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Why Africa’s problems are not insurmountable

Interviews

Why Africa’s problems are not insurmountable

As head of one of Africa’s biggest institutions – the African Development Bank (AfDB) – Donald Kaberuka is one of the busiest people on the continent.  We caught up with him to discuss a range of issues in which he and the Bank are currently engaged, including the recently launched report on fragile states in Africa. He is indeed a man taking on numerous challenges pertaining to the development of Africa. How does he do it? Our deputy editor reGina Jane Jere finds out.

Every country in the world has at some point experienced fragility, be it social, political, or economic. Donald Kaberuka, from Rwanda, knows from experience what that means and what can be done about it. A one-time minister of finance and economic planning in Rwanda (between 1997 and 2005), he oversaw and implemented his country’s successful economic reconstruction reforms that are now widely credited for the post-conflict economic growth in the country.

Hence as fragility in many African countries remains a major constraint to economic advancement and political stability, Kaberuka has chosen to do something about it, with the support of other stakeholders, including the African Union (AU).  

Although between 2009 and 2011 the AfDB approved no less than $2.5 billion to help Fragile States, last year the Bank decided to set up a High Level Panel on Fragile States, chaired by the Liberian president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. The Panel was tasked to look into the likely sources of fragility in Africa and to make recommendations both for the Bank and the wider policy community as to how fragility should be tackled, as well as to advise the Bank on how best to expand its engagement in fragile states. The Panel’s final findings after a year of consultations, were unveiled in a report, “Ending Conflict and Building Peace in Africa: A Call to Action”, launched at the January AU heads of state summit in Addis Ababa. The report calls for some sober reading, as its launch came at a critical time when conflicts are raging in the Central African Republic and South Sudan.

According to Kaberuka: “The recent sad events in South Sudan and the Central African Republic remind us of the urgency to find enduring solutions in order to ensure that our continent achieves durable peace and sustainable development, and the Bank’s mandate is to promote and finance the socio-economic development of Africa. We fully understand that post-conflict reconstruction is within our domain of responsibilities.”

He said the High Level Panel had clearly shown that “every single country is vulnerable” to conflict because of tensions such as poverty, exclusion, disenfranchised youth, the extractive industry, and the spillover effects of problems across borders.

“There is not one category of countries to which this type of fragility applies,” Kaberuka said. “It is a potential risk for us all.”

Last year, the Panel deliberated deeply on the complexities of fragility and post-conflict state building and peace-building. “Our discussions have led us to consider the challenges and opportunities that face Africa, and above all, nations in their different stages of transition. Our most important attention has been given to providing sound recommendations that address the drivers of conflict and enable an environment where conflict can become a thing of the past in Africa.

“Our report proposes forward- looking solutions which could mitigate drivers of conflict while understanding that a short to long-term approach would be crucial to the process. We emphasise the need for country ownership while building institutional capacity.

“Such actions have to go hand-in-hand with long-term commitments to national development programmes, with greater flexibility to use financial resources. We believe that the report is going to be crucial in light of the current challenges of new and continuous conflict faced by our continent.” This was the message Kaberuka gave to the AU heads of state.

A few weeks after the launch of the report, New African interviewed Kaberuka in London where he was attending the global summit on ending illicit trade and poaching of endangered animals – yet another important issue that he believes is connected to fragility in Africa, and needs to be part of Africa’s priority issues.

He told New African: “The poaching of illegal wildlife is linked to criminals and terrorism. These two are related. Fragile situations and states are exactly the kind of places where criminal gangs and terrorism flourish. Whether it is jihadists taking advantage of local fragilities or local socio-economic grievances, whether it is these international criminals killing the wildlife, they all take advantage of fragilities, which exist, in many African countries at different levels.

“What I think the report [on Fragile States] says quite well is that you don’t have a group of countries that are fragile, every country has got some elements of fragility in it and you have to deal with it quickly. And dealing with it means resolving some socioeconomic problems, issues of inclusion (including political inclusion), and issues of inequalities. I am very happy that this report has been acclaimed as a major contribution, and we will go far to implement it.”

But how is the AfDB working with these fragile states?

“It’s custom-made. We tailor a solution according to the nature of fragility we see in every country,” Kaberuka explained, saying in some countries the emphasis will be on rebuilding infrastructure, and in others rebuilding institutions. Other countries may simply be helped to pay off some of their arrears to international debtors. However, good intentions aside, the issue of corruption and accountability is always close by, more so in countries in conflict or in a state of fragility. The onus is on the AfDB to ensure that its resources go to where they are most needed.

“The key thing to understand is that, yes, it is risky,” Kaberuka admits. “But you have to look at the facts and the real world. If it is more damaging not to take the risks, then it’s better to take the risks and mitigate and manage them. We try to ensure that the money we deploy is used for the purpose for which it should be used, and also that we get results. In the past, believe me, I have seen very successful cases of post-conflict nation-building, so it can be done, but there are risks to be taken.”

Kaberuka cited his own country, Rwanda, as a case in point. “In 1994, my country was destroyed. In 1994, nobody came to Rwanda. Today Rwanda is said to be a model of reconstruction. Liberia and Sierra Leone were near basket cases, but they are coming up slowly.  So I don’t buy the idea that it can’t be done. It can be done but it requires leadership nationally and globally. It also requires commitment and resources. So yes, there are models of rebuilding nations, and one of the issues that the Fragile States report addresses is what does it take to rebuild a nation.”

The plight of African wildlife

On the issue of wildlife protection in Africa, Kaberuka’s passion is demonstrable, and this is not the last time he will be speaking on the issue. Asked why everyone, including the British Royal Family and world leaders such as Barack Obama, is so keen about the poaching of wildlife and illicit trade in endangered species, Kaberuka is categorical:

“First of all, this is beyond poaching. This is a mass extermination of African wildlife and I’m glad that the world is waking up to this. Any government which wants to work with us to put an end to this menace is very much welcome.

“The attempted mass extermination of African wildlife, in particular elephants and rhinos, is no longer about conservation. It is about the socio-economic sustainability of many of our economies. Last year, in Marrakesh [Morocco], at a meeting of the African Development Bank, I put it on the agenda.

“President Ali Bongo Odimba of Gabon was there; Jim Leape, head of the WWF was there. The Marrakesh Declaration is similar to the London Declaration. We didn’t wait to come to London. Our leaders have also been meeting in Botswana on the effects of the trade in ivory, endangering elephants. This is a continuation of this movement.

“We are all aiming for three things: We need to cap demand, we need to apply the full force of the law as enshrined in international conventions, and thirdly, we need to help affected communities, including game park rangers, with sustainability programmes. Now is the time to implement all these.”

Pressed to explain, why, in the midst of the myriad problems facing Africa, prioritising wildlife protection really mattered, Kaberuka shook his head in disbelief.

“I’m surprised that people think that way,” he said. “The African wildlife is part of our civilisation. In some of our countries, 15% of GDP comes from tourism. Poaching is about criminal activities, much like drugs and money laundering. The rhino and elephant trade is now estimated at $19bn per annum. It’s big money. International organised criminals exterminate our wildlife and impoverish millions of people in African countries.

“There is no doubt about it, people who make money out of this are clearly involved in other kinds of crime, including money laundering, and even terrorism. Some of this money ends up in the hands of groups such as Al-Shabaab or Boko Haram. So it’s no longer simply a matter of poaching, it’s criminality, it’s international security, it’s sustainability of our economies. It’s a very important issue. The exploitation of African wildlife which is part of our civilisation is a very worrying situation, and for those who don’t see it that way, that is very deplorable thinking.”

When asked why exactly the issue of illegal wildlife trade should be of such interest and importance to a bank, again Kaberuka explains perceptively, pointing out that any problem that touches and affects the sustainability and livelihoods of African countries and its people “is our mandate”.

“This issue concerns the economies of African countries that depend on tourism, and communities that depend on wildlife and the ecosystem to survive, so I don’t buy the argument that this is not our mandate, it is central to what the AfDB does.”

Founded at the same time as the Organisation of African Unity 50 years ago, the AfDB has been instrumental in the lifespan of Africa’s foremost continental political body, now morphed into the African Union. At the celebrations to mark the jubilee year of the OAU/AU last year, Kaberuka remarked that Africa faced in the next 50 years, a complex landscape.

One of these is the issue of food insecurity and agricultural underperformance, which have exacerbated poverty and prompted the AU heads of state to declare 2014 as a Year of Agriculture and Food Security, to seek tangible solutions. Kaberuka welcomes the AU’s theme but emphasises, however, that Africa’s needs go beyond putting food on the table.

“The Africa we want is not simply about food security,” he said. “The Africa we want is about being part of the global agricultural value chain, not simply growing food for ourselves and feeding ourselves. I do believe that if investors come to Africa to invest in agriculture as they do in mining, in housing, in telecoms, that is a good thing.

So whether it’s in the context of Grow Africa or other plans which encourage business people, who have the capital and knowledge to come and invest in our agriculture so we become part of the global value chain, we should welcome it.”

When asked how institutions like the AfDB could actually help hungry people in a continent where agriculture is the largest employer, Kaberuka answered: “Why should they be hungry if we are part of the global value chain?  Poverty is not about what you are describing, poverty is the lack of income, so if I am able to sell my products in the global markets, I have income. Is that not what we all aim for?

And income comes from investment. What should not be accepted are initiatives that involve land alienation, which some people in fact call land grabbing. That is something different that I wouldn’t support. Our populations are growing and we need our land to grow food and be part of the global value chain.”

But after all is said and done, how is he raising more capital to meet all the needs?  “We tripled our capital in 2010 and we still have adequate risk bearing capacity, so we don’t need additional capital now. I think what we need now is to have stable countries where we can deploy these resources. I think at the moment some of our key countries are going through difficulties.

“For example, Egypt and Tunisia, as they go through the difficult transition, they are being downgraded, and when they are downgraded, it means we cannot do much because the risks are high. Capital is fine but we need to figure out how to work with these countries to quickly bring them back to steady states, and we are doing that right now.

“In terms of the rest of our needs and deployment of resources, we want to give an accelerator on infrastructure.Almost every African country is suffering in this area, and we need to figure out how to bring in our experience, public knowledge, the private sector, and accelerate power production and other key pieces of infrastructure. So, yes, that would be our emphasis.  And I would even say that at this moment my second emphasis is returning the bank to Abidjan [the original AfDB headquarters].”

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