In this interview with Nigerian journalists on the sidelines of the
World Bank/International Monetary Fund annual meetings in the United
States of America, the President of the African Development Bank, Dr.
Akinwumi Adesina, talks about how women and youths to excel in their
Can you speak on your role in the agricultural sector?
In Nigeria, our work on agriculture is going to focus a lot on what we
call Special Agro-Industrial Processing Zones because as a person I
have very little or all almost zero interest in little projects, I
don’t have such interest. I want things that are structural, systemic
and scalable. So, our discussion with the government is on how we can
support these special agro-industrial zones to enable them with
infrastructure- power, water, roads, ICT and also with irrigation
There will be zones wherein private food and allied industries or
companies will be located close to where the farmers are. So, you will
have processing, value addition to all commodities done within those
zones; create a market for the farmers, stop the movement of raw
materials, create jobs within rural economy and in fact, turn the
rural zones away from what I call today, zones of economic misery
towards zones of economic prosperity. And that conversation is going
on very well with the government and we are very strongly supportive
of that, and I hope that will continue.
We are also financing other work on the fertilizer side. We are
supporting a few fertilizer companies in Nigeria. There is a new work
with its Dangote fertilizer that we are supporting, and others in
The other thing we are also going to be supporting in Nigeria is to
support young people to get into agriculture as a business because
this is the wealth sector. I was in Iowa where I unveiled my personal
foundation to support young people in agriculture as a business. I put
together $1.1 million of prize money I won from the World Food Prize
and the Sunhak Peace Prize this year.
I endowed the foundation to support young people to go into
agriculture as a business, and he was appreciated by everybody around
the world for that. So, I think that young people in agriculture need
to see it as a thriving business. I’m excited that since I started
this in Nigeria, agriculture is now cool and sexy in Nigeria, and I
think that is the way it should be.
At the annual meeting in Malabo, there were talks on connecting Africa
not just on the diplomatic level but on the infrastructural level, and
they were talking about building roads that connect countries. With
the African Investment Forum coming up, what new projects should we
expect to be tabled before investors?
I think the whole issue of regional integration is very important for
Africa today within the context of the African Continental Free Trade
Area (AfCFTA). The AfCFTA gives you a market of $3.3 trillion which is
the largest free trade zone in the world since the World Trade
Organisation was set up. But for that to work well, we will continue
to make our investments in infrastructure to enable it.
So, let me just give you some examples of those critical regional
infrastructures. The bank is already financing ECOWAS for the
development of the feasibility studies for the Lagos-Abidjan highway
that will connect that whole corridor as a big highway, and that will
go all the way to Dakar. It’s a very transformative highway there.
If you look, for example, what we have done in terms of a deep seaport
in Togo, it has helped a lot in opening up the economy for Togo. We
supported also the infrastructure for modern airports in Morocco,
Ghana, Kenya, and other places just to make sure that you have access
to transport infrastructure.
But, as one thinks of regional connectivity, it is not just roads, you
need digital connectivity. Therefore, the bank is investing heavily in
digital infrastructure. For example, we financed what is called the
Trans-Sahara Fibre Optic Network. It is linking Nigeria, Niger, Chad
We supported the Central Africa Fibre Optic Submarine System that is
linking DRC Congo with the Central African Republic and also Congo
itself. Then of course in East Africa, we supported what is called the
East Africa Backbone, which is connecting all of the East African
Why is this important? First, digital payment, because to be able to
do trade, you are not going to carry cash around, you have to be able
to make digital payment. Second, is to be able to have entrepreneurs,
digital entrepreneurs to emerge. This is because in a digital world
you want to have digital entrepreneurs but they must have the backbone
infrastructure for the service industry like Jumia and others to
The last thing, of course, is that even if we have all of that,
infrastructure to connect coastal countries, landlocked countries,
they will not be as good enough unless people can physically move. So,
you can have tariff-free zones but you must also have literally
borderless Africa in terms of labour mobility. And so the bank is
supporting a lot of work in that area.
Today, if you are an African, you can visit only 25 percent of African
countries and get visas on arrival. For another 24 percent of it you
will have to apply and you cannot even get it on arrival. And so if
labour cannot move easily, it becomes a challenge. So it’s both
physical infrastructure and soft infrastructure.
Talking about free movement, Nigeria has closed its land borders to
neighbouring countries since August. What do you have to say to that?
The fact is I believe this is one area the two countries have to work
together and make sure that they are in agreement about what needs to
be done to ensure there is a freer movement of goods and people. From
all I see, those conversations are ongoing.
What is the bank doing about human capital development and health, two
areas the continent is facing huge challenges?
Let us take the case of human capital. First and foremost, we are
investing today in universities of science and technology, centres of
excellence in science and technology. We have one in Nigeria, we have
one in Kenya, we have in Tanzania, we have one in Egypt and then in
South Africa. These are called Mandela Centres of Excellence,
basically to develop world-class talents in science and technology.
We are in an era where it is all about the fourth industrial
revolution. So, automation is going to be important, artificial
intelligence, robotics, big data, quantum data analysis. These are the
things that are already driving the world, and they would be the
future of the world. So, Africa must prepare people, use your own
people for the jobs of the future, not the jobs of the past. And so
when we take a look at universities, what do we find? We find that no
more than two to three percent of universities have people that are in
science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. I don’t want Africa
to be a laggard when it comes to innovation in a rapidly digitized
world or the fourth industrial revolution.
So, that is one component of science and technology. Let me give an
example of what that looks like: we invested, for example, in Kigali.
It’s called the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology. That
centre today is producing world-class students in ICT. One hundred
percent of all the students get jobs before they leave. They are
connected with some of the biggest companies in the world, whether it
is Google, Microsoft and all of that. This just tells you that this is
where the future really is and we are financing that.
The other area that I think is important is coding, computer coding.
It is going to be the currency of the future. So, a lot of companies
outside are going to outsource their coding, and therefore positioning
yourself with the necessary human capital to be able to tap into that
huge coding market is very important. The bank right now is supporting
efforts to develop about 123 computer coding centres in Africa that
would allow young Africans to be able to benefit from there.
Another area that is very important for us is the whole issue of how
to support young entrepreneurs in the ICT space with access to
finance. So, the bank has a number of private equity funds that we
have already set up. In the case of Nigeria, one of the companies we
are working with is called TLcom Tide. It is a private equity platform
that we have, that is actually run by Nigeria’s Omobola Johnson, who
is doing a fantastic job. She was my colleague when I was a minister
in Nigeria. So, I think human capital is the key.
But having said that, we can build all the human capital that we want,
if young people can’t find jobs, it’s a crisis. We’ve got a third of
the young people in the continent don’t have jobs, we’ve got a third
of them that are underemployed. The rest that are probably employed
and maybe not happy. So, that is a big challenge, and I believe that
it is time to begin to put our capital at risk on behalf of young
people. If we don’t, we are all going to be at risk.
That why the African Development Bank is really supporting a major
effort called Jobs for Youths in Africa, which is our big programme to
help countries to create 25 million jobs for young people over a
10-year period, in agriculture, small and medium enterprises and in
the ICT sector. You can imagine when you have 673 million young people
on the continent, but you don’t even have the financial institutions
that would support them.
That is not acceptable. So, young people walks into a bank, they look
lost, they are like in a forest. They don’t even know what to do, and
the instruments are not developed for them. I have said it many times
and I will say it again.
I don’t believe in youth empowerment, at all, because when you say you
have empowered somebody and then you train them but there is no
financing, investments for them to grow their businesses, what is the
good of that? So, we must move from youth empowerment to youth