Africa’s premier development bank reflects on how far it has come and looks ahead to the next 50 years

23/04/2014
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Written by Aristide Ahouassou and Mansour Ndir

The African Development Bank’s (AfDB) golden jubilee was formally kicked off in Tunis on Tuesday, April 22. The occasion of the Bank’s 50th anniversary was acknowledged by invited speakers as a crucial moment for the institution to reflect on how far it has come since it was formed a half century ago, as it positions itself for the 50 years ahead.

The ceremony, held in the Palais des congrès de Tunis, was attended by the Tunisian State Secretary for International Cooperation, Noureddine Zekri, and Rwanda’s Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, Claver Gatete, who is also Chairman of the AfDB Board of Governors. The President of the African Development Bank, Donald Kaberuka, officially launched the 50th anniversary with a speech that highlighted the more memorable moments of the Bank’s history. The event also brought together members of the AfDB Board of Directors, Senior Management and staff, as well as their spouses.

Tribute to the founding fathers and pioneers

In his speech, AfDB President Donald Kaberuka paid tribute to the Bank’s founding fathers and to the pioneers whose grit made the establishment of the institution possible on September 10, 1964. He also paid homage to his predecessors for their accomplishments. Kaberuka highlighted the hardship and the very modest beginning of the institution, which was run by 10 employees with $250 million in capital.

“The African Development Bank was able to remain a dynamic institution in a fast-changing continent,” Kaberuka said, acknowledging that “some of the decisions needed for that dynamic flexibility were not without their controversy, at the time. Such as welcoming Non Regional countries as members.”

However, following admission to the Bank of non-regional member countries, and the subsequent creation of the African Development Fund, AfDB’s resources have greatly increased, Kaberuka noted. “That watershed decision has served to enhance the capacity of the Bank, while maintaining its African character,” he stated.

“Successive general capital increases and replenishments of the concessional window have built the capacity of the Institution. That was demonstrated during the financial crisis, when the Bank’s countercyclical response was salutary,” he said.

Strategic choices and a solid track record

Kaberuka also underscored that, in fulfilling its mission, the Bank has demonstrated expertise through the 2008 financial crisis. The Bank’s capability has been demonstrated through the strategic choices it made with a view to meeting the needs of Africa, in the areas of infrastructure, common markets and economic integration, promotion of the private sector, and support to Fragile States and countries emerging from conflict, said Kaberuka. “Now we must redesign ourselves for the new challenges and opportunities that Africa faces. Our new Ten Year Strategy provides a sound platform. We must constantly rethink our tools, our systems and our responses.”

For his part, State Secretary Noureddine Zekri stressed that “in spite of disorders and crises in the world, including in our continent, in the last 50 years, the Bank has remained solid and it appropriately responded to the expectations of its member countries, which helped it to consolidate its position as the continent’s first development Bank.

“The quality of the Bank’s operations and risk-management framework; its sound financial policies and controls as well as institutional governance have helped to preserve its financial solidity and to confirm the triple-A rating by the major rating agencies,” Noureddine Zekri said.

Spirit of sacrifice, flexibility and adaptability

AfDB Staff Council Chairman, Gabriel Bayemi, also noted that celebrating 50 years is a great achievement, which he said brings pride to all those who contributed to it. He commended the staff’s spirit of sacrifice, flexibility and adaptability. The institution endured some turbulence thanks to very skills and tenacity of its human resources, Bayemi stressed.

The Chairman of the Bank’s Board of Governors, for his part, noted that in 50 years, the institution has tremendously changed to become a key development institution and a major knowledge broker in Africa. “AfDB is our pride today. Over the past 50 years, it has delivered as it should,” he revealed, observing that “in the next 50 years, the Bank must find innovative and effective tools that would allow it to adapt to the requirements of rapid changes.” In addition, Gatete stated that Africa should invest more in regional integration and the private sector to ensure prosperity.

The 50th anniversary celebrations will continue to be marked by festivities in the Bank’s field offices across the continent, in addition to a signature event taking place at the AfDB Group’s upcoming Annual Meetings in Kigali, Rwanda. The main ceremony will be held in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, in November 2014.

The event was marked by performances by the African Youth Choir and folkloric musicians from Tunisia. A retrospective video showcased the Bank’s achievements on the continent over the past five decades, and the 50th anniversary logo, featuring the slogan “African Development Bank 1964-2014: 50 years serving Africa”, was officially unveiled.