As Nigeria’s Dr. Adesina wins AfDB presidency



May 29, 2015 By Abu-Bakarr Sheriff & Gabriel Benjamin

GOOD FIGHT … Dr. Samura Kamara has the pedigree and credentials but not the votes
GOOD FIGHT … Dr. Samura Kamara has the pedigree and credentials but not the votes

Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development of Nigeria, Dr. Akinwumi A. Adesina, was yesterday announced in Abidjan, Ivory Coast as the new President of the African Development Bank (AfDB).

He is set to replace Donald Kaberuka of Rwanda, who ten years of stellar performance is due to terminate at the end of July.

Dr. Adesina was among eight candidates, including Sierra Leone’s Dr. Samura Kamara, who vied to head Africa’s premier development bank. Prior to his election, Dr. Adesina said: “I’m running for President of the AfDB because I have a vision for Africa, an Africa that actually has inclusive growth, and an Africa where you have countries that are actually well linked to each other, so it’s regionally integrated. An Africa that is connected to the rest of the world, so you have an Africa that is globally competitive.”

The erstwhile vice president (policy and partnership) at Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) will now be judged by his ability to connect the vast continent and ensure that economic growth and development lift people out of poverty.

Sierra Leone’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Dr. Samura Kamara, was the first among the eight candidates to be eliminated from the contest. His early exit from the contest was received back home with shock but not surprise as he had mounted a belated media and diplomatic campaign to head the bank.

In a crowded field of eight aspirants, the soft-spoken economist-cum-diplomat was no doubt a formidable candidate.

He had anchored his campaign on four key policy goals, expressed in a broad outline vision statement: fighting inequality, deepening African integration, promoting economic diversification, tackling climate change and promoting green growth.

In a statement attributed to him following the first hurdle fall, he gracefully underscored that he did not receive the required number of votes, and pledged his support to the new president, as he thanked President Ernest Bai Koroma and the people of Sierra Leone for “their reserved support”.

“Having contributed to the successful post-conflict recovery of our nation, as well as the region’s more recent efforts to eradicate Ebola, I look forward to advancing our ongoing policy objectives,” said Dr. Kamara.

But why did Dr. Samura Kamara lose?

The poor show by Dr. Kamara cannot be unconnected to several factors, chief among which the outbreak of Ebola in the country, poor publicity both in local and foreign media, economic size of Sierra Leone and her shares in the AfDB.

The Ebola outbreak may have connived to scupper Dr. Kamara’s bid to head the AfDB. The process to elect a new president to lead the bank into the next decade commenced almost one year ago on 1 July 2014, when Secretary General of the Bank invited nominations from African Governors of Central Banks.

Although countries had until 30 January 2015 to send in nominations, the enormity of the deadliest Ebola virus in the world would have almost made it impossible for Dr. Samura Kamara to hit the ground running in his campaign to win hearts and minds across the continent and beyond.

Thus, unlike his other competitors, he was busy representing his country at various fora, canvassing for funds to fight the Ebola virus. Simply put, he may have been distracted by a far bigger chance of chasing and gunning down the Ebola virus, instead of pushing his candidature to the ‘electorate’ – the Board of Governors of the bank. Put simply, he put country before self.

In effect, his campaign kick-started after the virus started showing signs of receding early this year. By that time, the other candidates had gone very far in their campaign. The Cape Verdean candidate, for example, Cristina Duarte, was busy crisscrossing the continent since last year.

Besides that, but perhaps as a consequence of the ‘Ebola factor’, it took Dr. Kamara just days to meet and romance with the local press and to energise his campaign. Granted he made few charm offensives in the international media, but those were few and spasmodic.

In April, Nigeria’s former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, in the company of Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, was in South Africa. The latter was leveraging on Atiku’s international connections to shore up the much-needed support for the Nigerian candidate following his endorsement by both outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan and President-elect Muhammadu Buhari.

Also, President-elect Buhari last month conveyed his support for Adesina to the President of Ghana, John Mahama, when the two leaders met in Abuja.

None of this high profile politicking was done by President Koroma as a way of boosting the chances of Dr. Kamara.

Also, the size of Sierra Leone and the shares she owns in the bank may have been Dr. Kamara’s undoing. Although the victory is Nigeria’s first, yet her very size and influence, coupled with the number of shares she has in the bank, may have tilted things in her favour. That said, it is no gainsaying that Dr. Adesina, like all the other candidates, was formidable.

But arguably, Dr. Kamara may have lost because of the mistake of the composition of his campaign team in Abidjan. The team certainly had strong personalities, but many clearly lacked the finesse and panache of how to navigate and engineer international diplomacy.

Including Mohamed Bangura of the shadowy United Democratic Party (UDM), a man who was the hatchet man to hound former UN chief in Sierra Leone, Michael Schulenburg, out of the country, and on several occasions has cast slurs against diplomats, was to say the least, not well thought out! What value did Mr. Bangura bring to the campaign team in Abidjan other than to collect his per diem and take full advantage of photo opportunities? No one needs reminding that international diploma is meant for people with brain, character and name or personality recognition. For shouting out loud, this was an election at Africa’s premier bank, the continent’s biggest lending institution, rivaling the World Bank in financing infrastructure projects to improve electricity, transport and water services, not your run-to-the-mill election. Thus, the composition of a candidate’s campaign team is something to be reckoned with!

That said, Dr. Kamara fought a valiant fight and may have just endeared himself to many on the continent and around the world, and could well be set for the sky!