Omar Kabbaj: Mr. Discipline

Omar Kabbaj: Mr. Discipline

OMAR Kabbaj assumed the presidency of the African Development Bank (AfDB) in 1995,when the continent’s premier development institution was going through a rough patch. He came with his mental shirt-sleeves rolled up for serious work. Outgoing President Babacar Ndiaye, a great builder, had been hard at work holding it all together, even late into the end of his tour of duty. Standard and Poor’s, the ratings agency, had withdrawn the bank’s Triple-A rating, just as the international financial community was worried over its affairs.

A man of sterling qualities, Kabbaj left no doubt about the urgent need to refocus the bank management and staff behaviourally. Some were asked to leave, while others who stayed were put on their toes. Under him, the bank’s senior staff cadre was professionalized. The minimum academic qualification of a Master’s degree was strictly enforced. Staff recruitment and procurement were merit-based, as many previous underhand deals ceased. From the decay of the old bank, Omar Kabbaj delivered a renewed, more profound, pan-African Bank.

After a decade of determined discipline, a slew of deft reforms, and initiatives, the Moroccan financial expert who met “the Bank in crisis, struggling to survive in the mid-nineties”, was proud to exit the same Bank in ruddy health with a restored AAA rating. It was then easy to inaugurate the Bank’s first billion dollar bond issue and borrowing at 2 basis points below LIBOR. Since then, the bank has not looked back, growing from strength to strength, delivering on its core mandate of bringing a distinctive African voice to the development debate and making the AfDB the premier financial institution in the continent in the service of its most needy populations.

Kabbaj’s first priority was to bring the Bank’s finances under control. After an extensive audit of financial systems, basic financial management and control issues were fixed: an independent comptroller was hired; the treasury function was reorganized to ensure segregation of duties; professional risk management was introduced, and the Assets and Liability Committee (ALCO) was established.

He then led the bank to introduce one of toughest sanction policies of any Multilateral Development Bank with the cooperation of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. Discipline became the buzzword at the institution. The main challenge thereafter, Kabbaj told his professional colleagues and staff at his send-off party, was no longer its gloomy numbers but “how to manage the high expectations of stakeholders”.

A couple of years before bowing out at the institution, Kabbaj wrote an insightful book, The Challenge of African Development, based on his experiences at the multilateral development bank. It examines such recurrent issues as poverty reduction/alleviation, economic reform, regional integration, private sector development, good governance, rural transformation, debt and debt management. The book is a good resource for policy-makers, development agencies, international organizations, as well as scholars and students interested in African economics and politics, globalization, and development studies. It is his additional gift to the world in appreciation of the privilege to serve the continent of Africa.

Born on August 15, 1942 in Rabat, Morocco, Kabbaj is a Knight of the Order of the Throne of Morocco and advisor to His Majesty King Mohammed VI. His Master’s degree, earned from Toulouse Business School in France, placed him in good stead to also serve as a Minister- delegate in charge of economic affairs to the Prime Minister of his home country from 1993 to 1995. The octogenarian remains a highly-valued consultant on finance and economic matters to numerous corporate-cum- diplomatic clients and partners world-wide. Mr Omar Kabbaj is also a globally revered statesman.

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