News Column

AfDB Kigali Meet Was a Conversation On Devt

May 26, 2014

Joseph Rwagatare



Presidents were here. Financial gurus and moguls, policy wonks and experts of every stripe and the world media have been and gone. The African Development Bank Group (AfDB) had its big annual do in Kigali last week - and by all accounts it was a big success.

We can now reflect on the meeting and what we have learnt. Apart from the usual statements on economic growth and development, there were some useful lessons.

The first lesson: bankers are human. If you thought they are just dark-suited, grim-faced, unsmiling creatures only interested in getting their pound of flesh, you may have to think again. They have feelings and emotions like any of us, and are just as likely to express them.

Dr Donald Kaberuka, President of the AfDB showed us the human face of bankers at the official opening of the bank's meeting last week. At some point in his address, he seemed to have been overwhelmed by emotion and for a moment nearly failed to speak.

Now, this is not something you would associate with Kaberuka or any other banker. We all know his ability to reel of facts and figures, recite percentage increase of this or decline of that over a certain period and on the basis of that make projections for the next so many years. These roll off his tongue with effortless ease. Nothing there to cause anything to catch in his throat.

Kaberuka's momentary emotional display might appear odd but it is revealing. First of all, he is human and can be overcome by strong feeling. Secondly, and quite significantly, he is not just any banker; he is a development financier. And development financing is about ordinary people. It is about improving their livelihoods and making them prosperous and happy - giving them reason to smile and laugh, even to cry. That is what Kaberuka was talking about - the successes of his tenure in contributing to the welfare of the continent's citizens in the face of enormous challenges.

Development financing is not simply about balance sheets and profit and loss accounts in the traditional sense, although, of course, these matter. The balance sheet of an institution like the AfDB should be reflected in a healthy balance of well-being and prosperity against poverty and despondency.

The second lesson: African leaders, past and present are inclined to be more candid about the affairs of our nations. We are used to politicians' diplomatic correctness in public in which the truth is often sacrificed. They make inoffensive and sometimes meaningless pronouncements from on high and then quickly leave. Of course, in private, away from the glare of the media, they can be blunt and candid.

At the Kigali meeting, the political leaders came to participate. They spoke to and with us, talked about getting it right for ordinary people, and used the language of everyday conversation. They did not shy away from saying what was wrong and who was responsible for that. It was refreshing to see them behave like real people, able to crack and laugh at a joke, tell it as it is, call things by their real names and patiently wait for their turn.

The third lesson: the richest people, just like bankers, look like the next bloke. They are made of bone and flesh, not out of steel. Nor does the scent of money ooze from every pore of their being.

You could easily pass Aliko Dangote and not pay him much attention.

Mo Ibrahim looks like another bald old man. His is perhaps more shiny, but still a bald. Looking at him, you can't think this is the man whose foundation has made it a habit to trash Rwanda at every opportunity. May be now that he has been and seen for himself, he may have a different view.

The richest make a lot of money, but the best of them also think about ordinary people. After all, the better off people are the more money they can make.

Another lesson: bureaucrats and experts are not inherently anti people, impersonal creatures. They do not live in a strange world of theories and models, permutations and extrapolations and assumptions of every sort. The AfDB meeting in Kigali showed that they actually inhabit the same earth you and I live on. Whether they were discussing cities of the future, conflicts, accountability and transparency, trade and investment, green growth or any other fashionable topic, they simplified all the complicated theories and cut out the colourless bureaucratic jabber, and spoke a language we understand.

It was the sort of conversation you might hear between intelligent and ordinary people with the former having the ability to come down to the level of the latter.

The AfDB meeting in Kigali underscored the fact that any conference on development is essentially about people and should necessarily involve them. The conversation should not be between leaders and experts only, but with those for whom development is intended as well.

The just ended meeting in Kigali has set the tone. Development discourse need not be complex, tedious or boring. It can be light and humorous and easy to follow without losing the complexity of the subject. It can actually be a conversation in which everyone takes part.

Twitter: @jrwagatare.


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Source: AllAfrica