Doctor Akinwunmi Adesina, Nigeria’s former Minister of Agriculture and President of the African Development Bank Group was recently awarded an Honorary Doctorate Degree (Doctor of Science, Honoris Causa) by his Alma Mater, Obafemi Awolowe University, Ile-Ife. In this interview with Jimoh Babatunde, he outlined his vision as President of AfDB i n the areas of provision of energy, industrialization, agriculture, integrating the continent and improving the quality of life for Africans.
He said Africa Development Bank is investing heavily in infrastructure, ports, rails, air transport facilities that will make it easier to connect countries, land lock countries to coastal countries, adding that at the end of the day development is about people. ‘We must put people at the very heart of development”, he said.
By Jimoh Babatunde
On leading AfDB
Once the election was over for me work started right away. For me it was not really about me but what Africans need quickly . First and foremost, if you take a look at Africa situation today, you have about five million Africans that are living on less than a dollar a day. For me that is absolutely not acceptable. Poverty must not become the comparative advantage of Africa, Africa has no business of being poor.
This is a very rich continent. My job is to try and focus on development that make development happen in a faster way in the life of Africans. So I picked five priorities very quickly. One is to light up and power Africa, the second is to feed Africa, the third one is to industrialise Africa, the fourth is to integrate Africa and last is to improve the quality of life for Africans.
On importance of the five selected priorities
First take light and power Africa. Today, you have 640 million people in Africa that do not have access to electricity. People go to school they read with candles and lanterns. Industries cannot function. Industrialization is stalled, small and medium sized businesses don’t function. Hospitals cannot keep simple vaccines.
Look at some schools In Sierra Leone , I read story of some kids that actually read with electricity that somebody put a wire outside someone’s compound and the kids come there at night to read. Does that make any sense?. So, it is very important for us to realize that today Africa looses three to four percent of its GDP every year for lack of access to electricity. So economic growth is stalled.
We can easily be growing as a continent at ten, twelve and fifteen percent with electricity. Africans are very entrepreneurial but without electricity you are nothing. I believe that Africans are tired of being in the dark. So lighting up and power Africa is a great thing, we have to unlock the tremendous amount of renewable energy potential we have.
Let me tell you how huge that potential is. Today, Africa only produces electricity the same size as Spain, the same size as Belgium. A whole continent of over 1.2 billion people, but if you look at the size of energy potential we have it is almost limitless.
Take solar for example; our sunshine should do more than just simply nourishing our crops. They need to help us power our homes. The big hydros we have should be powering our industries. The numbers are staggering, Africa today in terms of renewable energy potential, take solar, it has 11 terawatts of solar potential all across the Sahara. The sunshine is there all the time
You take hydro power, we have 350 gigawatts potential , you take wind power, we have 110 gigawatts potential. You take geo thermal which is very important in East Africa and Central Africa, you have another 15 gigawatts to that, So Africa absolutely has potential in energy, but you can’t power industries with the potentials, you cannot light up a home with potentials. So we got to really unlock that particular potential.
Second, I am particularly bordered by the fact that seven hundred million Africans today don’t have access to basic cooking energy. 600, 000 of them die every year, fifty percent of those are children under the age of five, fifty percent are women. All they are trying to do is basic, just trying to cook. So they rely on fuel wood, on charcoal and so on.
Nobody has to die simply trying to cook. So I made a decision that if God allows me to be president of the Bank for ten years, if we are loosing 600,000 people every year, it means for ten years, six million people would have died. I will never be such President. We are going to solve that particular problem and provide universal access to all seven hundred million Africans today that don’t have access to cook energy, we will do it in that period of time of ten years.
Second, we picked the issue of feeding Africa. 65 percent of all the lands left in the world is to feed nine billion people by 2050 is not in Asia, or Latin America but right here in Africa, but Africa cannot feed itself.
If Africa is spending $35 billion importing food that it should be producing and as we do that we weaken our exchange rate. We are also exporting jobs and importing poverty at the same time as well as decimating the rural areas where you should be actually getting a lot of import. No, Africa must not only feed itself, Africa must have a higher level of ambition and actually feed the world because we have got the potential to do that.
The third area that I picked which was around the issue of industrialization. You can’t create jobs without industries and of course it is linked to the issue of power. If there is no power you cannot really fund industries as well.
But industrialization is important. Take the example of the basic thing like cocoa. Nigeria, Ivory coast, Cameron and Ghana account for 75 percent of the total production of cocoa in the world, but we only account for two percent of the total value of the chocolates produced in the world annually and the market for that chocolate is 100 billion dollars in a year.
So we are producing, others are getting rich. So Africans should not be at the bottom of the value chain in every thing. We must be at the top of the value chain. We cannot be producing crude oil, exporting the crude and importing Petroleum products. You can’t also be exporting whether it is gold, platinum, Zinc, copper, we keep exporting raw materials. I have not seen any region in the world that has become prosperous exporting raw materials, because you are subject to global volatility in these markets.
So, we made up our minds in the banks that we need to support African countries to industrialize. Today, African share of the global manufacturing is only 1. 9 percent and it is declining. It used to be 3.4 some years ago, so we are flat and so Africa must industrialize if it has to create jobs, so my position and that of the Bank is that everything Africa produces, we must add value to it. Whether it is oil and gas, whether it is minerals and metals, weather it is agricultural commodities.
The fourth area, which is integrating Africa, is big. We have 54 countries which is a huge market. We must be trading more with ourselves. Today the volume of Trade is only about ten percent within Africa. In North America free trade area, it is well over 54 percent.
Among the Europeans it is well above 70 percent. In Asia, it is well over 60 percent. No, that is why Africa Development Bank is investing heavily in infrastructure, ports, rails, air transport facilities that will make it easier to connect countries, land lock countries to coastal countries.
We are also investing in ICT infrastructure for connectivity among countries, integration is very critical for us. And finally, is improving the quality of life of people. At the end of the day development is about people. We must put people at the very heart of development. They must feel the impact of developments in terms of education, in terms of skills, access to basic things like water, sanitation, health are very important.
I don’t accept that it is a great thing even when you make bore holes, we are used to making bore holes and sometimes I see when you make bore holes you make a big news about it. For the fact that you are making a bole hole is an indication of government failure. We must have access to pipe born water for people. Water is life and you must have access to it. These are what the Bank is focusing on. So, I have my hands full.
On how Nigeria is going to benefits from the energy financing
We are going to work with Nigeria big time on the energy sector. Nigeria is actually leading in terms of the reform in the energy sector with the unbundling of the utilities and the privatization of both power generation, power transmission and distribution. I think Nigeria should be highly commended.
There are still a lot of work to be done. We have started discussions with the government and I know President Buhari is determined on the energy sector and we are determined to provide strong support. We have started that conversation. You will see it as it happens.
On the take away from the recent COP 21 for Africa
The COP 21 was where Africa went to not to beg. Africa went to Paris to make a case that we are going to be part of the solution and we want the issue of Africa to be centre in all the negotiations. I made a very big case out of it. Today Africa loses about 50 billion dollars a year as a result of climate change.
Africa is the least emitter in terms of green house emissions in the world. Only 4 percent, we are suffering in terms of the negative impact of that climate change. If you want to see the impacts take a look at Lake Chad. It used to be 25,000 kilometres but today it is 2000. The livelihoods are gone, the opportunities are gone. The whole area is taken over by terrorists because there is no livelihoods left there.
So climate change not only affect agriculture or food, it decimates livelihoods and makes the degradation of the environment so bad that even terrorist take advantage of it. A lot of great is being done now on how to clean up all of that, but some of the root causes are these things I have just mentioned to you.
So the positions of Africa in Paris are as follows. First and foremost, there should be a legally binding agreement that keep the temperature rise in the world to not more than two degree Celsius. In fact it should not be more than 1. 5 degree because right now, it is only one percent that Africa’s is suffering. Second, that there has to be more financing for climate adaptation, as Africa needs to adapt to what it has not created and the African Development Bank made a very big case about this in Paris.
Third what are we as Africans doing to solve the problem? I announced that AfDB will increase our support for climate financing to $5 billion a year by 2020. That will make us one of the largest financiers of climate change among the development banks in the world. So climate finance in the AfDB by 2020 will represent 40 percent of all of our portfolio as I want greener Africa and the Bank is ready to support that.
The last thing I will say about COP 21 is that I am happy about the political will. President Buhari was there. He made a very big convincing point about the need to revive Lake Chad. So many African Heads of State were there too. With that political will, I believe COP 21 at the end of the day should be a success. But let me be clear that if the issue of climate financing for Africa is not sorted out then I will consider COP 21 not being a success.
On how AfDB will assist members state to achieve the SDGs
The AfDB is to help African countries to accelerate the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. But for me, I like to simplify complex problems, there can be no development of any kind without electricity. It does not matter what you talk about. If there is no electricity you can’t have industries, you can’t create jobs, you can’t do ICTs, you can’t be competitive. Electricity is like blood in the body and without it the body can’t function.
It all comes down to how you make sure that the big enablers of development are dealt with. I believe that the Hi five we have chosen at the bank will help us in dealing with that.
On challenges of leading the Bank
It has been quite exciting for me as you know I am a reform minded person. I think the Bank is working with all of the Hi five. We are all working very hard. For me the only thing that ever matters in any thing I do is result.
Nothing else matters and I have no doubt that with the support of the African governments, with the support of our partners, the shareholders and support of private sector, I have no doubt we can achieve those things we have set for the Hi five. I am an optimist when it comes to Africa. I believe that Africa’s better days are ahead of it. And I think the AfDB has a crucial role to play in that, but we have to keep working and that one I can promise you I do all the time.
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