Adesina’s AfDB trials: A proxy war?
So much for the African Development Bank (AfDB) headquartered in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire.
The multilateral development bank has been in the news in the past three months, not so much for its development interventions, but for the tussles at the leadership level, which reached a crescendo in the past three weeks.
Allegations varying from the petty to the petulant and pathetic were raised against the only candidate for the top job in the bank in a seeming boiling over of long-simmering disquiet. The timing was apparently determined and the methods seemingly deliberate. The ambush against Akinwumi Adesina, the incumbent president of the AfDB was obviously planned as a counter-move to his own re-election schemes of securing endorsements from the African Union and the ECOWAS regional bloc ahead of the end of his first term as the bank’s chief executive.
All seemed set for Adesina’s re-emergence as the candidate for the top office until discordant voices of some anonymous dissents grew louder and louder, calling for an investigation of the first term of the bank’s helmsman. The investigations by in-house committee saddled with the task of internal audit requested by the disgruntled individuals were well underway when an article emerged in Le Monde, a French newspaper, implying that Adesina was guilty of a number of allegations raised by the self-proclaimed “concerned staff members.” This was later to be reinforced by the Africa report, another news outlet, corroborating Le Monde. It was unclear if the Bank and the helmsman saw this as a long-drawn battle. The outcome of the internal investigation came and Adesina was cleared of all allegations. The chief executive was probably oblivious of the next possible moves from the assailants, or maybe he downplayed them. A raft of criticisms of the outcome of the in-house investigation came, with strong requests for an external one. A battle line was then drawn.
What was clearly missing in the responses in support of Adesina and against the calls for an external investigation was the omission of some possibilities. The fixation on one likely origin of the antagonism against him appeared to have drawn much attention to that likelihood to the neglect of some others, probably equally potent or even more so. The heat generated has taken strong geopolitical and adversarial diplomatic dimensions that would require a lot of fence-mending after the entire contest is over. The anti-US rhetoric that has followed the requests of the “whistleblowers” for an independent external investigation has taken the AfDB leadership crisis to another level. While the battle may be worth fighting, it remains to be seen if the war has been altogether well chosen. A mistake often made in wars is to direct much more ammunition against presumptive enemies, while ignoring the pretentious and insidious ones. This has a scriptural basis in Proverbs 20:18. Almost everyone who tried to defend Adesina had lashed out against the United States, but hardly anyone, including the pundits and professionals even in financial circles, has mentioned France, the Francophone African countries, or – more specifically – the Francophone West African countries.
One of the laughable allegations raised by the “whistleblowers” indicated that Adesina was not speaking French as much as English even though he is fluent in both. This allegation, with all its undertone, appeared to have gone altogether unnoticed, un-analysed, or simply dismissed on the face of it. Scientific reasoning seemed to have been jettisoned in a frantic effort to vilify someone or some vested interests while defending Adesina. Could it be that the real villain has been overlooked? This is just a thought-provoking question. But, let us begin with the newspapers that first broke the news about Adesina’s ordeals. It began with Le Monde, then Jeune Afrique, then the Africa report, all of which publish in French, except that the third has English translations; and then Africa Confidential, a British Bulletin. If these didn’t matter in the narratives, then what else would matter? Someone may argue that this was a ploy to take attention away from the real culprits. No doubt about that. But to leave out France and its cronies in this would be a gross miscalculation, a lazy logic, an error of judgment and a fallacy of relevance. Leaving out the “what if” question could, in itself, be self-deluding. Politics is everywhere, in every shape, for every conceivable reason and at different times.
Should it be surprising that the multilateral development bank over which Adesina has superintended for five years could have such internal politics that could have polarised the Anglophones and the Francophones? Although the latter is 14 out of the 54 countries making up the regional members of the bank, is it not possible for them to band together in ways unimaginable as a survival strategy? Adesina is the first Anglophone candidate for such a long time. His immediate predecessor is from a country that only just transited from Francophone to Anglophone in recent years, but that has not erased everything Francophone from that country.
At the West African sub-regional level, what if the Francophone countries take orders from their French masters? It does not seem that the narratives in Adesina’s defence recognise the allegiance of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) countries to France and their separate status within the ECOWAS bloc. Nor do they factor in the fact that this could have provided the springboard for all of Adesina’s present troubles, in an evolving global economic order that could have been sending jitters through France’s spine while speculating the imminence of WAEMU’s independence from France. The ECO currency politics, remote as it may sound, may have impinged on the politics within the AfDB in bewildering ways. One way or another, the AfDB will be involved with the ECO as a regional currency. The ECO was intended to be a West African currency, deriving its name from ECOWAS. While the original ECO idea – considered two decades ago – was floundering, the more parochial, through proactive, but French-inspired ECO came most recently and was to be superimposed on the earlier ECO. This has geopolitical and economic implications for the sub-region and beyond.
What about the possibility of a stealthy, surreptitious and remote influence of France on the WAEMU countries in the matters of ECO, despite the accompanying confusions and complications? Will the Anglophones in West Africa and beyond agree to Paris’ backstage puppet manipulations, including the idea of storing half of the funds in ECO from the WAEMU countries in France as reserve? How comfortable do we expect the French treasury, which holds at least 65 per cent of WAEMU reserves to be in the ensuing controversy around the ECO? In a race against time, how would France manage to have things its own ways with an Anglophone at the helm of the AfDB that would have to be involved in such monetary issues? The same can be asked when the issue of the CFA franc tied to the European Central Bank (ECB) is considered. It seems counterintuitive, though, that France has abandoned its own currency and adopted the Euro since 2000, while still overseeing the two CFA zones in Africa. Yet, its African pawns still spend the franc.
With WAEMU’s currency remaining tied to the ECB under its new name of ECO, would there not be resistance, especially from an institution currently led by an Anglophone? And, what happens if WAEMU caves into the all-West Africa’s ECO? How would the interest of France be protected? Will the entire ECOWAS resist or succumb to France’s insistence that money from West Africa is kept in its coffers? France, by now, maybe revelling in the fact that it was omitted in this current conversations about the AfDB’s leadership crisis.
Analysts on Adesina’s travails, therefore, need to beam their searchlights much wider. Narrowing down on the US antagonism may both be wrongheaded and counterproductive on the long run, especially considering the diplomatic implications. There is no denying the possible grievances of the US in the whole controversy. But the emphasis on the US may have been disproportionate and reactions against that country may have been over-dramatised. Another point seemingly omitted by the pundits and analysts is the allegation of Adesina’s involvement in politics.
His charisma and warmth towards people in power could have become an albatross, or could yet be if his spin doctors don’t walk a delicate and fine line in their narratives. The allegation has been expanded to mean that he has the ambition to contest in the next presidential election in Nigeria. As a freeborn of Nigeria, he is eminently qualified. Nothing wrong if he leaves from Abidjan straight for Abuja. By his work experience and international standing, he has a towering statue. What needs to be carefully handled is the inexplicable, but possible, attrition arising from the home country. Political opponents, particularly from any strong political party other than the one on which platform he intends to run, it has been surmised, might swear to do everything possible, including a smear campaign to make him ineligible. It follows therefore that the allegations of political involvement may have emanated from political adversaries from his home country and probably given prominence by possible collaborators within the AfDB whistleblowers’ camp. Anything is possible.
At this point, Adesina needs to do a critical and dispassionate re-assessment of his own operational strategies and modify his approaches in the response to the onslaughts against him. Genuine supporters should henceforth avoid hysterical disposition and think broadly of the pros and cons of every move intended to help him navigate this difficult time and terrain. It seems fitting to paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words that, “after the roaring hurricane has spent its fury, the lull of calm sets in.” It appears that the actual battle is beyond those fought in the media, even though the accusers have used the media, much to his disadvantage. The real battleground, which is the bank, will need to be the focus. The prize, which is the top job, will need to be the concern. And the forces that need to be engaged will need to be rallied in a rather discreet way. This battle is already on. How it ends should now be everyone’s real worry.
Dr. Oyeleye is a veterinarian, journalist, global affairs and policy analyst.