Q&A: African Development Bank Chief Says Continent Ripe for Investment

Akinwumi Adesina, the president of the African Development Bank, is holding a series of meetings with senior U.S. government officials and business leaders in Washington to encourage increased investments in Africa.

VOA’s Peter Clottey spoke with Adesina, a Nigerian economist, to discuss why he thinks the continent is ripe for foreign investment - especially from the United States.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

VOA: How do you plan to encourage foreign investment in Africa?

Adesina: I think first and foremost ... remember that Africa — even before the pandemic - has six of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world. You look even with the African Continental Free Trade Area that is going to be a free trade area with 1.3 billion people and a collective GDP of $3.3 trillion...And so when you look at what that means, you have big consumer and business expenditures on the continent going to rise to $6.7 trillion by 2030. So that tells you that the fundamentals of Africa are strong as they were. And so basically my mission into the U.S. is to encourage the U.S. private sector to invest massively in Africa — in particular in infrastructure and energy in terms of renewable energy and digital infrastructure.

So basically, our role as the African Development Bank is to tell the investment story of Africa. Second is to actually give the investors the confidence that they can invest because we can help to source the deals, we can design bankable projects, we can do risk projects and we can ensure that governments actually do the right thing in terms of the business investment and regulatory environment.

VOA: Speaking about the pandemic, you have been very vocal around the issue of vaccine inequity. Why this stance?

Adesina: I've been quite vocal about access to vaccines. Take a look at it today in Africa. Only 24 million Africans have been vaccinated. And so, you have a continent that is not being treated fairly in terms of access in terms of the equity with regard to vaccinations. And that's because you have a situation wherein the developed countries bought up all the vaccines, advanced purchase agreements, locked it all up.

And so the key really is making sure that Africa doesn't go through this again. So, we want to make sure that we're dealing with this in three ways. One is to encourage global manufacturing companies of vaccines to relocate to Africa, and I think we're making some good headway there. You need to build your own indigenous research and development capacity. And at the African Development Bank, we are working right now to support Africa in this. We need to have an African health care defense system.

Look at this as a defense system that requires greater investment in pharmaceuticals, greater investment in vaccine manufacturing on the continent, but also joining that with greater investment in quality health care infrastructure — primary health care, secondary, tertiary health care infrastructure and diagnostic facilities. So those three things have to work in tandem to secure the health of Africa.

VOA: One of the African Development Bank’s annual flagship events, which has drawn significant investor interest from around the world in the last three years, is the bank's Market Days to be held in December. Tell me a little bit more about it and your expectations for this year.

Adesina: The Africa Investment Forum has become Africa's premier investment marketplace. And what makes it very unique is that there are actually no speeches in these meetings. You know, it's all transactions, deals and deals and deals.

What investors will tell you is, ‘Why will I want to invest in Africa because I actually don't know whether they are bankable projects.’ Well, we've shown that there are really bankable projects. In 2018, when we had the Africa Investment Forum’s first premiere edition, we were able to mobilize $38.7 billion dollars of investment interest in Africa on bankable projects in less than 72 hours. Just think of that. And we did it again in 2019 and were able to secure investment interests of $40.1 billion U.S. dollars. And so that means that the investment opportunities are actually there.

Of course, things got really affected by the COVID-19 situation; however, going back now to the Africa Investment Forum Market Days for 2021, the event will be held December 1-3 in Abuja under a hybrid model. We will have some people in Abidjan that will link to others globally. We will run the investment boardroom sessions where we bring in the investors, the project developers, the insurance companies, the legal facilities and the banks that can help to co-finance or syndicate or do risk projects that are all going to be there with heads of state. Everybody is eager to have investment rebound now in Africa.

VOA: You have been outspoken about the importance of renewable energy, climate resilience, adaptation and mitigation as well as emerging technology. How do you see Africa embracing these issues?

Adesina: Well, quite honestly, we have to. We have no choice. Africa only contributes no more than 3% or 4% of greenhouse gas emissions. But now we have to actually deal with the negative consequences of it. For example, the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that just came out was scary. It basically says that Africa will get drier, much hotter. It will make some parts of Africa probably almost unlivable. I think we have to very quickly respond to that.

Part of responding to that is the African Development Bank and the Global Center for Adaptation, which is chaired by former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. We set up what's called the African Adaptation Acceleration Program. This is to mobilize an additional $25 billion dollars towards adaptation in Africa. We want to reach 30 million farmers and pastoralists in Africa with digital climate advisory services that will allow them to be able to have good information and therefore be able to adapt to climate change. From other parts of the bank's work, which is on agriculture, we are providing today access to farmers with drought tolerant maize varieties all across eastern Africa and southern Africa.

Source: Voice of America