AfDB's Annual Meetings - A continent taking hold of its own destiny
We celebrated Africa’s 50th birthday last weekend: the OAU came into being on May 25, 1963. The message was clear: political independence came long ago; and economic independence is hot on its heels.
And this week we come to Marrakesh, the great Ochre City, which has always been a crossroads for African culture north and south of the Sahara. The next few days can bathe the golden city in a greater golden glow, and they can do the same for Africa too.
These are my eighth African Development Bank’s Annual General Meetings as President, and I remain convinced that they are a convening place for the very best of this continent, and its friends from further afield. The public sector, the private sector and civil society meets here, and the fourth estate – the press – are here in force to hold us to account. This is the great event not just in the Bank’s but in Africa’s calendar, when all the work we do on the ground in our member countries – finding and funding projects which transform the lives of Africans – gets its rightful place in the sun. We share ideas of what the Bank and Africa have done well, and more importantly what they can still do better. Driving from Casablanca to Marrakesh last night, I was more than conscious of both. My senior management were with me for what turned out to be a lively dinner: we are passionate with plans.
In Addis Ababa, the AU Summit marked a momentous 50-year journey. We have lived through ebullience and optimism, pessimism and despair, and – now – tremendous hope. ‘Africa rising’ is the call, wherever you are listening, and Africa has deserved that praise.
Today, my first full day within the meetings, has been a chance to repeat an extraordinary statistic: the GDP of this continent has doubled in a decade! It was $600 billion in 2000 and now it’s $2.2 trillion – that is a tripling with inflation, and a doubling in real terms. I have reminded people that Great Britain and its industrial revolution pulled off the same feat, but it took 150 years. The world has witnessed something astounding, but there has to be much, much more to come if this continent is to be the world’s next growth pole. The world is languishing – it needs growth wherever it can get it, and Africa can give it that pulse.
But there are still mountains to climb. This week is about ensuring real quality and real sustainability in that growth. For as long as there is poverty in Africa – as long as women and young people cannot fulfill their full potential, and as long as there are pockets of real, contagious and debilitating fragility – then our growth is uneven and incomplete. And for as long as we erode our natural habitat and legacy (our ecological footprint has grown by 250% in 50 years, and I myself have stood on the disappearing shores of Lake Chad), then our growth is not sustainable.
So here in Marrakesh we are trying to find solutions. Some are intellectual, some are practical, and some of the biggest are financial.
This morning, I hosted Paul Kagame, the President of Rwanda. He spoke passionately to a very large audience about the themes of transformation and leadership. Rwanda knows about transformation – its political and economic rebirth, from the near-destruction of 20 years ago, can be an emblem for a continent. “We are ending the victim mentality”, said President Kagame. “We have plans, we have skills, and we mustn’t drop the ball.”
Over lunch, there must have been an audience of a thousand to hear two people not just rich in wealth, but rich in human quality and compassion. First Tony Elumelu, the Nigerian who was one of the founder investors in the United Bank for Africa, a project which the Bank supported; then Ronald Lauder, son of Estee. They set out the challenge for home-grown African wealth, whether of billionaires or small businessmen, to invest in Africa. I enjoyed one of Tony’s phrases, “the institutionalisation of luck”: a way of saying that if you work hard, you make your own chances.
I spent an hour doing media interviews this morning – The Africa Report, The Banker, Africa 24 TV – and could have seen some of the questions coming. We really do have to show that we won’t drop that ball, as President Kagame said. I was queried on the state of the global economy, the rise of China, the interaction of governments and markets, and much more. With each answer, I could present a continent taking hold of its own destiny. I enjoy media questioning, especially when it probes enough to hurt. To talk about delivering on the demographic dividend of Africa’s young people – often highly educated, but often ill-equipped for the job market – is to talk about nothing less than the future of this continent.
That’s why these Meetings matter. Quality growth and sustainable growth could keep us talking for weeks – and talking is the handmaiden of doing. There is much to talk about, and much to do.