What Africa must do to advance, by Adesina

Dr. Akinwumi Adesina is the President of the African Development Bank (AfDB). He previously served as Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development. Until his appointment as minister in 2010, he was Vice President of Policy and Partnerships for the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).On the sideline of the just concluded maiden Africa Investment Forum (AIF) in Sandton, Johannesburg, South Africa, he spoke with ADEYEMI ADEPETUN on what Nigeria and other African countries must do to develop. Excerpts:

What more can Nigeria do to attract investments?
Investment is like work, and you look around. So, wherever you find capital, keeping it to grow the macro economy requires understanding, appreciation and support of private sector. And I think in the case of Nigeria, I was very pleased with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, when he mentioned the Industrial Council to me. I know the Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC) is doing a lot to market Nigeria. But to attract fresh investments at this level, we must have certain things in place and it is crucial we work harder.

First, we must solve the power problem because I don’t see how Nigeria can be an industrial hub unless we have secure and stable power that can allow our industries run 24 hours daily at a minimal cost.Presently, the President is doing well and I say to people, we need to have more conversations about our development.

Nigeria cannot be a dumping ground. The country needs to become an industrial hub, and to get this done, we need infrastructure. We need quality roads, constant water supply, improved education system and upgraded agricultural system. We also need to ensure that we have a financial sector that makes funds available to businesses at affordable rate, and also, we need a policy control system that guarantees stability.

There is nothing that kills an investor more than policy inconsistency, because if you are going to make a long-term investment for 10 to 15 years, there must be stability of polity. Government comes and goes, but if investment goes in and out as governments go, then there will be a huge problem.

I am confident in Nigeria, and it has the population and the potential but as you know, I say not just for Nigeria but Africa all the time. Potential is very good but no one eats potential, we need to unlock all of them, you have to continue to work. The greatest potential Nigeria has is young and smart people. I have confidence that things will get better in Nigeria.

What do you consider the greatest disservice to Africa’s development?
Let me say the biggest thing that keeps me awake at night is how we are going to get electricity at 100 per cent for Africa because the continent cannot develop in the dark. The world is moving fast, there is fourth industrial revolution, digital revolution, robotics, artificial intelligence; all of these things operate on electricity. Unless Africa accelerates, it will be doing itself a disservice. It will be doing its children and future a massive harm.

For the continent to have electricity, we have devoted about $12 billion to power. As a bank, we hope to improve that to between $45 billion and $60 billion so that we can make real progress. I am excited to see a lot of changes, especially renewable energy. Africa is the youngest continent with so many young people with ideas, creativity and hope. These people surely need finances to run things.

I believe we have to make capital available for poor young people to thrive. The Zukerbergs of this world could have come out of Africa. The world benefitted from Bill Gates, Africa can also impact the globe positively.I am always saddened when I see young people embracing drugs, violence and boarding rickety ferries to Europe for an elusive greener pasture. Youthful and talented Africans should not end up at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea. So, we must do something very fast to salvage the continent. We must create opportunities that could lead to quality growth and job creation. I mean decent jobs for people. If there is anything that keeps me awake, it is this and I know that if we can get electricity right, things will take better shape in Africa.

People talk about migration. I was talking to the German Chancellor recently when I went to Berlin and I said if there is no electricity in Africa, where do you think the young people will run to? They will move to where there is electricity and improved quality of life like Europe.

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