Albert Zeufack at the World Bank, Célestin Monga at the AfDB. These Cameroonians are now leading the economic strategy of the two most important development institutions in Africa. Cross portraits.

A few weeks apart, Célestin Monga and Albert Zeufack became the conductors of the orientation of the two most senior development institutions active in Africa. On July 10, while the first was teaching at Peking University, the African Development Bank (AfDB) announced his appointment as chief economist and vice president of economic governance and knowledge management .

Until then deputy director general of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the 56-year-old Cameroonian has left Vienna to settle in Abidjan, where the AfDB is headquartered.

As for the second, he too Cameroonian, if he stays in Washington, he has been since May 1 the chief economist of the World Bank for the Africa region, after having occupied from 2013 the post of director for the reduction of poverty and the economic management of the Great Lakes and East African countries.

In the small African development world, his appointment is considered a revolution! Albert Zeufack is the first Sub-Saharan black to hold this position in the history of the Bretton Woods institution.

The two men arrive at a time when sub-Saharan economies, weighed down by falling commodity prices and a gloomy international environment, are going through severe turbulence – according to the latest IMF forecasts, sub-Saharan Africa will display only 1 , 6% growth in 2016.

Who are they ? To what current of economic thought do they belong? Can they work together to help African countries put in place relevant development strategies? Answers in the form of a cross portrait.

Careers without borders

“As Cameroonian economists, it is obvious that they have had courteous and professional relationships. They both worked [at different times] in the research department and in the vice-presidencies of operations at the World Bank. They have regularly discussed the future of Cameroon, either informally or in forums organized by the African community in Washington, “said Hippolyte Fofack, research director of Afreximbank.

Himself a Cameroonian economist and former World Bank official, he knows the two men well.

Albert Zeufack has somehow sworn loyalty to the Bretton Woods institution. A few months after obtaining his doctorate at the University of Clermont-Ferrand, in France, in 1996 (his thesis was on private investment in structural adjustments), he joined the research department of the World Bank as young professional and was later sent to Bangkok as a senior economist for the countries of Southeast Asia.

In 2008, he responded favorably to the Malaysian authorities’ offer, took a leave of absence without pay and moved to Kuala Lumpur to head the research and strategy department of the Khazanah Nasional sovereign wealth fund. Under his leadership, he prospected in Africa and, from 2013, acquired some stakes in companies there. But Albert Zeufack has already put an end to his Malaysian freelance and found the edges of the Potomac.

On the contrary, Célestin Monga’s protean profile is marked by homelessness. A journalist, banker, writer, academic and international civil servant, he has traveled to all continents. His doctorate completed in 1994 at the University of Pau, in France, he headed for the United States to expand his background at the John F. Kennedy School of Government (Harvard) and the Sloan School of Management (MIT) .

Before joining the World Bank, Célestin Monga already had a career as a journalist at Jeune Afrique and a banker in Cameroon. He then taught at Boston University and the Institute of Political Studies in Bordeaux.

An academic career that he will continue to pursue alongside the eighteen years spent at the Bretton Woods Institution. Then, in January 2015, he moved to the Austrian capital, the headquarters of Onudi.

Realistic visions for Africa

The two men (Bamilékés, from western Cameroon) do not have the same type of relations with their country. As much as Zeufack’s relationship to his homeland is very tenuous, Monga remains an icon for part of the youth, who remembers his “Open Letter to Paul Biya on rigged democracy”, published in 1990.

This excess attracted the wrath of power on the man who then headed an agency of the former International Bank for Trade and Industry in Cameroon (Bicic). Through interviews, forums and books, he now maintains his morgue towards Yaoundé.

This does not prevent his involvement in local educational projects: Monga works for example to raise funds to support the University of the Mountains in Bangangté, in the west of Cameroon.

But, beyond their country of origin, Albert Zeufack and Célestin Monga have “a very strong commitment and a convergence of points of view regarding the development of Africa”, assures Hippolyte Fofack. Togolese economist Kako Nubukpo, director of the Francophonie Economique et Numérique at the OIF, confirms.

According to him, Zeufack can be considered close to Shanta Devarajan, the former chief economist for Africa at the World Bank, who greatly appreciates the technicality of the Cameroonian. But, if the Sri Lankan is a pure liberal, Zeufack seems more moderate: he defends the active role that the state can play in coordinating investments and a certain idea of ​​endogenous growth.

Moreover, while the World Bank is often accused of developing development programs for African countries that are completely disconnected from their realities, he told RFI and Jeune Afrique: “I must reflect African sensitivity in designing Bank programs for the continent. We hope to develop policies that have a little more impact on the ground. ”

Admirative of the American Paul Romer – the brand new vice-president and chief economist of the World Bank -, whom he considers as the founding father of the endogenous growth theory and whom he sees as “a future Nobel Prize guaranteed ”, Célestin Monga is also one of those who think that Africa can only develop by itself.

He is also very close to Chinese Justin Yifu Lin, chief economist of the World Bank from 2008 to 2012, whom many analysts consider to be an advocate of expansive fiscal policy and one of those who played an active role. in changing the approach of the World Bank in Africa.

The Asian model, source of inspiration

The two Cameroonians also have a fascination for Asia. “I like to refer to this region where many poor countries have become rich thanks to inclusive growth, with rates of 10% over two decades,” said Albert Zeufack. African countries must work towards the emergence of local entrepreneurship and private investment. ”

And to advance a track in favor of young entrepreneurs facing all kinds of barriers: “One of my projects is the creation of an electronic platform where there will be data on potential demand and average household income in different cities, which will allow young entrepreneurs to write bankable business plans. ”

Célestin Monga, the author of a travel diary entitled Un Bantou en Asie (2011), is also fond of models from countries in this region, often based on the growth of the secondary sector.

No country in the world has emerged from poverty without industrializing.

“These countries have had economic success in developing light manufacturing. That is to say sectors of activity that do not require much capital or sophistication in terms of expertise, “he argued in an interview with the African Information and Communication Agency in June 2015 .

The new chief economist of the AfDB sententiously asserts: “No country in the world has emerged from poverty without industrializing. I insist on this because there is a fashion right now, which consists in making people believe that we can avoid industrialization, that we can jump from subsistence agriculture to the development of services without going through industries. This is a major mistake. This has never been done in world history. ”

This is good: the industrialization of Africa is one of the priorities of Akinwumi Adesina, the head of the AfDB.

There remains one question: will this convergence of views between the two economists make it possible to strengthen cooperation between their institutions or, on the contrary, will it accentuate competition between them?

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