In September 1964, a group of Africans met in Khartoum, Sudan, to ratify the multinational agreement to set up the African Development Bank. They were representing the continent’s newly formed twenty-five governments. They had the same mission and bore the same hope. Their hope was to see the new institution contribute to the continent’s development and unity.
By this act, Africa was taking its destiny into its own hands in the early 1960s. From the very early stages, and often with reference to major market networks of pre-colonial Africa, its leaders had designed the institution so that it would be one hundred percent African. Africa wanted to be in charge of its own destiny and wanted to be distant from the ideological and linguistic divides of the time.
This linguistic divide was manifest through the three emerging groups dominating the continent’s geopolitical scene at the time: the Brazzaville Group comprising twelve countries – Cameroon, Congo-Brazzaville, Côte d’lvoire, Dahomey (Benin), Gabon, Upper Volta (Burkina Faso), Madagascar, Mauritania, Niger, the Central African Republic, Senegal and Chad – that had founded the African and Malagasy Union in 1960 in Brazzaville. The Casablanca Group emerged in 1961, comprising seven countries: Algeria, Egypt, Ghana, Guinea, Libya, Mali and Morocco. The Monrovia Group comprised the twelve countries of the Brazzaville Group as well as Ethiopia, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Togo, Tunisia and Congo (Kinshasa). Though the history of these groupings may be more intimately linked with the formation of the Organization of African Unity (the OAU, now the African Union) than with African growth financing issues, all these aspects pointed to the need to establish a regional development bank.
The road to the establishment of what has become the continent’s premier development finance institution is marked by several events, multiple initiatives, and countless contributions. While it is hard to enumerate these initiatives here, it is however important to mention that among the "founding acts", was the Tubman-Nkrumah-Toure conference of 1958.
The heads of state of Liberia, Ghana and Guinea, three advocates of pan-Africanism, spent four days in a conclave in the village of Sanikoli in Liberia. Their final communiqué expressed their determination to commit all their resources to bring all African countries to independence and to succeed in developing the continent in solidarity, recalls one of the "go betweens" of the meeting, Romeo Horton of Liberia, who later became his country's central bank governor.
Horton, who, in 1958, also spearheaded moves for a pan-African conference of businessmen, was indeed one of those who worked for AfDB's creation.
Committee of Nine
Three years later (1961), the Liberian capital hosted the Monrovia Conference. It brought together a group of African heads of state and government and this resulted in the creation of the Monrovia Group. At the centre of this meeting and a subsequent one in Lagos, two draft charters were made; one for the OAU, and one for an African Development Bank. The latter rapidly landed in the offices of the Economic Commission for Africa, on the desks of Micky Abass and Robert Gardiner. The Executive Secretary and Vice-Secretary of this organization were fully involved in the establishment of the Bank. Soon, a Committee of Nine was set up, a sort of think-tank and an organizational nucleus of this project, for financial experts and economists from nine countries – Cameroon, Ethiopia, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Sudan, and Tanganyika and Zanzibar (which formed Tanzania in 1964) – representing Africa's diversity.
Chaired by Romeo Horton, the Committee of Nine visited practically all African heads of state as well as western and eastern leaders, to present their idea of an African development bank. It was at this stage that the primacy of the pan-African character was affirmed, "to avoid importing the cold war" into this institution, as stated by Mr. Horton, who chaired the Committee of Nine. Behind this body loomed another key personality of AfDB's history, the late Mamoun Beheiry, who was also the governor of Sudan’s central bank at the time and the first AfDB President. He is remembered for his unfailing devotion to the continent’s development.
The process of creating this institution was fraught with a lot of apprehension and there were many obstacles in the way. However, the need to see the continent emerge out of its degrading poverty filled African leaders with enthusiasm which helped to see the plan through. According to Theodore Roosevelt IV who was blessed to see things evolve, there was great joy in seeing the enthusiasm that drove our leaders. "I lived in Ouagadougou, where I held a position in the State Department's Cooperation units. I was always impressed by the enthusiasm of African leaders, who supported the African Development Bank," he said while serving as the Managing Director of Lehman Brothers, one of the investment banks which managed many AfDB bond issues. Following tours by the Committee of Nine, a draft accord was prepared.
This document was submitted to top African officials, then to African Ministers, that year, before being co-signed by twenty-three African governments on August 4, 1963, in the form of an agreement establishing the African Development Bank. It is this agreement that came into force on September 10, 1964. There was further debate and discussion at the inaugural assembly in November 1964 in Lagos, especially with regard to the location of the Bank's Headquarters. Abidjan was finally chosen to host the Bank.
And this is how, in March 1965, after a few months in the offices made available to AfDB in the premises of the Economic Commission for Africa in Addis-Ababa, an initial team of about ten persons arrived on the shores of the Ebrie Lagoon. George Wood, the then President of the World Bank, offered the help of his organization's regional office in Abidjan to the AfDB which was whole-heartedly welcomed when carrying out the first projects, marking right from the beginning the principle of cooperation with other development finance institutions.
Fifty years on, the African Development Bank Group has financed 4,185 operations for estimated at US $99.73 billion and still maintaining its AAA rating from the major global rating agencies with a capital of US $93.14 billion.
The AfDB has preserved its African character, despite the admission of non-regional countries in 1982. It has kept Africa's pace, surviving each crisis, amplifying and diversifying its resources and action from year to year. It has supported the process that history will perhaps remember as the completion of the de-colonization, political democratization and the economic liberalization of the 1990s. It participated in efforts at resolving conflicts, restoring civil liberties and economic structures and professionalizing the continent's financial and political institutions.
It has coordinated its activities with those of its partners in poverty reduction efforts, international financial institutions, governments and official development aid agencies as well as non-governmental organizations, and increasingly conceived its action in consultation with the representatives of local societies, so that they might be the actors of their own development. It has further underscored the role of women, education and structural reforms, and lent its support to key initiatives: from debt alleviation for highly indebted poor countries (HIPC), regional integration to the New Partnership for Africa's Development, NEPAD, which the Bank helped to create.
In order to be effective on the ground, evolve and advance, the institution has transformed itself, as seen in its re-casting and renewal, its structures, approval methods and control mechanisms during the second half of the 1990s. This is also confirmed by institutional and structural reforms that have been ongoing since 2006 to make the AfDB more efficient and results-based.
Challenges and Hopes
However it is not yet over. Though there has been progress regarding democracy, growth and the restoration of macro-economic equilibrium on the continent over the past fifteen years, challenges still exist. Half of Sub-Saharan Africa lives on less than one dollar a day, and AIDS is threatening the continent’s social fabric. Studies conducted by various organizations, including the African Development Bank and the World Bank, show that, with the exception of northern and southern Africa, the United Nations Millennium Development Goals of reducing, by half, the number of persons living in poverty and without access to potable water by 2015, will, in most cases, not be attained.
Nevertheless, these same studies indicate that the majority of African countries can make significant progress towards these ends. The improved economic results since the end of the 1990s, the over 5% growth registered across the continent over the last decade and the restoration of peace in many parts of the continent confirm this possibility. To keep the hope alive, a three-level effort is needed. Donor countries are required to increase official development assistance in line with their commitments, beneficiaries are required to pursue and deepen the economic reform, while private foreign investors are expected to help integrate the continent into their industrial, commercial and financial strategies. The African Development Bank Group will, for its part, persist in its founding mission: that of helping development efforts on the continent