Having overseen Ethiopia’s strong growth into one of Africa’s leading economies, its finance minister, Sufian Ahmed, believes the AfDB will be safe in his experienced hands. Interview by Alexa Dalby.
If appointed, what would be your first action as president?
The first decision I would make would be to review the effectiveness of the regional offices of the Bank. These offices have been established to speed up the implementation of the operation in the member countries. Unfortunately either some of them are not properly empowered or have insufficient manpower, with the result that implementation is not as quick as it should be.
Why would you make a good president?
I will bring my track record to the Bank. My achievements speak for themselves. I have been finance minister for Ethiopia for almost two decades. Over that time, Ethiopia has changed from a country that was associated with starvation and poverty to one of the fastest-growing economies in Africa. We are talking about inclusive, sustainable economic growth, investment in infrastructure, in modernisation of agriculture and social development. With me, the Bank will be in safe hands. I have known AfDB and I have been working with all multilateral financial institutions for the last 20 years.
What needs to be changed in the way the AfDB operates for it to help Africa really take off?
The Bank really should be focused where it makes a real difference. It should be focused on effective implementation. Most of the time we don’t lack ideas and projects. We have the right strategies and goals. What is missing is to convert vision into reality and make projects a reality. I think the Bank should focus on advising the member countries on the right projects and the adequate means to execute them speedily and within budget.
Can you give a concrete example of something AfDB does that other development banks do not?
From my long experience with AfDB, I can say that the Bank is a trusted adviser to member countries. As a pan-African institution, the AfDB brings something very special which is missing from other multilateral financial institutions. African countries trust the AfDB. This is a very unique asset the Bank has which no other financial institutions can provide. It is in its DNA.
The Bank’s strategy for 2013–2022 has been adopted. In this context, how can the new president pursue his or her own ideas and priorities?
The Bank’s strategy for these 10 years is a general one. For the elected next president, it is really a matter of emphasis and reprioritising the goals in the Bank’s strategies. I don’t see any serious problem in reconciling my priorities with the AfDB strategies. It is a matter of prioritising and emphasising some of the goals.
The decentralisation strategy has been criticised for being expensive and inefficient. Do you intend to continue it?
I don’t agree with the criticism, providing the strategy is properly implemented. The decentralised decision-making is very important from my experience here in my country, as well as from my working relationship with the Bank. But these regional offices’ decision-making processes should be fully empowered. If not, they will be inefficient. They should be fully accountable. These are the two main things – full empowerment and accountability. With both, the regional offices can be an important part of the decision-making process of the Bank as well as efficient and cost effective.