US, African Development Bank Face Off

Akinwumi Adesina
AfDB President Akinwumi Adesina

The Trump administration’s call for an independent investigation of allegations against the president of the African Development Bank elicited sharply worded protests from Africans and African-Americans alike.

Accusations of U.S. “meddling,” “bullying,” “hypocrisy,” “witch hunt” and “neocolonialism” came swiftly after U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin formally rejected the bank’s Ethics Committee that “totally exonerated” Akinwumi Adesina of improper conduct, and called for an external probe.

The face-off between the US administration and the bank comes amid growing calls from Africans and people of African descent for Africa to stand firm against foreign agendas that do not align with the continent’s self-determined development goals. Pan-Africans contend that Washington wants Adesina out because he does not represent U.S. interests.

The African Diaspora Congress (ADC) is mortified by the ongoing blatant US interference in the African Development Bank (AfDB) leadership under President Akinwumi Adesina,” the U.S.-based group said in a statement. “The ADC joins all Africans, Africans in Diaspora, the 6th Region and all friends of Africans and the AfDB in signing this petition as a protest against undue US meddling in African affairs…Neocolonialism is outdated!”

In Nigeria, Adesina’s home country, lawmakers condemned the U.S. move, noting that the bank’s Ethics Committee followed the rule of law governing the bank in its inquiry into Adesina’s conduct.

“The House is troubled that if this sort of witch-hunt and unnecessary harassment is not put to check and discouraged, it may become a recurring decimal, thereby destabilising the stability the bank has enjoyed for decades and the intended results on a steady decrease,” said Ndudi Elumelu, minority leader in the House of Representatives in Nigeria.

In a letter dated May 22 and addressed to Niale Kaba, chairwoman of the bank’s board of governors, Mnuchin said Washington could not support the Ethics Committee’s “wholesale dismissal” of the allegations against Adesina.

“We have deep reservations about the integrity of the committee’s process,” Mnuchin wrote. “We urge you to initiate an in-depth investigation of the allegations using the services of an independent outside investigator of high professional standing.”

The Ethics Committee conducted an inquiry into charges by unidentified whistleblowers calling themselves a “Group of Concerned Staff Members of the AfDB” that Adesina, among other abuses, embezzled funds, awarded contracts to friends, and appointed relatives to key positions in the bank.

Adesina denies the charges, which his supporters deem suspicious. “I maintain my innocence with regard to trumped up allegations that unjustly seek to impugn my honour and integrity, as well as the reputation of the African Development Bank,” he has said.

A former agriculture and rural development minister of Nigeria and the only candidate for election as president at the bank’s general meeting this year, Adesina holds a doctoral degree in agricultural economics from Purdue University in Indiana. Forbes magazine named him African of the Year in 2013, hailing his “bold reforms” in farming and describing him as “a man on a mission to help Africa feed itself.”

Several former and current African heads of state, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union have endorsed Adesina’s re-election bid. Meanwhile, several of the bank’s European shareholders have lined up behind the US call for a second probe.

Founded in 1964 to promote sustainable economic development and eliminate poverty in Africa, the African Development Bank is the continent’s biggest multilateral lender. It is headquartered in Abidjan, capital of Cote d’Ivoire and is owned by Africa’s 54 nations, with 27 countries in the Americas, Europe, Middle East and Asia as investors. Nigeria is its largest shareholder with a 9.1 percent stake, followed by the United States with a 6.5 stake. Adesina is the first Nigerian to head the bank.

In an open letter to Mnuchin, Harold E. Doley, Jr., the first U.S. Representative to the African Development Bank, urged the treasury secretary to “walk in lockstep with the African Governors and Finance Ministers” in supporting a second term for Adesina. His letter recounted Adesina’s innovative programs during his five-year tenure at the helm of the bank, which have contributed to the bank’s current AAA rating from Fitch Ratings, Moody’s Investors Service and S&P Global Ratings.

“It is an acknowledged fact that Akinwumi Adesina is a global player of impeccable character who has helped mobilize billions of dollars into Africa to help accelerate the continent’s development. It is why the executive committee of the Africa Union, speaking for 55 African countries, unanimously endorsed him as the sole candidate for re-election to a second term. This is vital for Africa’s continued economic growth, infrastructure and investment,” Doley wrote.

“Adesina has astutely led the Bank’s bold and decisive COVID-19 response with the announcement of a $10 billion COVID-19 Response Facility to cushion economic and social impacts of the pandemic on the continent. This, is in addition to the successful launch of an oversubscribed $3 billion Fight COVID19 social bond on the London Stock Exchange, making the largest US dollar denominated social bond ever in world history,” he said.

Looming large behind the US-AfDB rift is the ubiquitous, nettlesome issue of control of Africa and its wealth of globally coveted resources.