Q&A: The African Union Development Agency takes shape

As part of ongoing institutional reforms at the African Union, the implementing arm of its development strategy — formerly known as the New Partnership for Africa’s Development Planning and Coordinating Agency, or NEPAD — is transforming into the African Union Development Agency, or AUDA.

AUDA will continue NEPAD’s overall mandate of transforming Africa through enhanced knowledge sharing, partnerships, and resource mobilization, along with promoting high-impact projects that align with the AU’s overall continental development frameworks, but will also expand on this agenda, AUDA-NEPAD CEO Ibrahim Mayaki told Devex.

“Our main focus now as a development agency will be to move to the formulation of development tools that can strengthen the capacity of all African stakeholders to better execute priority development projects,” Mayaki said.

Drafted at the 2018 AU summit as part of larger institutional and financial reforms championed by then-Commissioner Paul Kagame, AUDA officially adopted its mandate and launched at the 2019 AU summit earlier this month. Mayaki said the transformation will allow the Johannesburg-based body to improve its effectiveness and efficiency in delivering AU development policies and programs across its 55 member countries.

Devex spoke with Mayaki to learn more about the ongoing changes.

Read full article here

My message at the SOAS African Development Forum ‏ 2019

Good morning, everyone,

Thank you for this invitation, which honours me. It is always a great pleasure for me to return to university, where I spent many of the best years of my life either learning or giving back what I had been taught.

Today, I come to you as a development practitioner.

In particular, I would like to speak about the challenges facing the development of our continent, particularly from the perspective of “in.security”, the theme of this year’s Forum, which must be understood in a broader sense.

I would like to start with the extraordinary events that have marked African politics this week. I am thinking in particular of the Algerian situation. President Bouteflika’s decision is remarkable in many respects.

This decision should be welcomed and I wish the Algerian people the best possible outcome, as they have demonstrated their full political maturity during these demonstrations. We know the crucial role that students have played in these peaceful protests.

For the past two or three years, I have been saying that 90% of the African Heads of State we know today will no longer be here in ten years’ time. My forecast is more palatable with each election, or each renewal of the political offer. And there have been many of them in Africa in recent years.

Democracy will keep progressing at the pace of youth. By definition, future transitions bring renewal, but they can also be sources of instability, insecurity…

These changes are taking place at a time when Africa is experiencing a pivotal period in its globalization. The world is awakening to the importance of our continent, which will be home to one in four human in 2050, just 30 years from now. The theories of “Africa rising” have given way to a new formula, the “New scramble for Africa”.

This new formula seems more accurate than the previous one. In any case, it allows us to better reflect the original path that a sovereign Africa can take, free of its choices and courted by foreign powers and companies from all over the world.

Let me emphasize five general principles that combine economics and politics and that I believe are some of the keys to ensuring that the tremendous changes facing Africa go down well.

To be accepted by the peoples, it is my intimate conviction that the “technocratic” reforms we must undertake should reflect a political vision shared by as many people as possible, in this case the youth of our countries.

This is particularly true in the context of our demographic challenge and keeping in mind the hundreds of millions of young Africans who will reach working age in the next 15 years.

First, I would like to address the issue of the co-production of public policies as the basis for all major decisions that will impact populations. All recent events show how much the question is not so much which elegant technical solution to choose as which one will win the support of the populations.

Institutional and legislative systems in Africa suffer from a major and poorly studied weakness: the lack of public consultation. Citizens are called upon to vote every five years on slogans rather than programmes whose details are, in any case, rarely revealed to them.

The aim is not to establish a hypothetical “direct democracy”, but to increase the forms and channels of citizen participation in public life in Africa. This would be a kind of “institutional syncretism”, with regard to the definition and implementation of public policies.

To do this, we must draw on our tradition and return to the sources of the palaver tree or the indaba. South Africa has invented truth and reconciliation commissions, Rwanda has invented “gacaca” courts… We have the ability to increase public involvement and adherence in the major decisions that affect us.

It is about creating spaces in which people are informed, consulted and involved in the selection and implementation of the main projects that are supposed to ensure and promote their well-being – this is the goal, after all, of democracy.

We need to formulate our diagnosis in our own terms. It is the lack of a proper diagnosis that has too often been the main cause for the failure of development policies attempted throughout Africa – and the resulting lack of ownership.

How can we make a relevant diagnosis if we are not able to listen to our populations?

Secondly, we must recognize that the optimal responses to our major challenges lie at the regional and national levels, following an integrated approach. African States must learn to work together within the major regions, which in turn should be able to integrate them.

I note with optimism that the Ethiopian Prime Minister’s visit to Kenya has made it possible to relaunch the idea of LAPSSET, a first-rate regional corridor project that should make it possible to open up an immense region and increase trade between these two great East African nations.

Regional cooperation is not based on a romantic vision of the continent or an ignorance of economic realities. On the contrary, it is precisely because of these economic realities that we must defend the virtues of consultation.

Beyond the obvious benefits of infrastructure sharing, regional cooperation is essential to combat or strengthen other aspects of African development.

This applies to the negotiation of external trade agreements, the establishment of regional stock exchanges (East Africa is leading the way with the agricultural segment of the Kigali Stock Exchange), common rules for different professions, the accreditation of diplomas, the harmonization of qualifications, etc.

In addition to the benefits of economies of scale resulting from the pooling of training efforts, the mutual recognition, at the regional level, of diplomas obtained in African countries has the advantage of better anchoring populations, encouraging geographical mobility, and therefore competition, and, consequently, remuneration levels.

These are just a few examples.

Third, we must think about how private interests can profitably participate in new challenges. I am thinking in particular of the way in which agri-food companies, with the resources they have, can really participate in the professionalization and emergence of a class of agri-entrepreneurs in Africa.

Africa, with nearly 60% of its population still rural, offers the opportunity to experiment with new methods. This remains a challenge and a challenge for many of you, but I believe that some international actors in the agri-food sector are becoming aware of the need to change their production model and see Africa as an opportunity to develop original models in agreement with the populations.

The development of a quality agri-food industry will have beneficial spillover effects on key sectors of the economy. Indeed, beyond production, the whole sector would benefit – processing industries, harvesters, producers and distributors, would be boosted by a better organisation of the food sector.

Fourthly, I believe in the wider use of new technologies to identify our citizens and to bring a political identity to as many people as possible. Not only for better statistical management or demographic representativeness, but also to grant access to social services (payments of aid from the State) through a dedicated account.

This financial identity, whose development will accelerate with a constantly increasing rate of smartphone equipment, will have unimaginable effects on the informal sector.

It should be recalled that the informal sector is an essential component of most sub-Saharan economies, where its contribution to GDP ranges from 25% to 65% and where it represents between 30% and 90% of non-agricultural employment.

If the informal sector were organized more efficiently, it could greatly improve the lot of hundreds of millions of our fellow citizens. So far, the informal sector has not diminished in importance with economic growth. On the contrary, it has tended to grow faster than the rest of the economy.

New technologies offer us an opportunity to create the link between two almost parallel economic worlds, the formal and the informal. The combination of the living forces of the informal sector with the almost organic capacity of new technologies to connect and organize a new economic interaction can trigger the economic take-off of our continent.

Finally, allow me to say a few words on the more general question of aid. Aid is by definition transitional, to help overcome a difficult period. When it demonstrates to private capital that investment is profitable, it has finished playing its role.

I think that the public assistance as we know it, the one that comes from developed countries to countries of the “South”, will no longer exist in ten years’ time. This public aid is nowadays directed less and less towards health or education… and more and more towards security and migration issues. This is no longer the classic form of aid we tend to imagine.

Another sign of this “New Scramble for Africa” is that all recent G7 and G20 meetings highlight the role of the private sector, European, American and Japanese, in development projects and in the form of public-private partnerships. Africa must realize that aid is over. Donors, who were at the centre of development policies twenty years ago, are no longer there.

Let us realize that this aid is much less, at least twice as less as what the continent receives in remittances from the diaspora. If we compare aid flows, $25 billion, with illicit financial flows, more than $50 billion according to the ECA, we realize that, if we did our work through better tax, customs and customs management systems, we would not need this assistance. Similarly, if we succeed in being serious about our internal resource mobilization mechanisms…

It is in this spirit that the founding fathers of NEPAD, and more broadly of the entire pan-African institutional architecture, a generation which, with Mr. Bouteflika’s decision, has now finished giving way to the next one, is to ensure that Africa speaks with one voice to all its partners, to give it a more influential voice in the debates.

With the importance we are gaining in the concert of nations, I am indeed rather optimistic about the future of our continent.

Thank you again for giving me the opportunity to share these few thoughts with you. I hope that they will be useful to you in your future professional and personal choices.

 

Africa needs to achieve its infrastructure “big push”

In Africa, we often talk about the opportunities offered by “leapfrog”, these technological leaps that will allow the continent to develop more rapidly by learning from the experiences of other countries and by adopting new technologies more quickly. But if there is one step that Africa will not be able to skip, it is infrastructure. Because, despite its openness to the outside world, with a coastline oriented towards the export of raw materials to industrialized countries, the continent remains the most marginal region in world trade… and the least integrated within its own borders, with inter-African trade barely exceeding 13% of sub-Saharan Africa’s total foreign trade.

It is estimated that the “gap” in terms of infrastructure investment in Africa stands between $130 billion and $170 billion per year. Filling it would allow an annual increase of 2.6% in average per capita income, according to the World Bank – a very rapid jump in growth. Access to electricity, that only 43% of households have access to, is at the top of the list, along with access to drinking water and transport infrastructure. Connecting cities and regions by road, rail and air is no longer just a matter of necessity. Amplified by rapid urbanization, these needs also represent enormous opportunities, which contribute to making Africa one of the last frontiers of growth in the world.

A global awareness happened in the 2000s. Responses commensurate with the challenges were sought. The Infrastructure Project Preparation Facility (NEPAD-IPPF) was launched in 2005 to support regional projects. Fueled by several donor countries, this fund has made it possible to complete the financing of 30 projects, totalling $24 billion. Building on this success, Africa decided to go further in 2012 with its Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA), launched at the initiative of the African Union Commission (AU), NEPAD, the African Development Bank (AfDB), the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the regional economic communities. In view of the diversity of national, regional and international initiatives, synergy between the AU Commission and the regional economic communities is central.

Today, through the “5% Agenda”, we want to mobilize a gigantic and almost “natural” source of financing: African pension funds and sovereign wealth funds. We estimate that African institutional investors hold more than $1.1 trillion. For the time being, these funds are invested in ultra-secure assets such as US government bonds or, ironically enough, European roads and airports.

How can we expect foreign investors to come to invest in us if we do not invest ourselves in our future? We suggest that these African pension funds and sovereign wealth funds invest at least 5% of their assets under management to close the infrastructure financing gap in Africa. That would be about $55 billion. Today, with the establishment in the United States of the Development Finance Corporation – whose objective is to de-risk the financing of institutional investors, particularly towards Africa – Africa must seize the opportunity to lead the way. This is why an African Infrastructure Guarantee Facility (AIGM) is being developed with the African Development Bank (AfDB). As far as infrastructure is concerned, we are not advocating for a leapfrog, but for a “big push”!

To succeed, pan-Africanism must switch from ideal to pragmatism

Former Prime Minister of Niger, Ibrahim Assane Mayaki, is the Executive Secretary of NEPAD, the African Union’s Development Agency. He tells Marie Hourtoule from The Parliament Magazine that there is an inextricable link between the quality and robustness of Africa’s institutions and its prosperity. This interview was first published in The Parliament Magazine March 2019 issue.

Marie Hourtoule: NEPAD is set to become the AU’s Development Agency. What changes will this involve?

Ibrahim Assane Mayaki: The pan-African idea is not a new one. It was supported by the founding fathers of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), at the forefront of whom was Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana. The original version of pan-Africanism had a single aim: the decolonisation of the continent. The emancipation of the last Portuguese colonies in 1975, the accession of Namibia to international sovereignty in March 1990 and the abolition of the Apartheid Regime in June 1991 signalled the triumph of the pan-African idea as an ideology of liberation.

Yet in a sense, this achievement deprived the OAU of its raison d’être; it then had to redirect its attention elsewhere and overcome internal disagreements. At the turn of the millennium, the idea of an “African Renaissance” emerged, under the impetus of personalities such as South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki, Nigeria’s Olusegun Obasanjo, Algeria’s Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Senegal’s Abdoulaye Wade. The transformation of the OAU into the African Union (AU), launched at the 2002 Durban Summit, laid the foundations for “pragmatic pan-Africanism”.

During the same period, NEPAD was set up to achieve economic, alongside Africa’s political, independence, by adopting an innovative approach and reconciling public sector planning and private sector investment. Today, 17 years later, the transformation of NEPAD into the African Union’s Development Agency, a technical organisation with its own articles of association and its own legal identity, marks a significant strengthening of this pragmatic ambition. Prompted by a special recommendation in the report by President Paul Kagamé, this change will take effect in 2019 at the next AU summit. We look forward to this transformation, as it will enable us to implement more effectively our development programmes for our continent.

MH: Do you think the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme can succeed?

IAM: Development in Africa will not be possible until its agriculture has undergone significant change. Don’t forget that agriculture provides 60 percent of Africa’s jobs and 25 percent of its GDP.The Comprehensive Africa

Agriculture Development Programme is an important part of NEPAD and one of its pillars. NEPAD provides AU member states with support for its implementation, through close collaboration with the AU Commission and the various Regional Economic Communities. This programme aims to achieve at least a 10 percent increase in public investment in agriculture and at least a 6 percent increase in farming productivity. We are still some way off this goal, as over half the member states have not achieved these targets.

NEPAD recently launched the African partnership platform for the environment in Nairobi, with the aim of producing a road-map for the development of sustainable agriculture. We need to work together, to mobilise our resources, develop agricultural technology and increase productivity, without losing sight of food security. Inclusivity must be our watchword.

MH: In your latest book, you write that there are not enough countries with institutions able to confront the challenges facing Africa. Can you expand on this?

IAM: Our continent is faced with enormous challenges, starting with population growth and climate change. The African workforce is set to rise to 880 million people by 2050. This figure alone gives some insight into what we are facing. As the former Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Mélès Zenawi – one of the most remarkable personalities I have met – used to say, “analyse your problems in your own terms”. This lack of an appropriate analytical approach has been the basic reason for the failure of development policies attempted in various African countries. It is the failure to take ownership. The same applies to our institutions. It is not enough to replicate foreign institutions; they have to be adapted to the conditions in Africa, to our resources, both human and material. The outcome is not inevitable. Botswana and the Central African Republic, two states similar in many ways, were in similar positions forty years ago. However, both have followed very different paths. The institutions play a decisive role. It will take Africa about ten years to establish sound institutions that will provide a basis for its future progress.

It is one of the tragedies of our continent is that our best minds eschew politics and the public realm. It is not my place to point the finger at particular countries or situations. I ask for a clear-sighted examination and consideration of how we can make up for the shortcomings of our institutions. The World Bank’s latest assessment of public policy and institutions in Africa showed a drop in the quality of policies and institutions in sub-Saharan Africa. This was particularly marked in those countries exporting raw materials and in fragile states. By contrast, the countries that have sound institutions are those demonstrating the greatest economic resilience. This supports my belief that there is an inextricable link between the quality and robustness of the institutions and prosperity.

High-speed trains no longer wait in Africa

High-speed rail has made significant inroads across the continent. A 300 km line between Tangier and Casablanca was inaugurated in Morocco in November 2018 and the journey now takes two hours instead of six, with only a moderate increase in ticket price. Since 2016, the 200 km journey from Abuja to Kaduna in Northern Nigeria can be completed in one hour. Other routes are now being planned for example between Kaduna and Kano or Kano and Lagos. While economic gains are expected, social and political impact will also be visible. Via these infrastructure developments, inequalities between northern regions that have historically been perceived as neglected and oil-rich southern areas will be reduced.

 The Gautrain, which was launched in 2010 between Johannesburg International Airport and Pretoria is another example of dynamism in that sector. This high-speed line, which raised some controversy at its announcement now carries 100 000 passengers a day. It has strongly reduced daily traffic jams in Gauteng province, the industrial heart of South Africa.

 Africa’s economic integration depends first and foremost on its transport infrastructure, which is still influenced by the planning policies of the colonial era. There are too few highways between countries and too few trains, out of Africa’s 90,000 km of rail network, to cross borders. The network linking Uganda to Tanzania, Ethiopia to Djibouti or South Africa to Zimbabwe remains the exception rather than the rule. Entering the 21st century, railway use remains focused on the transport of goods and raw materials between the coast and the hinterland as was the case decades ago. This situation must change, so that Africa can finally trade internally on a larger scale.

 The African Integrated High Speed Railway Network (AIHSRN), one of the flagship projects of the African Union’s Agenda 2063, is one step in the right direction. The modernisation and extension of rail networks will not be possible without the use of technologies, a key element of modern “intelligent” transport. Africa has already demonstrated a spectacular ability to “leapfrog” in the digital sector as proven by the number of mobile phone users and mobile banking customers. It could be the same in railways, where the continent would directly move on to the use of advanced technologies in transportation.

This week’s first African Digital Rail Summit in Cape Town, organized by NEPAD and the International Union of Railways (IUC), identified major projects, suggested a few steps for a way forward and revitalized the dynamic in the African Union of Railways (UAC).

Mon message pour la Journée internationale de la femme : L’Afrique que nous voulons ne peut être atteinte si nous laissons nos femmes de côté

Sur le continent africain, nous nous joignons à d’autres dans le monde entier pour commémorer la Journée internationale de la femme, dont le thème cette année est #BalanceforBetter. “Un monde équilibré est un monde meilleur.” Comment pouvons-nous tous contribuer à forger un monde plus équilibré entre les sexes ?

Ici, à l’Agence de développement de l’Union africaine (AUDA-NEPAD), nous sommes toujours conscients de la nécessité de l’égalité des sexes, de l’autonomisation des femmes et des droits humains des femmes dans tout ce que nous faisons. Nous continuons à avancer vers “L’Afrique que nous voulons” grâce aux Objectifs de développement durable et à l’Agenda 2063 de l’Union africaine.  #TheAfricaWeWant ne peut être atteinte si nous laissons nos femmes derrière.

La Journée internationale de la femme nous donne l’occasion de réfléchir à la longue marche vers la liberté, la dignité et l’autonomie des femmes issues de différents parcours de vie. Il est bien connu, en particulier sur le continent africain, que l’activité économique est fortement déterminée par le sexe et implique des différences dans la participation à la population active et dans les revenus. Les femmes et les jeunes sont la plupart du temps des acteurs qui ont moins accès aux possibilités de participation et à des revenus significatifs.

En tant qu’Agence de développement de l’Afrique, nous visons à faire en sorte que l’intégration de la dimension de genre souligne l’autonomisation des femmes et l’intégration de la dimension de genre dans toutes les politiques et tous les projets, afin d’améliorer le bien-être et la situation socio-économique des femmes, de leurs familles et de leurs communautés.

Nous continuons à travailler sans relâche pour combattre le fléau de la marginalisation des femmes, car “un monde équilibré est un monde meilleur” pour tous.

Bonne Journée de la femme !

Ending stereotypes about African women

On this International Women’s Day, March 8, we must ask ourselves questions without complacency about our views on African women, whether from outside or even within our continent. And to challenge certain stereotypes about them, because they simply do not reflect the facts.

Let’s start with the sensitive issue of birth rate. For the most part, if forced marriages are excluded, women fight to have families they love. Women in Africa have an average of 4.4 children. Urbanization and girls’ schooling have a structural impact on these declining figures.

Moreover, fertility rates appear – wrongly – out of control on the continent. Only Niger has had a peak in 2018 of seven to six children per woman according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), while entire regions are in the process of completing their demographic transition. The average number of children per woman no longer exceeds 2.3 in Southern Africa and 2.9 in North Africa (compared to 1.6 in Europe and 1.8 in France). These two regions are thus approaching the minimum threshold (2.1) required for population renewal.

Politically, several countries are among the most advanced in the world in terms of parity in parliament. Rwanda ranks first in the world with 61% of women parliamentarians, almost three times higher than the global average. Namibia ranks 7th before Costa Rica, South Africa (10th) and Senegal (11th) before Finland, Mozambique (17th) after France and Ethiopia (19th) after Argentina.

African women are also not lagging behind in their participation in the labour market. On the contrary, the employment rate for women in sub-Saharan Africa is the highest in the world, far ahead of Western Europe and North America. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), it stood at 64.7% in 2018, compared with a world average of 48.5%. They work for the vast majority in the informal economy, which does not necessarily mean that they are in weak positions.

As Bineta Diop, special envoy of the President of the African Union (AU) Women, Peace and Security Commission, reminds us, the women targeted by microfinance programmes say it loud and clear: “There is nothing micro or small about us!”. Their ambition far exceeds the amounts lent to them. The tontine, often the prerogative of women, sees large amounts of money being passed from hand to hand across the continent. Women do not wait to be employed, and they willingly take their destiny into their own hands. Thanks to the digital revolution, many of them are creating new services and offering new products in digital markets.

There is no shortage of success stories and sources of inspirations either. For the record, three African women have won Nobel Prizes: Nadine Gordimer for literature, Wangari Mathai and Leymah Gbowee for peace. In October 2018, diplomat Sahle-Work Zewde became President of Ethiopia. She joined a dozen women who have served as heads of state, including Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (Liberia), Joyce Banda (Malawi), Catherine Samba-Panza (Central African Republic) and Ameenah Gurib-Fakim (Mauritius).

In an article published by the Financial Times on 7 March, Sahle-Work Zewde said that much remains to be done in terms of equal pay, promotion to positions of responsibility and maternity leave… Africa is nevertheless recognised by the World Bank as the region in the world with the most reforms in favour of women. Another strong signal, according to the Ethiopian President, is that the African Union (AU) has been the first to recognize the importance of “patriarchal norms” in its roadmap to gender equality.

Other powerful women head major institutions, from the International Organisation of the Francophonie (OIF) to the International Football Federation (Fifa). The list would be too long of all those who hold important ministerial positions, manage large companies or have established themselves as opinion leaders. For example, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian novelist who has been translated into more than 25 languages around the world. They are champions not only in sport or the arts, but also in civil society, in cities and rural areas.

It is high time for our continent to awaken to the potential of its better half, and for the world to recognize it. My ancient and deep belief is that there will be no development without them.

From now to 2063: four major transitions African governments should pay attention to

A new report defining the way forward for a real transformation of Africa has just been published. “Africa’s path to 2063: choice in the face of great transformations”, developed by the Frederick S. Pardee Center, is distinguished by its long-term deadline and methodology using an analysis system encrypted using the “International Futures” tool (IF). We were particularly proud to work with outstanding international researchers to have a better understanding of the trends of our development and the way forward to achieve the goals of Agenda 2063, the strategic framework for the socio-economic transformation of the continent over the next 50 years.

This report is based on a quantitative forecasting software that is macro-integrated and reveals the key transitions that Africa will face towards 2063. There are four main transition topics: the demographic transition, the transformation of human development and inequality, technological transformation and environmental transformation.

The document focuses on these foreseeable transitions that should be discussed, planned and operated to increase development opportunities and in order to address the current and future challenges of Africa. For instance, according to the study, the African population will grow from 1.3 billion to 3 billion by 2063. The rapid pace of urban growth contrasts with the slow pace of structural transformation that accompanies it. A controlled urbanization will bring economic, social and human development.

In addition, the economic growth in a majority of African countries has reduced the gap in per capita income compared to developed countries but it has been found that, by 2063, inequality will widen further between the rich and poor inside countries. This is an urgent call to quickly create redistribution mechanisms organized by states.

The report concludes that technological development will positively impact economic growth in Africa. Although lower than in other regions, progress has been recorded on the continent including telecommunications which constitute a high potential market. Rwanda has significantly improved its agricultural yields of 5.6 tons per hectare in 2007 to 9.6 in 2013. The technology can be linked with effective public policies.

One of the major concerns is that our continent seems to be one of the most vulnerable to climate change. This should encourage African states to adopt climate-smart agriculture and take measures to promote green technology. The evolution of forms of governance will go some way to face these transformations and the multiple challenges they entail. Countries need more than ever to adapt their model for more flexibility and civil society participation.

To this end, the report highlights four major transitions as a framework for African governments. This requires an understanding of the ongoing changes and policy choices that can be made to promote Africa’s long-awaited development. African states, associated with regional and continental organizations have the means, but also the duty, to heed these transitions and include them in their strategic planning.

The presidency of the World Bank must be entrusted to an African

While the announcement of the resignation of American Jim Yong Kim from the World Bank presidency on Monday, January 7, took everyone by surprise, the resulting debate remained unsurprising. Very quickly, rumours began to circulate about his potential successor, with the usual share of hypotheses, sometimes serious, often extravagant. However, these hypotheses all had one thing in common: the American nationality of the candidates. Indeed, it is a well-known unwritten rule that the President of the World Bank must be an American. A tradition that reflected the world of the 20th century but is a distorting mirror of the realities of the 21st century.

When the World Bank was founded in 1944, the West dominated economic globalization, with the United States as architects of the new world order. In 1991, the fall of the USSR seemed to confirm the irrevocable victory of political and economic liberalism, enshrining the American hyperpower. At the dawn of the 21st century, Western donors and the Bretton Woods institutions were still dictating the way forward for the development of countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Some observers have gone so far as to speak of the “end of history”…

How many certainties have been turned upside down in just under two decades! Asia has emerged as a new centre of the world economy, with China as the engine of growth. Beijing has also set itself up as an alternative to a breathless American order, where a certain “complicity diplomacy” – to use the words of French researcher Bertrand Badie – continued to keep the countries of the South out of the world’s management board. For its part, Africa is now the reservoir of global growth and the demographic giant of tomorrow. At the same time, the scourge of populism has proliferated in many countries around the world. With peoples blaming globalization for all evils, international institutions based on international cooperation and multilateralism are now exposed to many criticisms.

This geopolitical restructuring was logically accompanied by a crisis of legitimacy of the World Bank. Once an essential development institution, it is now experiencing a relative decline due to a combination of factors. First, access to financial markets has increased significantly in recent years for developing countries, offering them greater diversity in their sources of financing. During the same period, an increasing rejection of the Washington consensus took hold among elites and populations in developing countries, but also in developed countries, putting pressure on institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which had never been so contested before.

In addition, and for the first time, the Americans have elected a president who openly criticizes multilateral institutions, advocating economic nationalism that is out of step with the pace of current globalization. In this context, under what pretext can we still accept that the President of the World Bank must necessarily be an American? Far be it from me to believe that no American has the right profile for the position, but I plead for an open competition where applications from all nationalities must be taken into account. What credibility can an international institution promoting good governance and transparency have with an opaque and unfair recruitment procedure? The World Bank must change the way its President is recruited if it is to maintain its appeal and credibility.

Because beyond the technical dimension of the post, the role of the President of the World Bank – who has the status of a quasi-Head of State – is eminently political. That is why I believe it is time for the World Bank to be led by someone from the African continent. Of all the World Bank’s fields of action, Africa is the one where the stakes are the highest: investment in infrastructure, poverty reduction, agricultural transformation, access to energy, rapid urbanization, human capital development… Not to mention the main challenge of this century, climate change, which is already affecting many African countries.

Investing in these countries and driving bold reforms requires a relationship of trust, which must now be rebuilt to break the image of arrogance that World Bank teams have sometimes sent back to their interlocutors. An African will be in a better position to encourage governments of developing countries to fight corruption or better manage their public debts without being accused of imperialism or neo-colonialism.

Choosing a candidate from a Southern country in a historically Northern institution also sends a strong message for a more balanced globalization, where each country can have a voice that counts on world affairs. Appointing an African to head the World Bank means recognizing the emergence of new powers in globalization and the need to address new missions such as safeguarding global public goods and conserving biodiversity. To fully enter the 21st century, the World Bank actually has no choice but to put an end to 75 years of “America First” and finally inaugurate the era of “World First”!