AfDB President vows his innocence and integrity as U.S. moves to scuttle his 2nd term bid

AfDB President Adesina

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(GUN) - President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), Dr Akinwumi Adesina, on Wednesday maintained his innocence and integrity after the bank’s board succumbed to pressure from the United States government by ordering “a new and independent probe” of his activities in the bank.

AfDB is Africa’s largest multilateral development financial institution with Nigeria as the major shareholder.

The AfDB board decided to go for an independent probe after the U.S. Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, openly rejected the decision of the bank’s ethics committee to clear Adesina of all the allegations brought against him by some whistleblowers. Incidentally, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland supported the U.S Treasury’s stand on the matter.

The U.S Government, in its letter AfDB’s board of directors, appeared convinced that the ethics committee of the bank did not do a proper preliminary investigation in line with standard practices in the other international multilateral financial institutions and the bank’s own rules and procedures.

The U.S. government, who is the second-largest shareholder after Nigeria, claimed that several top officials of the bank, including Adesina, worked towards sabotaging the activities of the ethics committee after initially sitting on the allegations for six weeks.

The independent probe is coming barely three months to the bank’s annual general meeting, where Adesina is expected to be ratified for a second term, having been the sole Presidential candidate.

Prelude to the move through the Whistleblowers, on 6 October 2019, on OpEd appeared in an American newspaper – The Hill, questioning among other things, why the U.S. (as the second largest non-regional shareholder and the 4th largest shareholder after Nigeria, Egypt, and Germany), did not have veto power at the African Development Bank.

Nigeria is the Bank’s largest shareholder, followed by Egypt, Germany and the United States.  

But Dr Adesina came out forcefully in his own defence in a Press Statement he personally signed on Wednesday, stating “absolute confidence in the integrity of the Bank that I lead and its governance systems, rules and procedures. 

“In spite of unprecedented attempts by some to tarnish my reputation and prejudice the Bank’s governance procedures, I maintain my innocence with regard to trumped up allegations that unjustly seek to impugn my honor and integrity, as well as the reputation of the African Development Bank. 

“I sincerely appreciate the support of the Bank’s shareholders. At this time, I remain confident that ultimately and as one collective, the Bank will emerge stronger than before and continue to support Africa’s development drive.

“I draw great inspiration from my heroes, Nelson Mandela and Kofi Annan, whose lives have shown that through pain we grow. As Martin Luther King Jnr. once said, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” 

“I am confident that fair, transparent and just processes that respect the rules, procedures and governance systems of the Bank, and the rule of law, will ultimately prove that I have not violated the Code of Ethics of this extraordinary institution.

“I will therefore continue to work with each and everyone of our shareholders to ensure that the African Development Bank maintains its hard earned global reputation, and that our credible and well-functioning institutional and governance systems are reinforced, as we collectively press on to fulfill the mission of our founders to accelerate and transform Africa’s development.”

But the reality is that what has been at the helm of this seeming crisis is the unyielding determination of the U.S. to remove Akinwumi Adesina, a Nigerian, as President of the Bank and to stop his second term at the bank.

It should be noted that there has been no love for Adesina by the U.S. as they vehemently opposed his nomination and election as the AfDB President in 2015. Not succeeding, they have done whatever they could, at the board level, to derail him and his Africa-focused development agenda.

The current attempt is through a “whistleblower,” who the French media identified as the American representative at the bank, Mr Stephen Dowd. The whole essence of the allegations is to undermine the credibility of the Bank, derail Adesina’s leadership, and possibly set the pretext for a veiled threat to pull out of the Bank as a shareholder.

Part of the accusations against Dr Adesina include claims of giving contracts to acquaintances, appointing relatives and friends to strategic positions, and giving preferential treatment to Nigeria.

The plot to scuttle Dr ADesina’s second term bid opened up on January 16, 2020 when allegations of ethical breaches were leveled against Adesina, allegedly, by  whistleblowers.

In contravention of Bank rules, a certain member of the Ethics Committee, leaked the complaints to staff, the public, and the media, in what was clearly the beginnings of an assault and a major smear campaign.

The Bank’s Ethics Committee, made up of Executive Directors representing shareholder nations, deliberated over every single one of the allegations over a three-month span and in May 2020 cleared Adesina on every single allegation.

The report described the allegations as frivolous, baseless, and without merit or evidence. The report and conclusive deliberations of the Ethics Committee was subsequently sent to all Governors (Finance Ministers) of the Bank’s 81 shareholder counties, including the United States.

It is believed that America’s intention all along was that even if one of the allegations stuck, Adesina would have to be removed as President of the Bank and made ineligible for re-election in May 2020. This attempt failed.

Adesina had his job cut out for him as he battles his current travails is coming because of his “unapologetic Pan-Africanist” attitude as he has refocused the development agenda of the Bank and Africa in an unprecedented manner in the bank’s 56-year history.

He has been too independent in his decisions and focus, unlike his predecessors who put the interest of the U.S. over that of the bank or Africa’s development.

Generally, Dr Adesina had successfully led the Bank’s shareholder General Capital Increase from $93 billion to $208 billion in 2019, effectively becoming the first Bank President to take the risk of championing a case for increasing capital for Africa’s development during a first term in office. Surprisingly, the gambit paid off, despite initial strong American opposition.

In 2018, he championed and helped create the Bank-sponsored Africa Investment Forum which in 2018 and 2019 attracted more than $80 billion in infrastructure investment interests into the continent.

This was an unprecedented initiative. The U.S. representative was said to have considered the Forum a departure from the Bank’s original mandate. Some also saw this as an attempt by Adesina to help wean African nations off of a dependency on foreign aid. Some critics also suggested that Adesina was attempting to burnish his credentials among African Heads of State via the investment forum.

Sources also said that the U.S. Treasury Department has not taken kindly to the fact Adesina has not publicly spoken against China’s increasing economic dominance in Africa. Instead, he has framed his economic argument as follows – “Do not be overly concerned about China’s presence in Africa economically. Be more concerned about America’s absence.”

In 2019, the U.S. set up DFC – the Development Finance Corporation with approximately $60 billion. With DFC and firm control of the World Bank the idea was that the U.S., which has not hidden its anti-multilateral development bias, could easily checkmate China on the African continent.

The current plan therefore is  to use U.S. reservations about the conclusions of the African Development Bank’s  Ethics Committee as a pretext to possibly pull out of the Bank (Stephen Dowd is reported to have intimated some of his colleagues on the Board of this plan early in May 2020).

The veiled attempt is to imperil the institution financially, and subsequently become the dominant development power on the continent.

With DFC and the World Bank under its control, the U.S. would seek to dominate Africa economically via a proverbial carrot and stick strategy.

If the Governors of the Bank come back to the United States, and say “no we have carried out our due diligence and duly cleared Adesina of any wrong doing,” this will be the signal for the U.S. to carry out its next line of action  – a possible pullout from the Bank.