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AfDB poised for Abidjan return

By Thierry Ogier, John Chiahemen
24 May 2010

African Development Bank shareholders are keen to see the bank return to its headquarters in Abidjan, and the management intends to do so, its president, Donald Kaberuka, has said

AfDB shareholders are keen to see the bank return to its headquarters in Abidjan, and the management intends to do so, its president, Donald Kaberuka, said Tuesday.

The bank relocated to Tunis in February 2003, at the height of political unrest in Ivory Coast. It has faced increasing pressure from its former hosts to return, and the annual meeting in Abidjan this week is the biggest such event the city has hosted for nearly 10 years.

Officials reckon that, by returning to its massive head office building in Abidjan, the AfDB could boost Ivory Coast’s commercial capital and lift global sentiment about the once prosperous cocoa-producing nation now battered by civil strife.

“We’re rehabilitating the building”, Kaberuka told Emerging Markets in an interview. “I think that’s a signal of our intention.”

He added: “The desire of shareholders for a return to Abidjan is strong. [As for] when, I think you need to be patient, because the board of governors have to assess the long-term stability in the country.”

Former AfDB President Babacar N’diaye estimated the bank could be back in Abidjan within two years.

“The assembly here is a good opportunity for all governors and participants to see that the motives that led to the relocation, in terms of security, do not exist anymore,” N’diaye told Emerging Markets in Abidjan.

“All those that had left came back,” he said, referring to the UN and other embassies.

Kaberuka said the AfDB was neither waiting for elections to take place in Ivory Coast after several postponements, nor looking for an alternative head office location.

“The headquarters of the AfDB is clearly stated in the articles creating the bank. The African governors, the heads of state, designated the headquarters in Abidjan. You cannot change it by fiat,” he said.

The bank’s staff, about 1000 when it was hurriedly evacuated, has almost doubled since then. Kaberuka said the AfDB would need additional space on its return and was already looking into building a new campus in the Riviera district of Abidjan.

About 90% of AfDB staff were expatriates with significant disposable income, and their departure had added to the city’s economic woes.

Ivory Coast, once a shining example of stability in a volatile region, has been split in half since a brief civil war, triggered by a coup attempt against President Laurent Gbagbo in September 2002. That divided the country into a rebel-held north and a government-controlled south.

Abidjan has witnessed recurring outbreaks of violence, the biggest in November 2004 which led to the evacuation of foreign nationals including some 8,000 French citizens.

A fragile peace accord remains in place, policed by UN peacekeepers, but elections that should restore confidence in the country have yet to be held. Gbagbo’s government has promised they will take place this year.

By Thierry Ogier, John Chiahemen
24 May 2010