The marquee at the convention centre was filled to capacity as a group in a nearby hall waited an hour and twenty minutes for the heads of state due to launch the ceremony to arrive. The sitting around was punctuated by wailing sirens as official convoys belatedly showed up.
Following on from the ‘big’ theme, AfDB president Akinwumi Adesina opened the meeting by setting out the stakes: “Africa must think big, act big and deliver big.”
A group of African leaders – including Chad’s President Idriss Déby, Nigeria’s vice-president Yemi Osinbajo and host Zambia’s President Edgar Lungu – followed with a roundtable about energy and climate change.
They reached a consensus that while preserving the environment is important, governments must develop electricity production with the resources that are on hand, be they coal, peat or uranium. The moderator tried to hold those leaders to account and challenge them on what they are doing about the lack of electricity in their respective countries.
While there where banners of Zambia state electricity utility ZESCO – with the motto ‘Powering the Nation’ – that lined the road to the AfDB conference site, President Lungu was left explaining why a drought has lead to “severe power rationing” that is hurting industrial activity and leading people to invest in expensive and polluting technology, like diesel generators.
The AfDB approved finance of $70m for the rehabilitation of the Zambia and Zimbabwe’s crumbing Kariba Dam in late 2014, highlighting the lack of regular spending to improve the electricity infrastructure.
So now there are other ads competing with ZESCO’s advertising. Some of Stanbic Bank’s Lusaka billboards offer loans of up to 100% for generators to fight load shedding.
Agriculture and youth were other major themes of the day, and one moment broke through the talk of challenges and struggles. Adesina invited Sierra Leonean Kelvin Doe – who at 13 built his own radio station out of electronics waste and was then invited to an academic programme at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology – to the stage to congratulate him on his ingenuity.
With tears in his eyes, Doe shook hands with the line of presidents and other leaders, eliciting ahs and applause from the audience. However, at a later session on youth and appointment, Doe stood up to point out that there were very few young people at the meeting and to ask the assembled gray-haired leaders to engage with those who are not as big as them.
Understand Africa's tomorrow... today
We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.View subscription options