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I arrived in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire in February, 1994 to begin what was to be an almost 5 year tenure in the Office of the U.S. Executive Director to the African Development Bank. It was a tenure that would see the Bank, under President Babacar Ndiaye, driven to the brink of collapse and a Bank, under President Omar Kabbaj, reestablish its financial standing and regain some (though not much) program and institutional credibility. Now, under new President Donald Kaberuka, the Bank is at a real crossroads. In many respects, it ought to feel intense pressure to justify its existence. The question is how?
On September 3, CGD released a new report, Building Africa's Development Bank which puts forward guiding principles for the Bank to reestablish itself as a premier, results-based development institution with a comparative advantage distinguishing if from other donors. And, particularly, from the World Bank. Indeed, if the AfDB were to design a strategy for operationalizing these principles, it could well teach the World Bank a thing or two.
The report puts forward six recommendations to Bank management and shareholders In launch events both in Tunis and here in Washington, the recommendations received broad support. Questions move very quickly to the “hows”:
1. How to ramp up staff and programs in infrastructure with the uncertainties around the Bank’s location?
2. How to provide sufficient oversight with a non-resident Board?
3. How to lead on issues without lending?
4. How to get the other donors to provide the required space to the AfDB to take the lead on infrastructure?
5. How to better measure the AfDB's impact, which will undoubtedly require investments in building statistics capacity and institutions in member countries?
President Kaberuka is establishing a High-Level Advisory Panel to help his management team navigate the next phase of the Bank’s recovery. But, often times the best ideas – those most practical, workable, visionary – come from hardworking, creative practitioners within the development community and the everyday people that the international financial institutions are supposed to serve.
We would love to hear your comments on CGD’s report and your ideas for how the AfDB could begin thinking about the “hows” above.
If one thing is for certain following the CGD event, the “Asian Development Bank at 50,” the ADB’s work is far from done, and there will be no lack of ambition on the part of the US government and the bank’s other shareholders when it comes to a forward-looking agenda.