By Nehru Odeh
It sounds like déjà vu. But as the plot thickens, it is following the same story line. The Ethics Committee of the African Development Bank, AfDB, has finally bowed to pressure by the United States to initiate an in-depth investigations into the allegations some “concerned staff members” of the organization had leveled against its embattled president, Dr Akinwumi Adesina.
The right move? Not at all. Many see it as an insidious move by the United State to prevent Adesina from seeking re-election for another term and another way American is wielding the big stick, just as it had done by withdrawing its funds from the World Health Organization. Like the World Health Organization, like the African Development Bank, they say.
The U.S. Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, had, in a letter, dated 22 May, addressed to the Chairperson of the AfDB board of directors, Niale Kaba, asked the Ethics Committee of the African Development Bank“to Initiate an In-depth investigation of the allegations” some whistleblowers had leveled against Adesina.
“We have deep reservations about the integrity of the committee’s process. Instead we urge you to initiate an in-depth investigation of the allegations using the services of an independent outside investigator of high professional standing,” the latter reads.
This latest development is coming after the whistleblowers had petitioned the Office of Integrity and Anti-Corruption (PIAC) and the presidents of the Ethics Committee and Audit and Finance Committee accusing Adesina of multiple cases of abuse and breaches of the bank’s code of ethics. The allegations include various cases of alleged breaches of the code of conduct, unethical conduct, private gain, impediment to efficiency, preferential treatment, and involvement in political activity, all affecting confidence in the integrity of the bank.
The Ethics Committee, made up of executive directors representing shareholder nations, deliberated over every allegation over a three-month span and in May 2020 cleared Adesina on every single allegation. The report described the allegations as frivolous, baseless, and without merit or evidence.
The whistleblowers had however expressed serious doubts about the ability of the African Development Bank to conduct an independent investigation. Therefore, they said they did not have enough confidence in the Ethics Committee handling the case dispassionately. Perhaps that explains the reason why the United States later asked for a thorough investigation.
However, Adesina, in a press statement released on Wednesday, 27 May insisted on his innocence, having been cleared by the bank’s Ethics Committee of all charges brought against him. He also hit back at ‘unprecedented attempts by some people to tarnish his reputation’ and stated that he would continue to work with all the shareholders. In his statement, Adesina also expressed confidence that a fair and transparent probe would eventually prove his innocence.
“I maintain my innocence with regard to trumped-up allegations that unjustly seek to impugn my honor and integrity, as well as the reputation of the African Development Bank. I am confident that fair, transparent and just processes that respect the rules, procedures and governance systems of the bank, and rule of law, will ultimately prove that I have not violated the code of ethics of this extraordinary institution,” he said.
However, many believe, due process was followed to the letter during the investigation. Since its outcome did not suit the anticipated expectations of the U.S., it now seeks to undermine the credibility of the bank, derail Adesina’s leadership, and possibly set the pretext for a veiled threat to pull out of the bank as a shareholder.
Still, many are seeing this latest development as a move orchestrated by the United States, the fourth highest shareholder in the organization, after Nigeria, Egypt and Germany to nail Adesina and subsequently prevent him from running for second term.
Sources, as reported by the Guardian, alleged that the allegations made against Adesina were orchestrated by the American representative at the bank, Stephen Dowd, whom the French press unmasked. It was also Dowd, a member of the Ethics Committee, who also leaked the complaints to staff, the public, and the press, in what was clearly the beginning of an assault and a major smear campaign
But why does the United States want Adesina removed as President? The reasons are legion. According to sources in and outside of the Africa’s premier development institution, there was and there has always been an insidious attempt by the United States to remove Adesina as president of the bank.
The Guardian’s findings indicate that, the United States of America, one of the non-African shareholders, has not hidden her distaste for the revolutionary manner Adesina has been driving the AfDB as it would wean Africa from relying on the West for solution to the continent’s problems through the dramatic increase in the share capita of the financial institution which will enable it to undertake so much intervention on the continent.
The United States vigorously opposed him during his election in 2015. Ever since, at the board level, the U.S. has done everything possible to derail Adesina and his Africa-focused development agenda.
According to the sources, America believes that Adesina is an unapologetic pan-Africanist, who, more than any other president, has moved the development agenda of the bank and Africa forward in a manner that no other in the bank’s 56-year history has done.
“On the board, he does not kowtow to the U.S. or its whims on critical issues relating to Africa’s development.
“In 2019, he successfully led the bank’s shareholder General Capital Increase from $93 billion to $208 billion. In the process, he became the first bank president to take the risk of championing a case for increasing capital for Africa’s development during a first term in office. It was a gambit that paid off in spite of initial strong American opposition.
“In 2018, Adesina championed and helped create the bank-sponsored Africa Investment Forum which in 2018 and 2019 attracted more than $80 billion in infrastructure investment interests into the continent. This was an unprecedented initiative. The U.S. representative was said to have considered the forum a departure from the bank’s original mandate.
Some also saw this as an attempt by Adesina to help wean African nations off a dependency on foreign aid. Some critics also suggested that he was attempting to burnish his credentials among African heads of state via the investment forum.
“Nigeria is the bank’s largest shareholder, followed by Egypt, Germany, and the United States. In 2019, an OpEd believed to have been crafted by the American Executive Director (Stephen Dowd), appeared in an American newspaper – The Hill. Among other things, it questioned why the U.S. (as the second largest non-regional shareholder and the fourth largest shareholder after Nigeria, Egypt, and Germany), did not have veto power at the African Development Bank.
“The U.S. Treasury Department has not taken kindly to the fact that Adesina has not publicly spoken against China’s increasing economic dominance in Africa. Instead, he has framed his economic argument as follows – ‘Do not be overly concerned about China’s presence in Africa economically. Be more concerned about America’s absence,” the sources said.
In 2019, the U.S. set up DFC – the Development Finance Corporation – with approximately $60 billion. With DFC and firm control of the World Bank, the idea was that the U.S., which has not hidden its anti-multilateral development bias, could easily checkmate China on the African continent.
The current plan, therefore, is to use U.S. reservations about the conclusions of the African Development Bank’s Ethics Committee as a pretext to possibly pull out of the bank (Stephen Dowd is reported to have intimated some of his colleagues on the board of this plan early in May 2020). The veiled attempt is to imperil the institution financially, and subsequently become the dominant development power on the continent. With DFC and the World Bank under its control, the U.S. would seek to dominate Africa economically via a proverbial carrot and stick strategy.
If the governors of the bank come back to the United States, and say “no we have carried out our due diligence and duly cleared Adesina of any wrong doing,” this will be the signal for the U.S. to carry out its next line of action – a possible pullout from the bank, just as it pulled out of the World Health Organization.