For Sierra Leone’s foreign minister, AfDB needs to build on what it has

By Jenny Lei Ravelo 28 April 2015

Samura Kamara, minister of foreign affairs and international cooperation of Sierra Leone. Photo by: Cliff Owen / International Monetary Fund / CC BY-NC-ND

Fighting inequality is among the core priorities of Sierra Leone’s candidate for presidency at the African Development Bank. In particular, Samura Kamara would focus on youth unemployment and the lack of opportunities for women’s empowerment.

While addressing inequality forms part of the bank’s 10-year strategy, it also played a huge part in Sierra Leone’s struggles. Wide economic marginalization, for instance, was a key issue that precipitated a 10-year civil war in the country.

It comes as no surprise then that Sierra Leone’s foreign minister’s goals, if elected AfDB president, are to further support for regional initiatives to boost women empowerment, and invest in education, including the development higher and technical education across the continent to produce experts that would be spearheading its development.

But how does he plan to do that?

An emphasis on decentralization

The way for AfDB to do this, Kamara suggested, is by supporting more community-based projects.

And the best way this can be done is by empowering its regional and country offices, giving them more space in terms of budget and project approval, and the means to conduct assessments, including impact evaluations.

According to the foreign minister, this would allow the bank to be more responsive and make decisions faster, especially at times when countries “need very quick interventions.” Also, this way, the bank would have more knowledge of needs on the ground, could better assess existing vulnerabilities — of women or others — and therefore be able to develop viable concepts that would properly inform bank engagement in the country.

Kamara, who has a wealth of experience in the financial sector, having sat as governor of the Central Bank of Sierra Leone, places a good amount of emphasis on impact, which many institutions often neglect these days. One example he gave was how some microfinance institutions prioritize high recovery rates more than the impact the loans are having on their clients.

Some institutions, he said, give money and then just “sit back.”

An investment in human capital

The bank, almost all candidates argue, has made a lot of successes over the past few years. It has maintained its triple-A rating, was able to negotiate the extension of its Nigeria Trust Fund, replenish its concessionary window, and raised its profile in the continent.

But with these successes come the massive scale of expectations from member countries, particularly regional members. A number of African countries are now looking to the bank to help them in their infrastructure needs, for example, or in terms of providing them technical assistance in their chosen areas of development.

To intervene, however, the bank would require not just greater financial resources but also increased human capital. And as many African countries become more industrialized, the bank would need to develop a “special core of staff that understands industrialization processes.”

The current setup of sending staff or consultants to a member country to conduct assessments or provide advice, and then leave after a week is not sustainable. The bank and its regional member countries need to be able to have constant communication and engagement.

AfDB must look to various avenues to find complementarities, or ways to optimize its resources. In terms of human resources, that could mean leveraging expertise of its member countries, regional and otherwise, he suggested. For example, in the event of another Ebola outbreak, the bank can look to its own capacities, but also tap into or draw experience from the expertise developed by Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, the three countries most affected by Ebola.

“Challenges today are getting deeper and deeper, and time is not on our side. So you have to go look at the bank, and staffing, and build on what you already have,” Kamara told Devex from London.

A boost for communication

The foreign minister also underscored the importance of boosting the bank’s internal and external communications — with shareholders, other multilateral institutions, as well as with its other geopolitical relationships across the world.

Communication between the bank and its shareholders is important as the latter sets the bank’s priorities. Communication with other institutions such as the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund — institutions at which Kamara had worked for or consulted with — would meanwhile set the floor for knowledge sharing.

“I think the bank can also leverage this, as it were, to complement its resources, because the resources of the bank as of the moment are in no way sufficient to adequately finance or comfortable finance the requirements of Africa,” Kamara said.

And he is proposing the creation of a “cadre of senior, empowered leaders accountable for developing the bank’s relationships in particular subject area.”

This doesn’t mean however that Kamara is suggesting separate communications department for each subject area. Instead, his vision is for each of the bank’s different departments to have this capacity and be able to promote their projects, while at the same time having the communications department that can deliver the bank’s core messages and be the institution’s central voice.

But it is important, he stressed, to first assess if the bank’s current communications network is adequate, robust and responsive enough.

Kamara helped decentralize power from Sierra Leone’s central government following a violent 10-year civil war, and boost local governance. Will this knowledge and experience impress the bank’s member states enough to give him a chance at the presidency?

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About the author

Jenny lei ravelo 400x400
Jenny Lei Ravelo@JennyLeiRavelo

Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex senior reporter based in Manila. Since 2011, she has covered a wide range of development and humanitarian aid issues, from leadership and policy changes at DfID to the logistical and security impediments faced by international and local aid responders in disaster-prone and conflict-affected countries in Africa and Asia. Her interests include global health and the analysis of aid challenges and trends in sub-Saharan Africa.


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