African Development Bank on the move

African Development Bank President Donald Kaberuka. After 10 years in Tunis, AfDB is moving back to its statutory headquarters in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire. Photo by: OECD / CC BY-NC-ND

Africa, it’s often said, is on the move, enjoying steady economic growth despite bursts of political upheaval, security threats and environmental hardship. It’s a continent full of potential, a continent in transition.

The same can be said about Africa’s largest multilateral development institution. Under the leadership of Donald Kaberuka, the African Development Bank has raised a record capital and — like the World Bank and other major donors — refocused its mission on inclusive, sustainable growth.

Now, as the bank prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary, it’s in the midst of perhaps one of its most ambitious projects: the move back to Ivory Coast, home of AfDB’s headquarters until 2003, when civil war engulfed that West African nation.

Of the bank’s 2,000-or-so employees, roughly 1,500 have over the past few years been stationed in Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab Spring which, in January 2011, ousted longtime President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and ushered in a feeble democracy under which tourism has been low and inflation high.

Today, cardboard boxes crowd the corridors of AfDB’s temporary headquarters in Tunis and an eerie silence has fallen over the increasing number of empty offices. Parking lots appear emptier every day.

Some 350 employees have left so far as part of a phased relocation plan that is set to be completed in November — although several offices plan to move later, and others may not at all. Some will be based elsewhere, like Africa50, a new project development and finance mechanism whose leaders are currently reviewing proposals from potential host nations.

All told, around 5,000 people are expected to relocate to Abidjan, including the bank employees’ family members — a huge undertaking that has not come without friction. Many staff members have grown accustomed to Tunis’s relaxed café culture and its proximity to Europe. A move to Ivory Coast will mean fewer weekend getaways to Paris, more expensive housing and an uncertain security situation; rumors about theft and attempted kidnappings in Abidjan have rattled staff.

The bank has offered generous severance packages to employees who refuse to move, and at this point, 8 percent of professional staff has taken the money and quit, Badaki Joseph Oluwafemi, the head of AfDB’s human resources department, told me this week as I visited Tunis.

In the days ahead, we’ll examine AfDB’s move in more depth as we share news and analysis gleaned from exclusive interviews with the bank’s leadership and employees. We’ll take a look at exciting new initiatives meant to boost value for money and engage the private sector — like Africa50 — and what opportunities they may bring for you and your organization. And we’ll talk about human resources, including Oluwafemi’s plan to revamp the bank’s young professionals program and his advice to HR leaders at other institutions on how to successfully navigate change.

If you’d like to share your thoughts on the bank’s move or would like to contribute a story idea, please email us at news@devex.com or leave a comment below.

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About the author

  • Rolf rosenkranz 400x400

    Rolf Rosenkranz

    Rolf Rosenkranz oversees a talented team of in-house journalists, correspondents and guest contributors located around the globe. Since joining Devex in early 2008, Rolf has been instrumental in growing its fledgling news operation into the leading online source for global development news and analysis. Previously, Rolf was managing editor at Inside Health Policy, a subscription-based news service in Washington. He has reported from Africa for the Johannesburg-based Star and its publisher, Independent News & Media, as well as the Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, a German daily.