THE BLOG

An Open Letter to the Next President of the African Development Bank

15/04/2015 11:54 BST | Updated 14/06/2015 10:59 BST

Dear Mr/Madam President,

I would like to congratulate you on your election, especially amongst such an experienced and talented field. I wish you well in continuing to raise the influence and impact of the Bank as Africa's pre-eminent financial institution, and in playing its part in the continent's sustainable and inclusive growth.

Your predecessor, President Donald Kaberuka, successfully stewarded the Bank through the Global Financial Crisis and helped move it to the centre of the continent's development. Under his mantle, the Bank has become one of the most important institutions and has shown impressive leadership particularly on issues of private sector partnerships and infrastructure. Innovative programmes such as Africa 50, a new delivery vehicle that aims at mobilising private financing to accelerate infrastructure in Africa, are just the type of bold approaches that we need. Africa50 will focus on high-impact national and regional projects in the energy, transport, ICT and water sectors, all critical areas for Africa's future.

The Bank also deserves commendation for taking such a lead on the 'data revolution'. In 2013, it unveiled the Open Data for Africa platform where users can access a wide range of development data on Africa in AFDB's data portals as well as from other regional partners. Not only can this initiative help foster evidence-based decision making and good governance, but it can also give African scientists and researchers the practical tools they need to create solutions to the continent's development challenges.

As the chairman of an international NGO and charity working for Africa's scientific independence, I would further urge you to consolidate the Bank's impressive efforts to bolster science, technology, and innovation on the continent, too.

Along with other leading African institutions, the Bank has fully recognised the vital importance of science and technology in increasing Africa's competitiveness, and has lobbied governments to put it at the centre of their policy considerations. In 2012, it released a strategy to help Regional Member Countries (RMCs) to boost economic growth by improving STEM research and education as well as vocational training.

Other initiatives, such as the Second Ministerial Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation, have further assessed the current state of STI in Africa and showcased global best practices and innovations. It is absolutely key that the Bank, in partnership with our other governmental bodies, continues to champion this agenda if our continent is to move toward scientific emancipation.

Africans should not be satisfied with mere competence in STI. We need to aim high and embrace ambitious goals to spur scientific advancement for the continent. Given its influence, the Bank can make a big difference by helping Africa move beyond competence to greatness. I would urge you to lobby African governments to honour their commitment of spending 1% of GDP in scientific research and development. Research shows that regions that prioritise R&D in government expenditure lead scientific output globally. We are doing ourselves a great disservice by perpetuating the current shortfall in R&D and future generations will only curse our inertia.

Aside from urging Government action, the Bank can also build on its innovative work already ongoing to help forge stronger connections between scientific communities and private sector companies. I would encourage you to expand on your predecessors' efforts to ensure that the private sector's voice features in this agenda. As the leading source of job creation, for-profit companies can play a central role in equipping the continent's young and ambitious population with appropriate skills for the workplace. Considering that over 42% of executives across the continent indicated that the lack of talent and the cost of keeping skilled employees weigh heavily on the near-term view of the African business operations, expanding skills development has never been more important.

Since for-profit companies have reaped the rewards of the continent for decades, they should be encouraged to contribute to its scientific and technological advancement. This can be through individual partnerships or initiatives, or through broader commitments such 'Corporate Scientific Responsibility', a scheme to commit a portion of profit to scientific advancement, pioneered by Dhanjay Jhurry, the head of the Mauritius Centre for Biomedical and Biomaterials Research.

The African Development Bank has been at the centre of the continent's meteoric rise in the last decade, but under your leadership it can do even more. This next phase of African development can move us from growth to inclusive growth, and the Bank's role will be critical in financing this transition.

I wish you all the best in your crucial work.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Álvaro Sobrinho