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AfDB: How Nialé Kaba saved the Adesina presidency

By Estelle Maussion
Posted on Wednesday, 21 October 2020 22:26, updated on Thursday, 22 October 2020 17:12

Kaba Nialé
Kaba Nialé Côte d'ivoire's Minister of planning and development in Abidjan. March 2016 (Jacques Torregano/ JA)

Nialé Kaba, is the Ivorian negotiator who was instrumental in the re-election of Akinwumi Adesina as head of the African Development Bank, effectively putting an end to a governance crisis.

Sometimes all it takes is a successful mission to gain stature. This is what happened for Nialé Kaba with the triumphant re-election (100% of votes) of Akinwumi Adesina as head of the African Development Bank (AfDB), at the end of August.

President of the Board of Governors of the institution, the Ivorian Minister of Planning and Development since 2016, has been the linchpin of his renewal, despite accusations of bad governance made by whistleblowers against Adesina.

READ MORE AfDB’s latest controversy: accusations against its president, Akinwumi Adesina

This tour de force gave the economist, statistician, and member of the Ivorian government since 2012, continental exposure and confirmed her political ability.

On the front line

When she took over as head of the board of governors after the June 2019 general meetings, Kaba’s mission – to re-elect a Adesina – seemed easy.

But COVID-19 and the accusations against the bank’s boss called everything into question. While the general secretariat is expected to organise for the first time in history of the AfDB’s online general meetings, the Ivorian minister, whose country was hosting the event, remained at the forefront of the highly sensitive issue of governance.

In order to clear the landmines from the playing field, Kaba – who began her political career at the office of the Prime Minister in the early 1990s – along with support from Adesina’s entourage including President Alassane Ouattara and his administration, never stopped backing Adesina.

Quiet force

According to several members of the AfDB, Kaba, a native of Bouko, played a decisive role through her numerous exchanges with the governors without ever losing her calm. Admirers of hers emphasise her “ability to listen” and skill to “get everyone to agree”.

Her critics call her a “great politician”, sometimes suspecting her of “playing innocent” to better manoeuvre. One thing is certain, she can bring about a consensus. When, at the height of the storm, some, including the Americans, called for an investigation against Adesina on facts denounced by the whistleblowers, Kaba put forward the proposal of an “independent review”; a clever way forward that could only be accepted by everyone.

READ MORE AfDB approves independent investigation into Adesina

Success came first by the proposed “review” and then, after the general meetings, on the creation of an ad hoc committee to revise the rules of ethics. At the closing ceremony, Amadou Hott, the Senegalese Minister of the Economy, nicknamed her “la force tranquille” (the quiet force). “It was necessary to face and maintain the stability of the bank,” she had told The Africa Report Jeune Afrique.

“A great satisfaction”

Kaba, the first woman to hold the Economy and Finance portfolio between 2012 and 2016, speaks of “great satisfaction” about Adesina’s re-election and also highlights the agreement reached in late 2019 on the historic increase in the AfDB’s capital.

READ MORE AfDB Annual Meetings: Four top issues for the next term

After this “turbulent” period, she has now taken back her usual hat of governor for Côte d’Ivoire within the bank. And even if she doesn’t want to join the ad hoc committee on ethics, she has ensured a way to continuously participate in all the work of the institution.

In the meantime, as summarised by a European member of the ADB, “Adesina owes her a lot”.