AfDB's Annual Meetings - ‘Le temps de l’Afrique’
‘C’est le temps de l’Afrique’, said Nizar Baraka, Minister of Finance in the Kingdom of Morocco, and the outgoing chair of the African Development Bank’s Board of Governors. ‘This is Africa’s hour.’
At today’s closing press conference for the Annual Meetings, he shared three other ‘convictions’: that the continent needs to add value to its production, in other words to make more of its natural resources and enter into global value chains; that the continent’s most basic and defining need is infrastructure; and that the Bank’s proposed Africa50Fund is the need which can meet the need. ‘Point final’, ‘full stop, end of paragraph’ and – as I said in another context, about the Bank’s return to its Headquarters in Abidjan – ‘le débat est clos’.
I had little to add, and nor did Claver Gatete, the Rwandan Finance Minister who will be the next chairman. The last day of this conference has passed in a blur of meetings, interviews, statements, communiqués, thanks, and promises. I shall reflect on these in long airborne hours tonight and tomorrow, as I fly from Marrakesh via London to Japan, and specifically the Tokyo International Conference on African Development, TICAD. Japan is an important partner for the Bank, a big contributor to the African Development Fund, and my task there is not just to encourage Japanese government funding in Africa, but private sector investment too.
An airplane may just provide blessed sanctuary after the intensity of this week’s meetings. If I am not mixing too many metaphors here, it can bring me down to earth. The final press conference helped me to do that – a Zimbabwean journalist shared both the triumphs and tribulations of life in his country, a Cameroonian journalist asked about infrastructure needs in her country. Minister Gatete reminded me of my own country, ‘the land of a thousand hills’, where these meetings will be held next year. I recalled my final speech, and the images of fragility in the Sahel, the Horn of Africa, the Mano River. I resurrected some of my own images – what I have called ‘the corrosive clichés’ – of Africa and its challenges, and remembered many of the individual moments in my own life when I have felt a clear conviction to try and improve the lot of my fellow Africans.
It is these people, and millions more, whom this Bank serves. Don’t only judge the AAA-rated Development Bank by the health of its balance sheet, or even by the clever things it can do with its own and others’ money. We do the legwork … to raise the money … to build the road … to link the towns … to join the countries … to build up the region … to change the continent. This is the road that takes the children to school, the pregnant mothers to hospital, the crops to market … the economy into orbit. This week’s Bank Annual Meetings in Marrakesh have been about that – finding ways to make the tipping point the turning point, and ensure that this is indeed ‘le temps de l’Afrique’.