I ducked in today for most of ‘A New Agenda for African Development Finance in the 21st Century: A Conversation with African Development Bank (AfDB) President Donald Kaberuka‘ at the Brookings Institution. Opening remarks were delivered by Homi Kharas of Brookings, who reinforced my previous positive perceptions and noted that Africa is growing in general – its economy, population, and cities.
He quickly turned things over to Kaberuka, whose comments rather impressed me, I had been expecting something very dull as the vaguely titled speeches of major figures often strike me as broad to the point of irritation. Kaberuka (he’s from Rwanda, though for some reason I’d always thought Burkina Faso) effusively praised his hosts, much more than necessary, which I can only interpret as a genuine admiration of the Brookings Institution.
His remarks were brief, 30 minutes at the most, and he began by noting that he did not wish to engage the Africa Rising debate, something which strikes him with amusement. Instead he noted that he was here to talk about ‘sustainability’ and ‘transformation’.
Kaberuka then turned his attention to noting the diversity of the continent, its demographic dynamics, and the role of its wealth of natural resources. Incidentally, he hammered away on the development of infrastructure and noted that most Chinese engagement in Africa is limited to resource rich countries.
I was particularly pleased to note his comments regarding the difficulty in getting private capital to invest in infrastructure (are my Power Africa folks listening?) and his attention to the problems in measuring Africa’s middle class, in which people who can make as little as $2 a day are classified as middle class.
He didn’t get much into specifics but praised Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, and Tanzania as countries that have been very good at opening their economies to foreign investment. Conversely, he singled out Portugal, Spain, Italy, and the US as struggling international aid donors.
Towards the end of his talks he spoke about the foresight of the British in building a railroad to the Kenyan coast in 1894 at an exorbitant cost. He then got in a typical anti-colonial dig, noting that human development investments like ‘education and health [were] left…to missionaries.’ He then contrasted that with remarks on the iTunes era, noting how static the AfDB has remained in its 50 years of existence.
I enjoyed Kaberuka’s brief remarks and feel generally optimistic about his leadership of the AfDB following this talk.
In an aside, I believe that Jendayi Frazer was in the audience, seated in the row just ahead of me to the right (the crowd overall was fairly sparse, although a full house was anticipated, there was only about 60% capacity perhaps attributable to a combination of the rain and the government shutdown) –