The president of the African Development Bank (AfDB), Akinwumi Adesina, hit back on Wednesday at accusations of corruption and vowed to continue working. In a press statement, Adesina slammed “unprecedented attempts by some to tarnish my reputation” and declared “I will… continue to work with each and every one of our shareholders.”
The United States is pressing for an independent probe into charges by whistleblowers - declared as unfounded by an internal inquiry - of alleged embezzlement and favoritism under Adesina, who is bidding for a second five-year term at the helm.
“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,” Adesina said. He cited “my heroes, Nelson Mandela and Kofi Annan, whose lives have shown that through pain we grow.”
“I am confident that fair, transparent and just processes that respect the rules, procedures and governance systems of the Bank, and rule of law, will ultimately prove that I have not violated the Code of Ethics of this extraordinary institution,” he said.
Adesina is the first Nigerian to be in charge of the AfDB, one of the world’s five largest multilateral development banks. The former Nigerian agriculture minister is known for his bow ties and flamboyant manner, but also for a managerial style that critics say is authoritarian. The bank was shaken by a string of high-level departures soon after his arrival.
The 60-year-old is the only candidate in an election which was set for late May but which has been postponed until August because of the coronavirus pandemic. His bid has received the backing of the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
On May 22, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin sent the bank’s board a letter expressing “deep reservations” about the outcome of an internal inquiry clearing Adesina, and urged the appointment of “an independent outside investigator of high professional standing. We fear that wholesale dismissal of all allegations without appropriate investigation will tarnish the reputation of this institution as one that does not uphold high standards of ethics and governance,” Mnuchin wrote.
The bank’s ethics committee had totally exonerated Adesina, saying the whistleblowers’ 15-page complaint “rested on no objective, solid facts.” Adesina himself has previously dismissed the allegations as “spurious and unfounded” and “blatantly false.”
In October 2019, the AfDB raised $115 billion (105 billion euros) in fresh capital, an operation deemed a personal success for Adesina. The bank has 80 state shareholders, 54 of which are African. The others are from the Americas, Asia and Europe. The biggest shareholder is Nigeria, with nine percent.
Adesina’s future on the balance
The second tenure of Nigerian-born Dr. Adesina as AfDB president appears to be hanging in the balance, as Nigeria; the highest shareholder is yet to declare whether it would adopt the recommendations of the Ethics Committee that cleared him of allegations of corruption. Adesina is seeking re-election after his first tenure of five years that will end in early September 2020. The election would have taken place in May this year but for the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sources close to the AfDB confirmed that the Ethics Committee, an internal independent body of the bank, had investigated the allegations and submitted its report to the dean of the governors made up of political representatives of the 80-member countries with Nigeria and United States as the biggest and the second biggest shareholders.
The board of governors comprises 54 African members and 26 non-African members, including the United States. The current Executive Director of Japan, who chairs the board of governors as dean is said to have received the recommendation of the Ethics Committee following the probe of the AfDB president and had forwarded the same to all the 80 members for adoption.
According to a source, who is conversant with the process, all the finance ministers or political representatives of the member states “will have to get approval from their presidents before sending their country’s position on the matter.” It was learnt that many if not all the 54 Africa member countries would adopt the recommendations. Yinusa Abdullahi Tanko, Special Adviser, Media and Communications to the Finance Minister, could not confirm the position of Nigeria as the biggest shareholder, even as the United States Treasury, rather than vote quietly decided to leak its rejection of the recommendation to the media. Equatorial Guinea has countered the U.S by publicly adopting the position of the bank’s Ethics Committee that cleared Adesina of wrongdoing.
According to Yinusa, “The minister will not be making any comment on the issue please. It’s still a news media report/speculation. On the flipside, news report also has it that the same people who made the allegations against him (Adesina) have also stepped down their allegations.” There was confusion as to whether or not the president of the African continental financial institution would step aside as reported by some media outfits.
In a letter he personally signed yesterday, Adesina thanked the AfDB’s shareholders for the clearance given him from the internal investigation of the allegations of dealing abuses made against him and assured them that he was ready to take the bank to the new vision where it would address in a sustainable manner infrastructure challenges. He urged stakeholders as well as shareholders to disregard reports in certain quarters to the effect that he has stepped down.
Adesina: in the cross hairs of America
There are strong indications that one of the non-African shareholders, the United States of America has not hidden her distaste for the revolutionary manner Adesina was driving the AfDB such that it would wean Africa from relying on the West for solutions to Africa’s problems through the dramatic increase in the share capital of the financial institution which will enable it to undertake so much intervention on the continent. According to sources in and outside of the Africa’s premier development institution, there was and there has always been an insidious attempt by the United States to remove Adesina, a Nigerian, as president of the bank.
For the record, the United States vigorously opposed him during his election in 2015. Ever since, at the board level, the US has done everything possible to derail Adesina and his Africa-focused development agenda. Sources alleged that the so-called whistleblower allegations made against Adesina were orchestrated by the American representative at the bank, Stephen Dowd, whom the French press has since unmasked. Many observers believe what the Trump administration is doing at the AfDB is no different than what it is currently doing at the World Health Organization (WHO).
On January 16, 2020, allegations of ethical breaches were levelled against Adesina by whistleblowers. In contravention of bank rules, a certain member of the Ethics Committee, again believed to be Stephen Dowd, leaked the complaints to staff, the public, and the press, in what was clearly the beginning of an assault and a major smear campaign.
The Ethics Committee, made up of executive directors representing shareholder nations, deliberated over every allegation 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 were 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.
The fact is that the governance procedures of the bank during the investigation were followed to the letter. However, as the outcome of the investigation did not suit the anticipated expectations of the US, it now seeks 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. According to the sources, America believes that Adesina is an unapologetic pan-Africanist, who, more than any other president, has moved the development agenda of the bank and Africa forward in a manner that no other in the bank’s 56-year history has done.
On the board, he does not kowtow to the U.S. or its whims on critical issues relating to Africa’s development. In 2019, he successfully led the bank’s shareholder General Capital Increase from $93 billion to $208 billion. In the process, he became 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. It was a gambit that paid off in spite of initial strong American opposition.
In 2018, Adesina 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 US 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 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.
Nigeria is the bank’s largest shareholder, followed by Egypt, Germany, and the United States. In 2019, an Op-ed believed to have been crafted by the American Executive Director (Stephen Dowd), appeared in an American newspaper – The Hill. Among other things, it questioned why the US (as the second largest non-regional shareholder and the fourth largest shareholder after Nigeria, Egypt, and Germany), did not have veto power at the African Development Bank.
“The US Treasury Department has not taken kindly to the fact that 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,” the sources said.
In 2019, the US set up DFC – the Development Finance Corporation – with approximately $60 billion. With DFC and firm control of the World Bank, the idea by the Trump administration, which has made no secret of its anti-multilateral development bias, was to checkmate China on the African continent. The sinister plot is to use US 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. Today, the ball is in the court of especially African shareholder nations. What they decide and what they allow could very well determine the future of the African Development Bank and the future of Africa’s development.