After six rounds of voting that saw off seven candidates from across the region, Nigeria’s outgoing Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Dr. Akinwumi Adesina has been elected to serve as the next president of the African Development Bank (AfDB).

From the start, Adesina was one of the leading contenders for the role.  During his four-year tenure as Nigeria’s Agricultural Minister, Adesina has introduced the electronic wallet system and other innovations that have improved access to financing and inputs for over fourteen million smallholder farmers as well as drastically reduced corruption and other market inefficiencies.  At the core of this work has been a push for a fundamental change in the perception of agriculture from that of subsistence to business.  These accomplishments have led to him being described as “a man on a mission to help Africa feed itself” and honored with Forbes’ prestigious African of the Year award.  In addition, Adesina has served on the Economic Management Team of Nigeria, the country’s highest economic policy management body.  The fact that Adesina had strong support from both the outgoing Jonathan administration and President Buhari reflects well on Nigeria and suggests an emerging policy consensus on key issues.

Notwithstanding Adesina’s extensive service to his country, he has proven himself to be a pan-Africanist.  He has lived in more than 15 countries across the continent and is fluent in French on account of having lived and worked for over a decade in Francophone countries.  In addition, Adesina is one of 17 global leaders appointed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to the Millennium Development Goals Advocacy Group and has served as the Vice-President for Policy and Partnerships at the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa.

Adesina is taking the helm at an especially critical time in the Bank’s history.  Below are four of the main challenges, opportunities and priorities that lie ahead for the incoming president.

  • Infrastructure. Africa’s infrastructure deficit is one of the region’s most significant challenges but also one of the most promising areas for private sector involvement. Over the past few years, the AfDB and other relevant actors have been implementing “specific initiatives to unlock private funding with technical assistance and targeted financial support (including for regional projects) and to make multilateral banks procedures more amenable to public-private partnerships.”  Closing the infrastructure gap and developing Africa’s private sector will require Adesina build on this work which was a cornerstone of outgoing President Kaberuka’s legacy.  It is promising that Adesina has identified smart infrastructure and private sector development as strategic priority areas for his tenure.
  • Regional integration. Increasing intra-African trade is another area of reform that is important to the public and private sectors in the region and will  be part of President Kaberuka’s legacy. Twenty-six African nations stand on the brink of launching the COMESA-EAC-SADC Tripartite Free Trade Agreement, a deal that will bring together over 600 million people, approximately 56% of Africa’s economic activity and over $1 trillion in GDP.  This agreement has been years in the making and implementation will require support from a broad range of actors.  It is essential that Adesina and the AfDB play a leading role in ensuring the success of this monumental undertaking.
  • Economic diversification. Although Africa’s GDP growth is expected to increase to 4.5% this year and 5% in 2016, a prolonging of the current state of low commodity prices may impact government spending (and, in turn, economic growth) in the region’s largest markets including Nigeria and Angola. The AfDB should support economic diversification and related initiatives to improve the economic resilience of the region’s more resource-dependent countries.  In this regard, Adesina’s experience in transforming Nigeria’s agricultural sector is one of his strongest assets.
  • Fragile states. Political stability has been one of the main reasons that the African continent has enjoyed robust economic growth since the early 2000’s. However, the current unrest in Burundi is an immediate reminder of the fragility of some of the continent’s newer democracies.  In addition, political instability, as well as conflict and climate change, is a primary contributor to the food insecurity that persists in a number of countries in the region. Fragile states are a high priority for the AfDB which is currently implementing a five-year strategy for addressing fragility and building resilience by strengthening institutions and addressing other root causes.  The situation in Burundi may reach resolution before Adesina begins his first term in September but the elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda are right around the corner.

Dr. Adesina has his work cut out for him but his track record suggests that he is fully up to the task.