Donald Kaberuka has ambitious targets for his second and final five-year term as President of the African Development Bank. At the Bank’s annual luncheon earlier this month, he pinpointed security, peace, stability and job creation as 2014 goals for Africa and the multilateral institution he has led since 2005. His legacy would appear secure: the Bank has a triple-A designation from international credit rating firms and has tripled its capital base since 2010. Now Kaberuka – who served as Rwanda’s minister of finance from 1997 to 2005 – is spearheading an ambitious initiative, the Africa50Fund, designed to leverage capital from Africa’s own institutions to attract substantially greater global private equity to finance the continent’s vast infrastructural needs.
This week in Abuja, Kaberuka is receiving the “African of the Year” award from the Nigerian newspaper, Daily Trust, which cited “his innovative idea … to speed up the financing of infrastructure in the continent.” Announcing the choice in November, Dr. Salim Ahmed Salim, a former Tanzanian prime minister and Organisation of African Unity secretary-general, who chairs the selection panel, praised Kaberuka for “bringing to fruition the idea of domestically financed development.” When the award was announced at the African Media Leaders Forum in Addis Ababa, AllAfrica’s Tami Hultman and Reed Kramer interviewed Kaberuka about the Bank’s plans and priorities.
Why have you focused on infrastructure as a top priority for the Bank?
To put it simply, the current needs of infrastructure in Africa are about U.S. $92 billion a year. At the moment we can monetize from all sources only half that amount – about $50 billion. To mobilize the balance, we decided that we should use the limited amount of public resources available to leverage additional resources in the capital markets. But to do that, we will have to build a vehicle with an equity base based on Africa’s own pools of savings. And on those bases we go into the market to raise money.
So how is that vehicle, the Africa50Fund, designed to work?
Africa50 is about transformational, commercially viable projects of regional significance. It’s about using Africa’s own savings to leverage the private sector, and it is a tool to make a whole range of projects in the PIDA program – the Priority Infrastructure Development for Africa – bankable and commercially viable.
These pools of savings are currently invested in the U.S. and Europe. They are looking for a good return, they are looking for liquidity, and they are looking for security. Africa50 seeks to provide those three. Maybe do even better on the returns. At the moment, because of the QE [quantitative easing, the monetary policy pursued by the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank, which lowers interest rates] and the financial markets, the return is not particularly attractive. I think we can provide a better return. I think we can provide the liquidity. I think we can provide security, at the same time building Africa’s transformational infrastructure.
How can Africa50 deliver a higher return and also finance infrastructural development?
I don’t want to walk you through all the sophisticated financial engineering which you have to do, but I’ll just give you an example. Many of these economies are growing at 6 percent. And everywhere on the continent, the maritime ports have become a huge constraint. There’s almost almost no port on the Atlantic or the Indian [Ocean] belt, apart from Durban, which have enough capacity to cope with the growth in the economies. So the demand is there. We are going to go there and expand the port capacities. It’s a commercially viable business. We charge a price. and we shall be able to provide a return to the investors. Let me tell you, in the 1990s, if you told someone that IT-related infrastructure, communications, the mobile phone – that was a good return, they would’ve thought you were crazy! That is where the returns have been very, very interesting. Our analysis at Africa50 is that energy is the next revolution, and next are maritime ports, railways, highways and airports.
And how do you mobilize sufficient capital to finance all the needed infrastructural development?
We have started with African-owned institutions, including equity provided by the African Development Bank. We’ll go to African central banks who are now holding half a trillion dollars of reserves. We are not naïve enough to think that central banks will invest all of their reserves in an instrument like this, because the reserves have an economic purpose. So we will be targeting them, and we’re looking at sovereign wealth funds for equity. As the project pipeline increases, we are going to market and scale up progressively.
We keep hearing about the high growth rate of African economies – but that it too often is “jobless growth”. How do you address that?
I think “jobless growth” is not a good definition, although it describes the phenomenon. You have to look at three things. One is the sources of growth, the drivers of growth. In most cases, the drivers of growth are in services and extractives. The biggest employer on the African continent is agriculture. That is not where the source of growth is. So the plain-vanilla solution is basically to do everything we can to invest as much as we can in agriculture and small businesses. That’s where the jobs are created, not in the extractives.
The second thing, which is simple math, is that you have an economy growing at nominal rates of six-and-a-half percent and a population increasing at three and a half percent, as we saw when we were recently in the Sahel. In Niger it is four percent. It means you are growing at basically three percent. And if inflation is running at two percent, it means your real growth is one percent. So there is the issue of population increase and drivers of growth, and those two combined have created a huge bout of inequalities, which itself is becoming a break on growth. So we need to tackle inequalities directly. We need to try to return some of the revenues from natural resources into agriculture, into small businesses, which is where jobs are created.
But I must say to you, whether you are a small garage owner in northern Nigeria or a woman owning a boutique in the city or you own a cement factory, it is power cuts for half a day for three days a week which eat into your margins, which eat into your possibilities of creating jobs. So this focus on infrastructure is precisely the starting point for creating jobs. You cannot create jobs unless the country has energy which is available, affordable and sustainable.
Finally, we need to rethink safety nets. We need to figure out how to provide a safety net to poor people, whether it is by transferring some money from oil and gas revenues, by removing wasteful subsidies and better targeting them to the poor. All these things can be done. So – tackle inequality, tackle sources of growth, and figure out how to remove some of these barriers to growth like energy.That’s how jobs are created.
What do you hope will result from the recent high-level focus on the Sahel after your November visit to Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad, along with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and World Bank and African Union and European Union leaders?
The Sahel region is a crucible of the challenges Africa faces. In 1973, the Sahel region faced a huge drought problem. There was a lot of suffering there. Nowadays suffering is the result of security-related problems. When you take the security challenges of the Central African Republic and the Sahel and you add climactic problems, you see clearly the link between development, security, and the climate.
Our visit was the first time that leaders of the United Nations, the African Union, World Bank, the European Union and the African Development Bank go together through four nations to learn, to listen, to see how we can help. All of us came back energized by what we saw and determined to rally behind the countries in the Sahel region. The challenge is enormous. We think the response should be appropriate. We have committed to action, and we each play complementary roles. Ban Ki-moon is very much leading on the security side. The AU is leading on the political side, and we the financial organizations rally behind them with the financial packages for reconstruction of the Sahel, for job creation, for integration – to give hope to the region.
What is the AfDB role?
The Sahel goes from Somalia to Mauritania, so in this case the concentration is on five core countries. We’ve already committed up to $2 billion in those five countries. What I have announced is new money equivalent to $1.9 billion for the next three years. And on top of that, we shall commit an additional $500 million for the ‘greater Sahel’, which means the five core countries plus two additional countries, to execute programs of regional integration and cooperation. The essence of the AfDB’s program is “resilience” – building the capacity of the region to resist climatic shocks or man-made crises like this one. We shall do infrastructure, and we shall do water management and programs of economic integration across the region”