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Tribute to Babacar Ndiaye, banker per excellence

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Babacar Ndiaye

Africa in the 1980s and early 1990s was synonymous with poverty, disease, poor governance and very negative media coverage. This was at the height of Afro-pessimism. Governments were designing and advocating several initiatives and programmes that would lift the continent and change the narrative. It was the era of structural adjustment programmes and the quest for democratic governance.

One man and his institution were recognised as an exception to the dismal narrative about Africa. The Africa Development Bank (ADB) of which Dr. Babacar Ndiaye was then President, was a success story. In 1989, the institution had secured a Triple “A” rating from (almost) all the 3 international credit rating agencies, notwithstanding the preponderance of African capital in ADB’s shareholding structure. ADB was the first international financial institution in Africa to attain this feat and its President had propelled the institution into one of global importance and relevance.

It was a remarkable achievement for an institution that only a few years earlier had been wholly-owned by Africans and had suffered a major existential shock, caused by the audacious decision of one of Dr. Babacar Ndiaye’s predecessors to open up the ADB’s capital to non-Africans. A founding staff member of the ADB, its former Director and then Vice President for Finance, Dr. Babacar Ndiaye could justifiably claim credit for ADB’s outstanding achievement of becoming Africa’s premier international financial institution in 1989.

I first heard of Dr. Babacar Ndiaye in 1989, as a Foreign Associate at Arnold & Porter in Washington DC, one of only two Africans in what was Washington DC’s biggest and one of its most prestigious law firms. I believe it was shortly after the Annual Meetings of the IMF/World Bank and the firm’s Partners were discussing their positive and very favourable impressions of an African delegation that had attended the Meetings. Their reverential comments about this institution filled me, a young associate, with pride and I was naturally inquisitive about the institution and its president.

As fate would have it, I would later serve as a Rockefeller Foundation scholar with the ADB, as part of my field work for my doctorate degree and the ADB would be a match-maker; facilitating my meeting the young lady who would eventually become my future spouse, who also had been an intern at the ADB under Kofi Bucknor and Mrs. Marly Ndiaye.

Curiously, my sojourn with the ADB which began in the Treasury Department as an intern in 1990, ended with me becoming the General Counsel and Director of the Legal Department in 2000, and leaving the institution in 2010. Dr. Babacar Ndiaye would be very instrumental during my sojourn with the ADB and I am delighted that I had the opportunity to meet him for the last time at the ADB Annual Meetings in Ahmedabad India, in June 2017. He was at the Bankers Award Dinner in Ahmedabad, when I collected the prize of Infrastructure Deal of the Year, on behalf of the Africa Finance Corporation, where I currently serve as Chief Operating Officer and General Counsel. Although I had observed that he was using a cane, Babacar was very warm, hospitable, gracious and paternal, as usual.

Ndiaye was a visionary and a builder. He was impatient to see Africa develop and fulfill its promise. He was constantly thinking of ways to address Africa’s myriad problems and did not consider that institutional or human capacity constraints should retard Africa’s progress. He knew how to spot talented persons and to encourage young professionals. He was a great believer in gender equality and passionate about nurturing and mentoring Africa’s professional class.

I was one of those that he invited to be in the ADB Task Force for the establishment of the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) in 1992. In spite of my relative youth, under his patronage and the tutelage of another great African, Hassab El-Rasoul M. El-Obeid, I co-authored the basic legal instruments of the African Export-Import Bank in 1992-3. I travelled with Ndiaye to, and participated in, all the preparatory meetings, notably in Cairo and Harare. I was in Abuja, when the Constituent Assembly meeting of Afreximbank was held and this unique institution (Africa’s first Public-Private international organization) was birthed. Babacar would later release me on secondment to serve as the first Chief Legal Officer of Afreximbank in Cairo, Egypt.

I missed out on most of the corporate governance challenges in the twilight of his administration, but was in Nairobi, Kenya for the ADB Group’s Annual Meeting in 1994, when together with one of my mentors, late Kofi Kumi Dei-Anang and H.E.M. El-Obeid, we crafted the Board of Governors resolution that would eventually resolve the corporate governance impasse and pave the way for the major institutional reforms, including the presidential term limits, in the aftermath of the 1995 ADB elections. It is ironic that I would later be closely involved, first as Division Manager and later as General Counsel, in the formulation and implementation of these reforms.

Ndiaye was determined to establish a third African institution to make up what I would later describe to friends and associates as the “Tripod of African international financial institutions” to promote Africa’s socio-economic development. Babacar’s institution was going to be called Africa Finance Corporation and even as Chief Legal Officer of Afreximbank, I had been co-opted into a small working group to design and foster the creation of this institution. Baring Brothers were the financial and technical advisers for the project.

Regrettably, the “AFC” conceived by Ndiaye could not be established before his term ended in 1995 and the project was discontinued. My middle daughter, Olamide, says “God has a sense of humour”. In 2007, I was approached to come and be the pioneer General Counsel of an Africa Finance Corporation, conceived by President Olusegun Obasanjo and Professor Charles Chukwuma Soludo, then Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria. Like Babacar’s AFC, this was also going to be a Public-Private Partnership, whose basic legal agreements were modelled after the Afreximbank’s constituent legal instruments and a hybrid investment bank/development financial institution.

Ndiaye’s dream project of an African investment bank, although reconceived and authored by new founders, would finally come into being. We celebrated 10 years of its existence in 2017. It is now the second highest rated international financial institution on the African continent, after the ADB and closely followed by the Afreximbank.

In conclusion, a tribute to Ndiaye is incomplete without recognising and acknowledging his inimitable and exquisitely beautiful wife, Marly, whom in her own right is a trailblazer and a living testimony of an accomplished African woman.

Akin-Olugbade is the Executive Director and General Counsel Africa Finance Corporation (AFC)


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