PROFILE: A consummate pan-Africanist

Donald Kaberuka,

His close pals and admirers once teased him as the “100 billion dollar man”. Dr Donald Kaberuka, in 2010, successfully led his team at the African Development Bank (AfDB) to persuade the Board to approve an unprecedented tripling of the Bank’s capital resources to nearly $100 billion. The heavily-boosted financial fire-power has enabled the Bank to step up and sustain interventions in the spate of economic and political emergencies that are buffeting African countries.

While the AfDB’s quick responses to the succession of food, fuel and financial, and lately, political crises did not of their own quell the dire situations, the gestures clearly pointed the direction in which African leaders and policy-makers are to go to resolve the emergencies and keep the continent on the growth and development path. The Bank boss has always believed that African leaders must always find ways to limit the negative impact of external shocks on their economies.

The Bank’s responses were essentially a demonstration of Dr Kaberuka’s own interpretation of what the premier development finance institution must not only be doing, but also be seeing to be doing; after all, he came into office close to 10 years ago vowing to make the Bank “a knowledge institution” and the first port of call on economic intelligence on Africa, on the sound principle and axiom that knowledge is power. He went on to strengthen the Office of Chief Economist and the Research Department.

Dr Kaberuka’s flair for handling extreme cases and knotty development issues was recognized back in the mid-1990s when Rwandan President Paul Kagame chose him as the embattled nation’s Finance and Economic Planning Minister. The country had just emerged from a fratricidal civil war after an internecine genocide. Drawing on a dozen years of cognate experience in banking, finance and international trade, he went on to assist the Rwanda leader to accomplish one of the world’s most remarkable feats of post-conflict reconstruction and economic reform.

The appreciative Kagame paid back by endorsing and backing Dr Kaberuka’s bid for AfDB Presidency; and the rest, as they say, is history, some of which is still unfolding as the fecund economic mind coasts towards the close of his second and last term as the Bank’s pathfinder.

Since taking control of the Bank in 2005, Kaberuka has initiated, sponsored and spoken at more conferences than, perhaps, all his predecessors put together effectively giving Africa an economic voice in the global sphere.  He inaugurated the African Association of Economists, encouraging professionals to contribute to African-economic thought and the continent’s development process.

The Bank, at his insistence has kept up a dizzying pace at its Research/Publishing department churning out data on diverse economic sectors of Africa’s economy to cater to the needs of analysts’ researches, policy-makers and institutions world-wide.

A widely travelled polyglot (he effortlessly switches between English, French and Swahili, to say nothing of his native Kinyarwanda tongue), Dr Kaberuka understands the importance of developing partnerships with various interests and institutions. Under his leadership, the AfDB has strengthened ties with the African Union and its agencies, the UN and sundry multilateral organisations to stay relevant and remain alert in the loop of global phenomena and development. His uncompromising expansion of the Bank’s reach has resulted in a more decentralized institution with an increasing number of field offices, more evenly spread and relevant to the myriad, disparate communities that make up the continent.

In his passion to get the Bank as close to the people as possible and its services as socially-relevant to their aspirations as feasible, he himself has become a familiar face in several African strategically- important cities. Ever ready to engage and be engaged, Kaberuka is at home in every part of the continent.

In-house at the Bank Group, Dr Kaberuka has also made lasting changes in the way things are done, in effect, practising what the Bank preaches on governance. Gender balance at the Bank, for instance, has been made an issue as more women than ever before have been hired or elevated to executive positions.  Without much fuss, Dr Kaberuka has literally, staff-wise, created a new institution.  Over 60 per cent of the AfDB staff joined the Bank in the last eight years.

While it may be fortuitous, it is his eternal credit that the Bank returned to its traditional home in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, after 12 years of unfortunate  ‘exile’ in Tunis during his tenure. It is also quite fitting that the Rwandan-born economist who trained in Tanzania and Glasgow, Scotland, should bequeath the benefit of his expanded world-view to his beloved continent at the highest level possible.

For his untiring effort to move the continent forward, Dr Kaberuka won the 2013 Daily Trust African of the Year Award.  Chairman of the Award Committee, former President of Tanzania and erstwhile Secretary-General of the Organisation of African Unity (now African Union) eulogized the AfDB President for establishing the Africa 50 Fund, to fast-track infrastructure finance in Africa. The fund is expected to take off with an equity investment of $10 billion and is projected to attract — wait for it, — $100 billion of global capital!

Its significance lay in the signal to all that Africa must lead its own salvaging mission to encourage others to commit their resources to the continent’s course. Dr Kaberuka joined other distinguished pan-Africanists such as Democratic Republic of Congo’s Dr Denis Mukwege and former South Africa President Thabo Mbeki on the award’s honour’s roll.

For one who has made a name serving his immediate constituency and the larger African community, the “100 billion dollar man” deserves nothing less.  As he winds down his tenure at the Bank, analysts are already speculating that his home country or the international community, would find further engagement for his brilliant energy.

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