The Election of A President: A Candidate for the Times 

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Pedro Pires

By Pedro Pires  |

CRISTINA Duarte, Minister of Finance and Planning of Cabo Verde, who has managed our economy over the past ten years, like 7 other Africans, all males, is focused on a little discussed but critically important election that will take place next week on May 28, precisely.

A special group of about 54 people from across the continent and some 23 non-regional countries – Governors, they are called – will come together in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, to cast ballots in order to designate the person who will lead the continent’s premier development institution, the African Development Bank (AfDB) for the next five years.

The election of an AfDB President has generally been a quiet operation.  Governments of the Bank’s member countries designate their candidates and lobby other governments for support, all done away from the spotlight and any fanfare. Few Africans know or are concerned about who will lead an institution that would have a major impact on life in their countries.  Yet, the voting will be done in their names and the winning candidate will come with ideas that will ultimately affect the quality of life on the continent.

The AfDB has become a bigger player in Africa’s development now than at any other time in its fifty-year existence. The stakes in the May elections are high because the institution has gained in stature.  An AfDB President is allowed no more than two 5-year mandates.

This election is probably the most unpredictable election yet, with candidates who are not only eminently qualified but also greatly respected within and beyond the continent.  Each one had to present a vision statement as part of the nomination process.  A cursory reading of those statements shows that all candidates offer an informed analysis of the state of the continent and the role that the Bank can play to move Africa forward.

How then will the voting Governors that constitute the Electoral College sort out a winner and give the Bank its next President? Political calculations, regional considerations, and national interests, will all be factored into the choices that country representatives make.  Candidate backgrounds, personalities, vision, and achievements are well known to the electors and will no doubt be made to count in the choice.  What the electors should be looking at would have to be the “what else” factor – the tangible and intangible considerations that are most likely to ultimately determine how the candidates perform in office.

Many countries, especially those in Africa, have made their initial choices known. They will cast the ballot for those candidates in the first round of voting. But AfDB Presidents have almost never been selected in just one voting round for a first mandate.  The ballots tend to float more freely during the second round and beyond.  This is where the “what else” factor should be made to count as the electoral conclave is freed of the narrower interests that invariably drive first round voting.

And this is where I take the rather delicate position of offering the following criteria for serious consideration.  All things being equal, it may be best to look beyond usual factors and geopolitical interests to find humility, intrinsic difference, language, approachability, and empathy.  Voting governors should quietly find out what is known about each candidate on the humility scale. How many official languages of the African Union does a candidate speak? Should the candidate’s gender be considered an asset? How eloquent is the candidate and will she or he represent Africa well in the larger concert of nations and global capital markets? How much of a listener is the candidate? How much passion will she or he bring to the position? Will she or he be able to motivate the staff and shareholders to rise up to emerging challenges?

Given all we know of the candidates and all that is at stake here, these intangible factors we have identified will give us the candidate of the times. They will actually provide the true measure of the candidate best able to ensure that the AfDB plays it most important role for the continent: build the foundations of change and put Africa on an irreversible course of transformation. This candidate of the times is Cristina Duarte, the first and only woman in the race to lead the AfDB.

Pedro Pires, Mo Ibrahim Governance Leader Prize Winner, is former President of the Republic of Cabo Verde.

— May 25, 2015 @ 10:30 GMT

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