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Bank Information Center

Examining the African Development Bank: A primer for NGOs

Shannon Lawrence

Bank Information Center

May 2007

SARPN acknowledges the Bank Information Center as the source of this document:
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Every year, billions of dollars are spent on development initiatives in Africa. But all too often, these programs do not benefit the people they were designed to help. The lack of citizen participation and the unequal balance of power in development decision-making leads to projects and policies that harm communities and the environment, waste public funds, or serve the interests of political and economic elites rather than those of the poor.

Based on 20 years of tracking development finance, the Bank Information Center (BIC) believes that independent public monitoring and pressure are essential to narrow the gap between development rhetoric and reality. We hope that the information presented in Examining the African Development Bank: A primer for NGOs will strengthen the efforts of civil society organizations in Africa and abroad to promote and defend human rights and protect the planet from destructive development initiatives.

The African Development Bank (AfDB) is a major African development institution and a key supporter of infrastructure projects on the continent. Despite its long history, the AfDB remains unfamiliar to most African civil society groups and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). BIC produced this Primer to help civil society organizations in Africa and abroad better understand what the AfDB is, how it may affect them, and what they can do to influence it.

Many readers may be familiar with the World Bank and concerns about the social, environmental and economic impacts of World Bank projects and policies.1 The AfDB is much smaller than the World Bank and has received significantly less attention to date. But like the World Bank, the AfDB also provides money to governments – and sometimes to private companies – to support projects and policy reforms in developing countries. However, the AfDB works only in Africa, while the World Bank operates in developing countries around the world.

The AfDB and the World Bank share the same official mandate: to help the poor and promote sustainable development. However, both institutions have been challenged by governments and civil society organizations alike, who question whether or not World Bank and AfDB operations contribute to these stated objectives.

If the AfDB is to fulfill its sustainable development mandate, it must improve its adherence to its own policies, enable communities to have a role in shaping their own development agenda, and provide people with effective recourse when they feel they have been harmed by AfDB operations.

Working with communities and individuals affected by development initiatives, NGOs from around the world have tried to monitor and influence the World Bank and other development banks. Their efforts have led to changes at these institutions, some genuine and some superficial. Civil society campaigns have also advanced international debates about environmental and social standards, respect for human rights, debt cancellation and economic policy conditionality. With the information contained in this Primer, readers will be better prepared to decide whether, when and how to pursue similar work on the AfDB.

  1. For more information about the World Bank, visit

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