• Monday, April 22, 2024
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Meet Akinwumi Adesina, Africa’s optimist-in-chief

Akinwumi Adesina

By his bright and bold bowties or wide and welcoming smile, one could easily identify Akinwumi Adesina, Africa’s Optimist-in-chief who has now taken 64 grand steps on the staircase of life.

Adesina celebrates 64 years of his life trailed by myriads of achievements and an inventory of notable milestones, championing food security and industrialization in Africa. He is currently the president of The African Development Bank Group, a coveted position he has held since 2015, and has occupied many other seats of prominence throughout his career, having served as Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture and on the board of the 17 global leaders appointed by Ban Ki-moon, former United Nations Secretary-General to captain the Millennium Development Goals.

Adesina came from a rather humble background. He was born on February 6, 1960, to an agrarian in Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria which played a role in shaping his career trajectory. In his earlier years, he went to school in the village. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Economics, graduating with First Class Honors from the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, in 1981. This made him the first student to receive this distinction in the university.

A young graduate with the backing of sacrificial and expectant parents, Adesina arrived in the United States in 1983 with $750 but a million more worth of dreams. Penniless as a first-year student in a foreign environment, Adesina was fortunate to secure a fully funded scholarship until PhD for his academic brilliance.

Adesina continued to pursue advanced studies at Purdue University in Indiana, Mid-western United States where he obtained his master’s degree in 1985 and his PhD in Agricultural Economics in 1988, earning the Outstanding PhD thesis award for his research work. In 1988, he won the  Rockefeller Foundation social science fellowship, which helped launch his international career. In his words, “Succeeding against all odds is the story of my life.”

From 1990 to 1995, Adesina served as a senior economist at the West African Rice Development Association (WARDA) in Bouaké, Ivory Coast. He worked at the Rockefeller Foundation, where he held various roles, including senior scientist and associate director for food security.

In 2010, he was appointed Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, where he spearheaded significant reforms in the agricultural sector. Notably, he introduced transparency into the fertilizer supply chain.

Around the same time, Ban Ki-moon, former United Nations secretary-general appointed Adesina as one of 17 global leaders to lead the Millennium Development Goals. Adesina was named Forbes African Man of the Year in 2013 for his impactful work in Nigerian agriculture. A status he attained again in 2019.

In 2015, he was elected as the President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), becoming the first Nigerian to hold this prestigious position. He was unanimously re-elected for a second term in 2020 following a reading tenure having helped attain AfDB’s highest capital increase from $93 billion to a historic $208 billion. He will occupy this position until another election next year.

As AfDB President, Adesina championed initiatives for Africa’s transformation, emphasizing sustainable development, infrastructure, and poverty reduction. In recognition of his outstanding contributions to food security and agricultural development, he was conferred the 2017 World Food Prize also known as the “Nobel Prize for Agriculture.”

Adesina was named a 2019 Sunhak Peace Prize Laureate, one of the highest individual recognitions, for his contributions to agriculture and good governance in Africa. The President of the African Development Bank, and co-Laureate Waris Dirie, a global champion against Female Genital Mutilation, shared the prestigious $1million dollar prize. However, Adesina immediately announced he was donating his $500,000 share of the prize to fighting hunger in Africa.

“There is tremendous suffering going on in the world. While progress is being made, we are not winning the war on global hunger. There cannot be peace in a world that is hungry. Hunger persists in regions and places going through conflicts, wars and fragility. Those who suffer the most are women and children,” Adesina said during the award ceremony,” he

He was named African of the Year 2019 by one million readers of the African Leadership Magazine in February 2020, and in the same year received a Distinguished Fellowship Award from the Academy of Public Health, the flagship body of the West African Institute of Public Health for his successful efforts in helping Africa to curb the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

In December of 2023, he was awarded the Obafemi Awolowo Leadership Prize for his contributions to the African continent and global leadership earning a nomination from former Nigerian President, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan who lauded his “extraordinary dedication and commitment.”

“He epitomises and combines qualities of extraordinary leadership that are often rare to find: great visionary, incredible courage, the ability to take on huge and difficult challenges, extraordinary dedication and commitment to deliver programmes and policies that transform the lives of millions of people,” Jonathan said.

Adesina also earned endorsements from Minister Tony Blair, former British prime minister and Ban Ki-moon, former UN secretary-general.

“His contributions to the African continent and global leadership have been exceptional. Under his leadership the African Development Bank has delivered bold interventions to address some of the greatest challenges of our time,” said Blair.

Adesina is the third recipient of this award alongside Nigerian writer and Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka and former South African President Thabo Mbeki. He is to receive the award as well as deliver a keynote lecture in a ceremony on March 6.

Adesina’s optimism stemmed from his belief in the transformative power of industrialization. In July 2023, Adesina delivered a rousing keynote lecture at the Business Day CEO Forum, painting a vivid picture of Nigeria’s potential to rise as a global industrial and economic powerhouse.

He underscored the importance of engineering an industrial revolution to unlock Nigeria’s economic potential, citing successful models in countries like Vietnam and Malaysia.

Adesina called for strategic investments in infrastructure, energy, and digital skills to propel Nigeria towards a knowledge-based economy driven by innovation and technological advancements. With concrete initiatives and partnerships outlined, Adesina’s vision extends beyond rhetoric, offering a road map for Nigeria’s economic resurgence on the global stage.

“Nigeria’s approach has been on import substitution… Instead of being forward-looking in expanding the share of manufactured goods in its total export revenue…Nigeria’s export revenue will grow by more than ten times by focusing on export-market-driven industrial manufacturing, that is integrated into global production and logistics value chains,” he said.

Drawing inspiration from Disney’s “The Lion King,” Adesina likened Nigeria’s journey to that of Simba, the lion cub destined for greatness, urging Nigeria to awaken its lion-like potential, and emphasizing the need for a decisive shift from managing poverty to managing wealth.

“The day that Nigeria wakes up and becomes a lion king, everything will change for its people; and everything will change for all of Africa.”

This year, Adesina was named by NewAfrican Magazine as one of the 100 most influential Africans in 2023 for visionary leadership and contributions to sustainable development and shaping Africa’s economic landscape.

Adesina’s story can be considered quite literally as a grass-to-grace one. However, his journey from humble beginnings to leading the African Development Bank Group reflects the resilience and vision he preaches to the African youth, building a legacy of optimism that inspires a brighter future for the continent.