Five questions with Cristina Duarte

Cristina%20DuarteOn May 29, the African Development Bank’s Board of Directors will appoint their new president who will hopefully build upon the legacy of outgoing president, Donald Kaberuka. In the last couple of weeks, we have been fortunate to interview four candidates for the presidency of the AfDB, and we will publish the transcripts in the weeks preceding the election. This week, we are honoured to publish an interview with the Honourable Cristina Duarte, Minister of Finance and Planning for Cape Verde, who spoke eloquently about her desire to effect real change across the continent and engage more closely with the private sector if elected President.


1)  Why do you want to be president of the African Development Bank, and what would be your top priority?

I am honoured that my country decided to present my candidacy in the upcoming election for the president of the African Development Bank. As an African, a woman, and someone from a very small island country, it is indeed an honor. This election is important for Africa given the emerging challenges that the continent must face and the fact that the African Development Bank (AfDB) is one of the most important development institutions that the continent has devised so far.

I am motivated to apply for the presidency of the AfDB because I strongly believe hat the African continent can do better. In my opinion, we can do so much better than simply manage poverty, and it is high time that we shift our efforts to creating and retaining wealth in Africa. As a continent, we can refocus on a vision of structural transformation, which in a way was what many of our independence leaders wanted for the continent. We must focus on enabling socioeconomic transformation to create wealth and provide each and every African to fulfil their goals.

My desire is to serve and be part of the process of change that is needed across our much-loved continent. I am motivated by this desire for change and to be part of the people working to make the ‘Africa Rising’ scenario a reality for all. What’s more, I am convinced that the African Development Bank can serve as a catalyst in Africa’s broader transformation.

If I am elected as leader of the AfDB, my top priorities will be to maintain the Bank’s triple A rating and ensure that it is partner of choice for African countries. In addition, I hope to help lead the Bank in new directions with a greater emphasis on efficiency and effectiveness. I will also ensure that our clients are our number one focus, but we also need to measure the impacts of our programmes on the wider population.

My objective is to move from quantity to a laser focus on quality and put in place a systematic process for monitoring and evaluation. Our mantra will be to seek the biggest payoff for each dollar that the Bank invests while maintaining strong emphasis on infrastructure development, regional economic integration, private sector development and institution building. Moreover, I want the Bank to take a more integrated and balanced approach to its investments. Given its limited resources, I will promote partnerships and collaboration with other development institutions, commercial banks and governments. I also want to rethink the way the Bank manages its people. I will work to better harness the knowledge and capacity of the Bank’s staff and integrate technology in its management.

2)  The AFDB is committed to building human capital and empowering African youth, scientists, researchers and innovators in order to develop a world class STI ecosystem. How will you continue this work?

As a matter of fact, we have no other option. African countries can only transform their economies if they develop their human capital, empower all their citizens, and build a world class STI ecosystem. The reality is none of the advanced industrial economies achieved their status to-date without making human capital development a key priority. Similarly, empowering all segments of the society while building strong physical and institutional infrastructures for STI are critical ingredients for socioeconomic transformation. We do not believe Africa can be an exception. Therefore, AfDB and African countries must be committed to stronger human capital development and building a robust STI ecosystem.

As I indicated in my vision statement for the AfDB, science and technology (S&T) presents new opportunities for the continent. S&T have emerged as important ingredients for the transformation and innovation that is happening in Africa, but there is a need for a more systematic effort to make them a central part of the development agenda. In addition, we need to build the necessary ecosystem to make innovation a more collaborative endeavour. Innovation is not a solitary activity; it is inherently a social effort. It takes actors from the educational system, the private sector, the government, the financial institutions as well as the communities to build a robust STI ecosystem.

It is important that the AfDB continues to invest in these critical areas and enhance its support to African countries. The Bank can provide this assistance by focusing on support for the development of infrastructure, private sector and institutions. If elected president of the AfDB, I will work to position the Bank as a leading voice and advocate for the promotion of STI and the development of national innovation systems. AfDB can use its goodwill and unique position to convene dialogues and facilitate the formulation and implementation of effective policies to develop a world class STI ecosystem in Africa. As a woman, I will make every effort to address gender inequities in STEM education and professions. We need to empower all Africans to achieve structural transformation ahead and as such we cannot exclude half of our population (women) nor ignore young people (our future).

3)  At the recent African Higher Education summit, President Macky Sall of Senegal argued that there is an urgent need to facilitate access and build capacity in African universities. What role can the African Development Bank play here?

I fully agree with His Excellency, President Macky Sall! Education is critical for Africa’s development and the university has a vital role to play here. Again, allow me to go back to my vision statement where I highlighted my concerns with our educational system, especially with respect to access, cost, quality and relevance.

The reality is that many of our universities today are ivory towers and are essentially divorced from the realities in which they exist. Their capacity to contribute to developing the necessary ecosystem which can help facilitate technological growth and innovation is severely constrained by the lack of funding and limited links between academia, research centers and business. What’s more, existing policy frameworks are grossly inadequate given the realities on the ground.

Again, if given the opportunity to lead our Bank, higher education will be a critical priority for me. It is not that AfDB has enough resources to undertake what is needed in Africa with respect to education, including STEM, vocational and university education. It does not. But what AfDB’s key assets are its convening capacity and its unique position. If appointed president, I will endeavour to use this capacity to mobilise others, foster partnerships and promote collaboration with other institutions, development agencies and African governments so that we can address this important challenge. In addition, under my leadership, the AfDB will strive to become a knowledge Bank and build its capacity to provide robust advisory services to African countries to develop and implement good policies.

4)  One of the Bank’s priorities is greater engagement with the private sector. What steps will you take to forge a closer relationship between the Bank and these very important stakeholders?

From the moment I launched my campaign, I have continually urged the Bank to focus more on the private sector. I truly believe there is a need for the Bank to take a more balanced approach to its investments in infrastructure, private sector and institutions. We need to increase support to African private sector companies, and this is important both for the continent’s development and the Bank’s balance sheet.

The AfDB cannot invest in infrastructure if it does not take care to ensure that local private sector firms are able to seize the opportunities that will emerge from these investments. It is also important that the Bank is cautious about the institutions that will manage and maintain this infrastructure. This is what I have called ‘the three legged approach’; if one leg is missing, investments are unlikely to produce the expected results. To put it simply, just imagine a three-legged stool without a leg; it will not stand.

Specifically, the AfDB can help mobilise more support for the African private sector. The Bank can partner with other development agencies, institutions, African commercial banks as well as African governments to generate resources for the private sector, facilitate capacity building and promote institutional reforms to build a world-class investment climate. The Bank can also help promote dialogue with the private sector while also providing advisory support to African governments.

If elected president, I will be a strong advocate for the African private sector. I will personally engage with companies and ensure that the Bank truly enhances its conversations with these vital stakeholders.

5)  If you were elected president of the African Development Bank, what do you think the continent would look like by the end of your term?

I strongly believe structural transformation is the only way to ensure sustainable development and inclusive prosperity. We have no option except to transform our economies. Given its origins and mandate, the AfDB can be a critical partner to African countries and a catalyst for the continent’s transformation.

If I am given the opportunity to lead, the African Development Bank will serve as a strong advocate and supporter of Africa’s structural transformation agenda. Most importantly, we will reform the Bank to meet the emerging and future challenges in order to better support African countries. The Bank will work with African governments and other stakeholders in and outside of the continent to mobilize for Africa’s transformation.

If elected, I promise that I will work hard to ensure that the Bank plays a catalytic role in Africa’s transformation. But I know structural transformation is not a five-year agenda. Whether in Africa or any other continent, structural and socioeconomic transformation in Africa requires time. What we can do together in the next five years is to lay a strong foundation for this transformation.

Photo of Cristina Duarte: Financial Afrik, October 6, 2014

Main photo: South Africa: TsiTsiKamma sunset, December 27, 2005

Add Your Voice