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Adesina’s inconvenient truth on poverty, underdevelopment

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Adesina's inconvenient truth on poverty, underdevelopment

Adebayo Obajemu

At the Guardian 40th anniversary lecture in Lagos, the President of African Development Bank(AfDB), Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, blamed a lot of socio economic challenges facing Africans on the leaders, whom he accused of incompetence, lack of focus, empathy and for causing untold poverty in the midst of wealth.

Adesina, who is also the former Minister of Agriculture during the administration of Goodluck Jonathan, took a highly analytical journey into the origins of the dysfunctional political economy of Africa, locating an uncanny, sad paradox, where the continent is highly rich in human and material capital but has not been able to translate this common wealth to prosperity for all, given the greed and lack of commitment to common good by successive leadership in Africa.

His thesis is that the wealth of Africa is locked selfishly in the bosom of western bank vaults by the few, while the rest wallow in embarrassing poverty.
“Our governments must realise their responsibility to lift people out of poverty and into wealth as quickly as possible; It is doable”, he said.

A brilliant analyst of our collective malaise, Adesina stared the cream of Nigerian political elites, who were at the lecture in the face, and submitted that the pathway to development is the evolution of a new paradigm, a reevaluation of values away from the sybaritic, conspicuous consumption of the elite into a holistic commitment to uplifting Africa from poverty and the vice grip of self- induced underdevelopment.

He said, “As a leader, my way of making decisions is quite simple. I simply write down the things that make me ashamed, and I do the opposite.
“We must take a critical look around us, the underdevelopment, the poverty in the midst of plenty and the fact that we are far behind other regions of the world, despite our enormous resources, and determine enough is enough. Poverty must not become the comparative advantage of Africa”.

Nearly half the world’s gold and one-third of all minerals are in Africa. With its vast mineral resources, and human resource capacity, Africa should not be where it is today, he noted, adding that
Nigeria and many other African nations were once at the same level of development as some East Asian nations—notably Malaysia, Indonesia, South Korea and several others.

“We must ask ourselves, when will we make the shift that South Korea made, from being a country that was once on the low end of the development ladder to the rich, industrialised nation that it is today.”
In an indirect way, Adesina seemed to have looked at the African leaders using Thorsten Veblen’s lenses with a few variations.

In the seminal book, “The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions (1899), by Thorstein Veblen, widely considered to be a treatise of economics and sociology, and a critique of conspicuous consumption as a function of social class and of consumerism. Instead, it is the middle class and working class who are usefully employed in the industrialised, productive occupations that support the whole of society.

He said with $6.2 trillion worth of natural resources, 65 per cent of the world’s uncultivated arable land, and a vibrant youth population, Africa has no reason to be in the league of poor nations because all of the variables are favourable, the only sour point is leadership to drive it.

The area of difficulties is in holding governments at all levels accountable. Radical scholars like Daniel Effiong, Omafume Onoge, Bala Usman and Bade Onimode, among others, have emphasized the importance of mass consciousness and political education in holding leaders to account and responsible behaviour to no avail. Leaders across the continent have continued to weaponise tribe and religion to divide the people along fault lines so that they can not come together to demand good governance.

Adesina, who won The Guardian’s ‘Man of the Year’ Award in 2021, bemoaned the deplorable state of the continent, emphasising that poverty is an anomaly in a continent that is rich and abundantly blessed.
He emphasized the importance of strengthening good governance, transparency, accountability, and sound management policies to turn things around. He said considering the vast natural resources that Africa has, it must become a continent that grows inclusive and well-distributed wealth.

“If we manage our natural resources well, Africa has no reason to be poor. We have $6.2 trillion in natural resources,” he said. “So how in the world are we still poor? We simply need to pull up our socks, stamp out corruption, and manage our resources in the interest of our countries and our people,” added Adesina.

He explained further: “Saudi Arabia has oil, as does Nigeria. Kuwait has oil, as does Nigeria. Qatar has abundant gas, as does Nigeria and other countries. Yet, Nigeria is the country with the largest share of its population living below the extreme poverty line in 2023 in Africa. Clearly, there is something fundamentally wrong in our management, or rather mismanagement, of our natural resources.”

As an example, the bank president cited South Korea, which raised its GDP per capita from $350 in the 1960s to approximately $33,000 by 2023. “That is the kind of quantum leap that we need,” Dr. Adesina said. “We must ask ourselves, when will we make the shift that South Korea made, from being a country that was once on the low end of the development ladder to the rich, industrialised nation that it is today.

“I am optimistic about Nigeria. I am optimistic about Africa. I believe in Africa,” he added.

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“Africa needs the right policies, investments, infrastructure, logistics, and financing…We must make sure that this is driven by a highly skilled, dynamic, and youthful workforce,” he told the audience of ministers and other senior government officials, former state governors, business leaders, academics, and media at The Guardian event.

He said: “Over the years, this world-class publication has set a benchmark for journalistic excellence. It has helped to shape public discourse, champion accountability, and serve as a people’s watchdog. In doing so, The Guardian has justifiably earned the respect of Nigerians and readers across the world.”
The Guardian’s Chairman and Publisher, Maiden Alex-Ibru, described the bank president as “one of Nigeria’s greatest exports to the world.”

He highlighted the African Development Bank’s interventions to drive inclusive development in Africa, including boosting food security.
The African Development Bank has invested about $8 billion in agriculture over the past seven years, improving food security for 250 million people across the continent. In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which disrupted wheat and maize supplies to Africa, the bank rapidly approved a $1.5 billion emergency food production facility for countries across the continent.

“Today, this facility is supporting 20 million farmers in 36 countries to produce 38 million tonnes of food valued at $12 billion. This is 8 million tonnes above the 30 million tonnes of food Africa was importing from Russia and Ukraine,” Mr Adesina said.

“But even as we do this, we must do more than simply producing more food and agricultural commodities,” Adesina added. “The export of raw commodities is the door to poverty. The export of value-added products is the highway to wealth.”
The African Development Bank and its partners have provided $1.6 billion to develop 25 Special Agro-Industrial Processing Zones to support private sector processing and add value to commodities across 15 countries.

With partners, the bank this month launched a $3 billion Alliance for Special Agro-Industrial Processing Zones to support the development of these zones in 11 more countries.

The bank has launched a $1 billion Africa Climate Risk Insurance Facility for Adaptation to scale up climate risk insurance for African countries.
“Four decades ago, as a young man finding my way in the world, I fondly remember picking up a copy of the Guardian for the very first time on February 27, 1983, for the princely price of 20 kobo. There was something special about the publication that immediately lit up Nigeria’s media scene.

“The Guardian was exceptionally well written and researched. It brought together some of the finest writers and editorial staff that Nigeria had at the time, including Drs. Stanley Macebuh, Olatunji Dare, Edwin Madunagu, and Yemi Ogunbiyi, Sully Abu, Lade Bonuola, Ama Ogan, Odia Ofeimun, and many others.

“Their journalistic brilliance and prose made the Guardian, the undisputed news publication of the era.

“We also salute the pioneer publishing spirit of the late Alex Ibru, the courage of the Ibru family and successive publishers, and generations of Guardian journalists who have upheld the principles of editorial independence and freedom of expression, even during the darkest and most oppressive years of military rule.

 

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