The African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF) has a new head, the Senegalese Mamadou Biteye, who takes over from the Nigerian, Prof. Emmanuel Nnadozie who led the organisation for eight years. Baffour Ankomah profiles the new Executive Secretary.
The African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF), the African Union’s specialised agency for capacity building on the continent, welcomed its new Executive Secretary, Mamadou Biteye (right) in May.
Biteye, a Senegalese, joined the Foundation from VISA where he served as vice-president in charge of inclusive growth and social impact.
An agricultural economist by training, he has also headed the operations of the Rockefeller Foundation in Africa and Oxfam in West Africa. In these roles, he led programmes that improved economic transformation among some of Africa’s most vulnerable groups.
A former bank manager in Senegal, Biteye has over 30 years’ experience in the private and public sectors. Both the ACBF Board of Governors (the highest decision-making body of the Foundation) and Executive Board believe that the new Executive Secretary will be key in driving forward ACBF’s mandate at a time of rapid change around the world.
The ACBF was founded in 1991 by 12 African countries that wanted their capacity strengthened in terms of economic development planning, delivery and execution. Today it has over 40 member countries.
It was supported from its inception by the World Bank, the African Development Bank (AfDB), and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). In 31 years, ACBF has achieved significant change as it has spearheaded and robustly coordinated development programmes worth some $800m across 48 countries and eight Regional Economic Communities (RECs).
ACBF plays a leadership role in spearheading Africa’s transformation by providing long-term support in capacity building to state and non-state actors through knowledge, technical advisory services, grants and resource mobilisation.
When the African Union adopted it as its specialised agency for capacity building on the continent in 2017, it was a testimony to ACBF’s cutting-edge work since 1991.
This is the Foundation that Biteye takes over as Executive Secretary. During an interview with New African in the Ghanaian capital, Accra, on the sidelines of ACBF’s 31st Board of Governors (BOG) meeting held on 23 May, he said (referring to himself as ‘we’): “We have had the opportunity, and I would say the blessing, to have worked in many sectors across Africa and also internationally. We have been exposed to, and sometimes even involved in, best practice.”
Given his 30 years’ experience in strategic leadership, public policy analysis, programme development and implementation, financial management, advocacy, campaigning, and capacity building, New African asked him what he expected to bring to his new role at ACBF.
“We have an organisation that has a very competent staff, so what we need is how to steer that potential in the right direction and bring in international good practice in terms of enhancing the quality of our work, programmes, and delivery,” he responded. “All these three are extremely important in producing the value that our member states are expecting from us, and through our member states, the people of Africa who are looking forward to the translation into reality of the continental agenda.”
He continued: “All of that will depend on how we at ACBF prove that we are the right partner to do business with, and that we are engaged and oriented towards the real needs of member states. We believe that this and our track record will be able to inspire the different partners and member states to mobilise and pledge more to ACBF and actually pay those pledges.
He said: “The real bread and butter of ACBF” is “what leads to the attainment of development objectives; it is how, with our help, ministries of finance, economic planning, parliaments, economic and social councils, and other government agencies can deliver better policies. Nobody cares about an institution that doesn’t add value. So what should drive us is the value we bring to member countries.”
The organisation’s direction, he said, will be determined by what member countries see as their priorities. Using a Senegalese proverb he commented: “In my language, we say if someone gives you eyes, you can only look in the direction they direct you to look. I am just trying to say that we cannot have a foreign agenda. For ACBF, it is an African agenda.”
His immediate task is to develop a new Five-Year Strategy for ACBF as the current one (2017-2022) is coming to a close. “The new Five-Year Strategy will be anchored on the priorities of member countries,” he told New African. “It will mean building capacity to address the biggest challenges facing our continent. But it will not be capacity building for capacity’s sake, but capacity building for tangible results”.
Discussing current issues, he said that one of the striking, and worrying aspects in Africa is the continuing preponderance of cash. Personal consumer expenditure on the continent is around $1trn, of which 91% is cash. The solution is greater use of digital systems but, “culturally our people prefer cash in trading transactions,” he explained.
“They are attached to cash because it has materiality. We have to create more and more awareness of the digital systems because today mobile money has transformed the way people see money globally. In the past, money was physical cash; today you can receive money and spend the money without actually touching it. This is progressively changing the mindset that you must have a pack of paper-money in your pocket or wallet to feel that you have money,” he added.
Biteye has also pledged to work to defeat youth unemployment in Africa. It’s what he considers the primary headache for governments. “More than anything,” he said, “I will work for that although it is not an easy issue. Youth unemployment is one of the most difficult challenges of the world. It is in Asia, Latin America and Africa, although it is more acute here in Africa because Africa is an exceptionally young continent. More than half of our population is aged less than 25. So the challenge is more pressing here.
“Thankfully, we have the requisite experience, having implemented youth employment programmes in Africa in the past and come up with approaches and solutions. We believe that we can share these experiences with the private sector, governments, and other stakeholders in Africa to start making a dent in creating the conditions to solve this challenge. ACBF can help immensely in bringing together the best experiences in the private and public sectors, and als0 in academia, to address this challenge.”
On the future of the organisation, Biteye said: “We are confident that with the team that we have, with the strong work of our partners and the support of our owners (the member states), there is no reason why ACBF shouldn’t fly – not as an institution for itself, but fly in the sense of being able to provide the much-needed capacities in different areas that our member states need.”