Africa’s top lending institution the African Development Bank (AfDB) has announced that it will start moving its headquarters and 1,500 employees from Tunisia to Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), with first staff to move this year. It had abandoned Abidjan in 2003 during the series of civil wars.
This is not news to those paying attention at the AfDB’s annual meetings summit in beautiful Marrakech, Morocco, from 27-31 May. The Boards of Governors of the AfDB and of the African Development Fund (ADF) announced the return of the AfDB to its headquarters in Abidjan.
However, for those of us who were not, the formal press release came out yesterday, and was covered in the Financial Times blog beyondbrics. The bank held about $32.25bn in assets issued loans and grants worth $6.46bn in 2012. Its funding goes to governments and businesses on the continent.
Donald Kaberuka, the AfDB President, said in the press release: “The first group of staff will leave before the end of 2013. The AfDB will celebrate its 50th anniversary in November 2014 in Abidjan”. There had been increasing bank meetings in Abidjan this year and the news was widely anticipated.
According to Borzou Daragahi writing in the FT blog: “The African Development Bank’s move, to begin by the end of the year, delivers a blow to the economy of Tunisia, which is recovering from a 2011 uprising and the ensuing political instability. But it will bolster confidence in Ivory Coast, a sub-Saharan African nation emerging from years of war and political unrest. It marks a milestone in what many analysts see as the resurgence of sub-Saharan Africa in general and the Ivorian commercial centre of Abidjan in particular.”
It quotes an unnamed “development official” in Tunis as saying: “If the bank can survive in Abidjan, it sends a very strong signal that Abidjan is back as the commercial heart and economic centre of west Africa.”
According to the blog the announcement stunned many staff, of which nearly 70% were hired since the move to Tunisia. However, it adds that some bank staff had complained of being treated poorly by locals in Tunis, an Arab country where darker skinned Africans are sometimes regarded as illegal migrants.
According to the press release, the Board of Directors of the AfDB Group had instructed its management during the annual meetings held in Arusha, Tanzania, in 2012 to prepare a “roadmap” (will they drive there? Surely planes are better) for a well-planned and organized return. This should “guarantee the institution’s stability, business continuity, and the well-being of staff and their families”. The AfDB’s Advisory Committee of Governors, meeting in Tokyo, Japan, in October 2012, consented to the roadmap, recommended its approval by the Board of Governors, thus opening the way for the return to Abidjan
Wikipedia describes Abidjan as the largest city in Cote d’Ivoire in 2011 and “third-largest French-speaking city in the world, after Paris and Kinshasa, but before Montreal”. In 2006, national authorities said there were 5,068,858 residents in the metropolitan area and 3,796,677 residents in the municipality, making it second only to Lagos in the region. Although the political capital is Yamoussoukro, Abidjan is the economic capital and also a cultural hub in West Africa, with a lot of industry. It in Ébrié Lagoon, on several converging peninsulas and islands, connected by bridges.