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Adebayo Adedeji: Adieu to a scholar-statesman


Adebayo Adedeji

Today, a symposium will be held to honour the memory of Professor Adebayo Adedeji who died on April 25, 2018 and was laid to rest yesterday in Ijebu-Ode. I first met Adebayo Adedeji during the summer session of the United Nations Economic and Social Council held in July 1987 in Geneva, Switzerland. Adedeji, who was attending that meeting, had mentioned to the person, who introduced Adedeji to me, that he needed a delegate ( representative of member state) to help in circulating the Abuja Statement on Economic Recovery and Long-Term Development in Africa as on official document of the United Nations General Assembly.

The Abuja Statement was the outcome of an international Conference on Africa convened in June 1987 to review the progress in the implementation of the United Nations Programme of Action for Africa’s Economic Recovery and Development adopted at the 13th Special Session of the UN General Assembly on Africa in June 1986. The document was subsequently circulated as requested. My offer of assistance made a deep impression on Adedeji. From then on, our friendship was forged. Much later, I had the privilege of working with Adedeji at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa in Addis Ababa. Adedeji dedicated over five decades of his life to national, regional and international public service. He made significant contributions at the three levels.

Adedeji’s Contributions at the National Level
As a Federal Commissioner (Minister) for Economic Development and Reconstruction (1971-1975), he made three significant contributions. He led the effort to articulate the second national development plan 1970-1974 and third national development 1975-1980; spearheaded the effort to launch the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS); and proposed the establishment of the National Youth service Corps in 1973 as an instrument to promote and sustain national cohesion, especially after the devastating civil war from 1967-1970. When Adedeji was appointed Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa in 1975, the federal government was reluctant to release him and as a compromise Adedeji was asked to chair a committee to review Nigeria’s foreign policy. This contribution by Adedeji is less remarked in commentaries about his contributions at the national level. Yet, the reforms proposed by his committee formed the basis of the new foreign policy orientation pursued by the government that came to power in July,1975.


While the federal government of Nigeria was reluctant to release Adedeji to ECA, President Sekou Toure of Guinea, with whom Adedeji has interacted during the negotiations on the formation of ECOWAS, expressed annoyance that Adedeji, a pan-Africanist, would even deign to accept to lead the regional arm of neo-colonial institution. President Toure, a radical Pan-Africanist, regarded the United Nations as a neo-colonial institution. Adedeji told me that he retorted by asking President Toure: what if the neo-colonial institution can be made to serve African interests? In an ironic twist, when Guinea was hit by earthquake in December 1983, the Secretary-General appointed Adedeji as his Special Representative to Guinea. This anecdote is important because it explains a major motivation for Adedeji’s work at the ECA, where he made his mark on the regional and international scene.

Adedeji –A Fearless Advocate for Africa’s Development
The work of the Economic Commission for Africa, under Adedeji’s leadership, on Africa development had two important and inter-connected strands: rigorous analysis of Africa’s economic trends and performance, and robust and insistent advocacy for the development of the region. Much has been written on the advocacy work by ECA, as I will highlight shortly. But, as I have argued in my chapter in the book titled “African Development in the 21st Century: Adebayo Adedeji’s Theories and Contributions” published in 2015; ECA made a major contribution to forecasting Africa’s long term economic and social trends. The most significant of such prognostications was outlined in a report, which introduction was personally signed by Adedeji, titled ECA and Africa’s Development, 1983-2008: A Preliminary Perspective Study, that charted two possible scenarios for Africa over a twenty five years horizon: the “horrendous future” (pessimistic) and the “willed future” (optimistic). In particular, I have noted that “many of the dire ppredictions in ECA’s long-term perspective study were largely proven right”. This was evidenced by the fact that the 1980s and the 1990s were lost decades for Africa’s development. Cognisant of the risk that Africa could be trapped in the “horrendous scenario”, if appropriate policies were not adopted, Adedeji used his advocacy work to prod African leaders and external partners to move the region to achieve the outcomes under the “willed future scenario”.

The advocacy work for Africa’s development by Adedeji’s during his tenure at ECA spanning 1975-1991 unfolded in three stages, increasingly involved major policy disputes with the international financial institutions, as Richard Jolly explains in his chapter in the 2015 book earlier referenced. The first stage occurred in 1976, soon after he was appointed to ECA. Then, ECA articulated the Revised Framework of Principles for the Implementation of the New International Economic Order in Africa. The second stage was the adoption of The Lagos Plan of Action for the Economic Development of Africa (1980). Though the document was adopted under the aegis of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) — the precursor of the African Union — ECA, under Adedeji’s leadership, was the intellectual mastermind of that document. The Lagos Plan, had both insisted on the notion of self-reliance and placed much of the blame for Africa’s dismal economic performance on a hostile international environment. In response, the World Bank published in 1981 The Berg Report, formally known as Accelerated Development in Sub-Saharan Africa: An Agenda for Action which argued that Africa’s poor economic performance was caused not by external but by internal factors, in particular poor economic management.

Shortly after the Lagos Plan of Africa was adopted, Africa confronted two major adverse developments: the 1980-82 global recession and the severe drought and famine that hit a huge swathe of the Horn of Africa and Sahel countries in 1984-1985. In response, ECA and OAU worked together to articulate Africa’s Priority Programme for Economic Recovery adopted by OAU Summit in 1985. This document was subsequently endorsed by the 13th Special Session of the UN General Assembly which transmuted it into the United Nations Programme of Action for Africa’s Economic Recovery and Development in 1986. This programme has had an enduring institutional legacy at the United Nations headquarters in New York, in that it led to the creation of an Office of the Special Coordinator for Africa, initially located in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, to undertake global advocacy for Africa. The Office was later transformed into the present day UN Office of the Special Adviser on Africa in 2003, after the UN General Assembly endorsed the New Partnership for Africa’s Development at its session in 2002.

The third stage and the most high profile advocacy work on economic policy for Africa was the articulation by ECA under Adedeji’s leadership of the African Alternative Framework to Structural Adjustment Programmes in Africa for Socio-Economic Recovery and Transformation (AAF-SAP, 1989). That document highlighted several shortcomings of the structural adjustment programmes (SAPs) of the Bretton woods institutions, namely, that SAPs focused too narrowly on achieving financial balances leading to drastic reductions in public expenditures on the social sectors; argued for relaxing the policy conditionalities for official lending; and advocated debt reduction for African countries, which was an anathema at the time. A year earlier, ECA had articulated The Khartoum Declaration on the Human Dimension of Africa’s Economic Recovery, thus making ECA, under Adedeji leadership, one of the few and an early proponent of the concept of human-centred development. In a real and important sense, the ideas advocated in AAF-SAP and The Khartoum Declaration, together with UNICEF’s advocacy of “adjustment with human face” laid the intellectual foundation for the emphasis on poverty reduction and economic inclusivity that today animate economic policy making in Africa and the rest of the world.

But there were many other aspects of the African Alternative Framework that even its critics conceded were bold, innovative and praiseworthy. For example, on 13 July 1989, in an editorial titled “Flawed Plan for Africa”, referring to AAF-SAP, the Financial Times, praised ECA’s forthrightness in pointing to “Africa pervasive lack of democracy” at the time, and its “ call for a review of public spending priorities to allocate more resources to agriculture” instead of military expenditure.

The United Nations Intellectual History Project, an independent initiative established to document ideas launched by the UN system in area of economic and social development, in its publication, The Power of UN Ideas: Lessons from the First 60 Year, has acknowledged the significant contributions of the UN Economic Commission for Africa, during the period that Adedeji led that organisation in the policy debates on structural adjustment, noting that in the “in the 1980s, alternatives to adjustment became a focus of UN analysis and debate. The Economic Commission for Africa came out with the African Alternative Framework to Structural Adjustment Programme in Africa …which argued that the criteria used by the World Bank were too narrow and leading to ineffective programmes” — one reason why the adjustment programmes were substantially modified and virtually abandoned.

Adedeji – A Passionate Believer in African Regional Integration
Building on his work in spearheading the establishment of the ECOWAS, Adedeji used the platform of ECA to launch initiatives to promote regional integration in other sub-regions in Africa. Thus, he strongly supported the creation of the Preferential Trading Area for Eastern and Southern Africa (PTA) in 1981 which has since been transmuted into the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa. He also spearheaded the efforts to create the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) in 1983. The culmination of his efforts in promoting regional integration was his strong support for the Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community (AEC) which was adopted at the OAU Summit in Abuja in 1991.


Working with Salim Ahmed Salim (then Secretary General of OAU) and Babacar Ndiaye (then President of the African Development Bank), the three institutions agreed to constitute a Joint Secretariat, consisting of staff from the three regional organisations, to support the implementation of the Abuja Treaty on the AEC. He also served on the Committee to review ECOWAS treaty in 1992—a year after he retired from ECA. Adekeye Adebajo, a Nigerian scholar of international relations, has likened Adedeji to the French technocrat, Jean Monnet, who led the effort to create the European Coal and Steel community, the precursor of the European Community that morphed into the European Union. And SKB Asante, the Ghanaian political economist, has called Adedeji “the father of African integration”.

Adedeji –A Deeply Committed Builder of African Regional Institutions
Adedeji played an equally important role in building regional institutions. The most significant proof of this was his turning ECA from a statistical capacity building, and data collection and analysis institution into an intellectual power house for Africa as well as a laboratory for generating new ideas on promoting regional cooperation and integration. Convinced of the desire to bridge technology gap in many fields, he created several ECA- sponsored institutions in fields as diverse as cartography, solar energy, aerospace surveys, engineering design and manufacturing. He has made contribution to the strengthening of the African Union by chairing the High Level Panel on African Union Audit Review (2007) and to the evolution and growth of the African Peer Review Mechanism, of which he was one of the pioneer members and also Chairman.

As I have written elsewhere, an effective leader is generally regarded as one that delivers on his or her promises or creates a new or positive narrative for the people or institutions he or she leads. Statesmanship, on the other hand, entails employing great tact in steering the affairs of people and institutions and in better management of unanticipated crisis than other leaders would have in similar circumstances. Adedeji was both an effective leader and a statesman. Few can boast of helping to shape Africa’s development agenda as Adedeji did. He has left his footprints in the sands of Africa’s development. Adieu, scholar-statesman!
Ejeviome Eloho Otobo co-edited with Amos Sawyer and Afeikhena Jerome, African Development in the 21st Century: Adebayo Adedeji’s Theories and Contributions ( 2015).

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