenary events. Schedules, it seems, are created only to be broken. Meeting the press today, I was able to talk about the Bank at work here in Morocco, launching the largest solar energy project in the world at Ouarzarzate.

Governors’ Dialogues, meanwhile, are unique opportunities for Finance and Development Ministers to meet their peers. Seventy-seven countries broke out into four groups to discuss our meeting theme of Structural Transformation this afternoon, and then came back together to share their findings. It’s fair to say that their shopping lists were long, and as inclusive as the growth that we seek for this continent. But well they might be, given that structural transformation is about improving the quality of African growth by diversifying the sources of that growth, and expanding economic opportunities for all. In many ways it is about turning natural wealth into created wealth.

The day ended with a superb debate on the most perverse form of turning natural wealth into created wealth. The illegal trade in African wildlife has been a burning concern for me ever since I went to Bangui a year ago, and heard that 900 elephants had been slaughtered in the Central African Republic in the last three months. Perhaps it should not be a surprise to us to see unrest and instability in the country today. We may be talking about loss of revenue – tourism is a mainstay of so many African economies – but perhaps more importantly we are talking about loss of civilization and heritage, for common citizens of a common world. I was joined on the panel this evening by President Bongo of Gabon, and Jim Leape of the World Wide Fund for Nature, two extraordinarily articulate and committed campaigners to make the world stop this massacre. What can we do? I was asked. A Development Bank cannot enforce rules – but it can be a forceful advocate, and in some of its projects (I am looking at one of our forestry projects in the Congo Basin) it can bring the issue into how it designs and executes what it does. Today we had the right audience – a Minister of Finance is a Minister of Customs, who can police everything that leaves a country. And when the trafficked goods do go further afield, we can raise awareness. I tweeted tonight: “wherever you are, especially in the richest economies, if you’re buying ivory products, then ask yourself a question: do you need them? Do you know where they come from?”

The African Development Bank knew where it came from in 2003 when it left behind civil strife in Côte d’Ivoire to move to a temporary home in Tunis.  We have enjoyed Tunisian hospitality and partnership for 10 years, and lived through civil strife there, too. That is why this Bank understands fragility, and knows how to support its members who find themselves in fragile and vulnerable situations. Today, the Bank’s Governors endorsed the Bank’s move back to Abidjan, in line with the agreed Roadmap. It’s a momentous decision, and one which I hope can be concluded by the time this organization turns 50 in November 2014.   

For most of us, a 50th birthday constitutes way more than half-way. For the African Union, 50 last week, I hope that we can predict that it’s nearer a quarter. For the African Development Bank, 50 next year, I am happy to hazard that we might be three-quarters of the way towards the unwritten target of putting ourselves out of business, since the finishing line is in sight, and the applause is already ringing. The sleeping giant awakes: Africa is without question the development success story of the world. Our collective task now is to make sure that this continent’s remarkable progress is shared by all its people: an overarching objective of inclusive growth means that the task is to bring everyone along.


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