Interview with African Leadership Institute Fellows Spokesperson, Aidan Eyakuze

28/03/2011
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Aidan Eyakuze

“The talent represented by the AfDB’s Young Professionals we met was inspiring; the searching questions we were asked by the Strategy Team highlighted the courage with which they were dealing with tough issues.” says Aidan Eyakuze, African Leadership Institute Fellows Spokesperson.

Question: What are the objectives of the African Leadership Institute (AfLI) Fellows visit to the Bank?

Answer: The Fellows had the privilege of meeting President Kaberuka at the Mo Ibrahim Foundation Forum on Regional Economic Integration in November 2010. We engaged in a very lively conversation about Africa’s future, how it is affected by the quality of leadership, and the contribution of the African Development Bank in driving the continent’s transformation. It is to concretise the final point that he invited the Fellows to visit Tunis, so that we would get a much better understanding of what the Bank is doing in that regard.  The Fellows also wanted to see how we could collaborate with the Bank to execute a mission with which we are in deep agreement. On behalf of AfLI and the Fellows, I must thank Dr. Nkosana Moyo and his team for organizing an exceptional three days of intense and insightful interaction with the Bank.

Question: What is your impression after sharing perspectives with AfDB’s senior management and staff?

Answer: We have been impressed by three major characteristics that ran through all of our discussions with the Bank’s management. The first is the openness with which we were welcomed. We were invited to observe the weekly Senior Management Committee Meeting (SMCC), and then discuss some of what we heard with them. It is an extremely rare event for visitors to be invited to the inner workings of an organisation, so it is a testament to the transparency of the Bank that we were allowed to see it at work so intimately. The second was the deep commitment of the Bank’s leaders and staff to its mission, which Dr Mthuli Ncube summarised as the economic transformation of the continent. The talent represented by the AfDB’s Young Professionals we met was inspiring; the searching questions we were asked by the Strategy Team highlighted the courage with which they were dealing with tough issues.  The third was their willingness to listen to us. We felt really honoured that our views and suggestions were invited and listened to with seriousness. We were not lectured to – we engaged in a truly interactive dialogue.

Question: What specific role are the African Leadership Institute Fellows ready to play in the continent as its contribution to AfDB’s development efforts?

Answer: This visit has demonstrated the extent to which President Kaberuka and the Bank have taken the Fellows into their confidence. We learnt that in an effort to extend its footprint, enhance its profile and deepen its engagement with its clients, the African Development Bank Group is executing a major decentralisation strategy. The Fellows are keen to support this strategy in two ways. First, we can act as “Ambassadors” for the Bank in our various countries, regions and across our professional networks. And given the insights we gained during this visit, we are better equipped to play that role. Secondly, we can help enrich the Bank’s interaction with the businesses, non-state actors and civil society in our circles as a way of enhancing its networks and intelligence on the ground.  

Question: Does the theme “African youth and democracy”, appeal to you?

Answer: Absolutely. Visiting Tunisia just months after the flame for deeper democracy in the region was ignited by the country’s young men and women, was particularly poignant. As one of the Fellows, Gbenga Sesan from Nigeria, kept reminding us, the average age in Africa is 19.1 years and increasing numbers of Africa’s young people have access to mobile phones. He shared his practical contribution to deepening youth participation in defending democracy through smart mobile phone-based tools that he and his team have developed to ensure that the will of Nigeria’s voters in the April 2011 elections is reflected in the results. The SMS-based tool – ReVoDa - has the potential to turn the 87 million Nigerians with mobile phones into informal election observers. A few years ago, a young Kenyan lady used similar technology to track post-election violence in Kenya, and her invention - Ushahidi - has been deployed around the world to save lives in the aftermath of hurricanes and earthquakes. So, the combination of numbers, courage and an enabling technology, Africa’s young people, some of whom are Tutu Fellows, are reshaping the political landscape on the continent.

Question: What is the way forward?

Answer: President Kaberuka has recommended that a joint AfLI-AfDB task force be put together to design concrete projects that we can work on together. It will be a synergistic relationship that will see the Fellows contributing independent, innovative thinking to the Bank’s objectives and activities. The Bank, in turn, offers the Fellows a platform to channel and scale up their ideas and efforts at transforming Africa.