"The African Development Bank needs to provide thought leadership, innovative ideas in terms of its operations to enable its operations to be effective on the ground," said Temitope Waheed Oshikoya, AfDB Research Department Director, in an interview he gave to the Bank Group’s internal newsletter, Bank in Action. Africans should generate research findings to enable the continent use home-grown knowledge, he said at the African Economic Conference in Addis Ababa from November 15-17, 2007, at the United Nations Conference Centre where more than three hundred researchers, policy makers and academics converged.
Question: What is your impression of the African Economic Conference?
Answer: As you know the development research department and the office of the chief economist of the African development Bank are the main organisers of the conference. Indeed, we organise the first maiden conference, and the ECA decided to join. We think it is a strong partnership and the turn out was very impressive with more than 300 people attending. It involves bringing the Diaspora, academic community, a policy-making experts, as well as Bank Group and ECA specialists. So far, we are very impressed about the presentations on the turn out as well as discussions. We believe the debate will continue to be as lively. We feel that at the end of the conference, we will have concrete ideas to take back to Tunis, which will influence our operation, policies and corporate services.
Question: Your department is the brain behind this initiative. How do you think research will help Africa emerge out of its development issues?
Answer: Yes, you are quite right. The research department was actually the main initiator of this conference. Research is extremely important for bank activities as well as for its member countries. As you know the bank has two capitals, the first is financial resources, and the second is people and knowledge. Knowledge is important because it is the foundation of all the business activities that the bank does. The bank needs to provide thought leadership, innovative ideas in terms of its operations to enable its operations to be effective on the ground. In a sense, promote increased development effectiveness. There are several issues that are facing the continent at the global, regional and country levels, as well as at a sector level. Research and knowledge need to underscore each of these issues. The African Development Bank must be at the centre in terms of bringing in new ideas, using its convening power to bring people and experts beyond the bank to deliberate on development issues facing the continent.
Question: After all the discussions what do you think will be the next step?
Answer: The next step, this is just the first step, in the sense that you have to generate ideas through research, but you must also disseminate that research effectively. And to do so, it means that we will try, in terms of the bank and its operations, to incorporate suggestions and ideas that are gained from the conference into bank operations. Indeed that is why we have several bank staff from the operation and policy complex at the conference. Among regional member countries, we do hope that the issues that are being raised will influence policy-making at the country level, particularly within the Ministries of Planning, Finance as well as the central banks. Among the researchers themselves, within the academia, we believe that we should be able to marry both theory and practise in a sense that we can redefine, reshape the research process, and ideas given the input they have been able to gain from the conference. So from the three angles, we realise that the next step will be to be able to use the ideas that are gained from the conference to influence our operations in the Bank and at the country level with a view to influencing decision-making processes. This will also enable researchers in universities to be able to redefine the way and the approach with which they deal with African development issues.
Question: Many observers think that this is another such conference because several others have taken place in Africa and no concrete results have been obtained. What do think about this?
Answer: In any human endeavour there will always be doubters. I hope they will not doubt us this time around. This conference is unique in the sense that it has been organised by Africans for Africans for the development of Africa. And as such the key thing is to build on the momentum generated to sustain the conference and also to disseminate ideas and suggestions that are made during the conference as I earlier indicated in such a way that they can influence our policy-making, our operational activities as well as redefining such activities on the ground. We listened to the UNECA executive secretary during the plenary and he said that, in general, critical development issues have been dwelt upon by non-Africans. We would like to see more Africans get into the debate. This is the starting point, this is an entry point, and this is why the African Development Bank in conjunction with the UNECA has decided that this conference must be sustained. Last year, there were positive and concrete outcomes from the conference, as Mr. Louis Kasekende, the AfDB Chief Economist, mentioned earlier. We came out with a publication, which has been disseminated. We have also tried to redefine the strategy plan for even our own activities within the Chief Economist (ECON) complex. And the output from last year’s conference is also influencing the bank’s own strategic direction in terms of operations. I believe that we can sustain this in the future.
Question: What are your expectations for the future regarding the conference as one of the architects?
Answer: This question is very pertinent. As one of the architects, I am positive that what we have started will continue and it will be sustained. As I indicated this was started by Africans, for Africa. We believe that the momentum will gather, the train has left the station, and those who do not want to miss it should get on board at the next station. It should be sustained with Bank staff commitment, as well as that of the leadership of both the Bank and the ECA. It should be sustained by people like you, who have communicated the conference importance, disseminate its output and its activities. We strongly believe that with the right set of ideas and with the right set of people and the resource behind it, it will be sustained. The clientele is growing larger and larger among the policy-makers, among researchers, as well as among bank staff. New ideas are coming up in terms of trying to confront Africa’s development challenges. And so long as we have Africa’s development challenges for the next medium to long term, we believe that the conference will continue to be useful to expand innovative ideas with a view to providing solutions to these development challenges.