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ACBF is a 'center of excellence for the continent' – Kithinji Kiragu

15 Aug, 2014

Interview with Kithinji Kiragu, the outgoing Vice-chairperson of the ACBF Executive Board who has served on the ACBF Board for seven years.

Give us a brief background of yourself and how long you have been a member of the Executive Board of ACBF

I have primarily been a public sector management consultant through most of my professional life. For a brief period after university I practiced as an accountant and worked for Coopers and Lybrand and Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC). Thereafter I went into management consulting at Coopers and Lybrand Consultants for nearly nine years and became a director for Management Consulting.  Initially, I focused on consulting for the private sector and then I got involved in public sector management issues.  In 1998, I established a consulting firm, KK Consulting supporting public sector management. In 2002, KK Consulting merged with PWC and I worked as a partner in Public Sector Management. After five years with PWC I felt the need to have a different management consulting model from PWC. I came together with four people and in 2008 established the Africa Development Professional Group. We consult for governments and state corporations. I also have wider interests out of the consulting practice. Until 2013 I was the Chairperson of the State Corporation Advisory Committee to the President of Kenya for three years. Beyond that I am also involved in my community. I consider myself an educationist and with my wife we have a tertiary college where people do professional examinations like certified public accountant examinations and now we offer degrees through that college with national universities. We also have a high school in my home area for secondary school graduates.  I am also a serious farmer and have a small coffee factory.  I also farm tea and am a dairy farmer.
I became an ACBF board member in 2007 on the back of a sponsorship by DFID.  I had been doing a lot of work being funded by DFID for the World Bank and also for the governments in the region, including for a time the Chief Advisor for Public Sector Reform for the Government of Tanzania for four years.  On that basis and also being a sponsor of ACBF, my name was put forward to the Selection Board.  

How would you describe the work of the Foundation?

Capacity remains the real missing ingredient in the transformation of our continent.  So the mission of the Foundation is still very relevant and its work is very important. This has been confirmed over the years.  The work has been commendable and successful because there are results to show and there is documentation to show those results.  Of course the work of the Foundation sometimes is seen from different perspectives by different stakeholders. But there is no doubt in my mind about the importance of the work of the Foundation and the job remaining necessary for the future.  I think the only issue is the strategic direction the Foundation takes.

In your seven-year tenure as a member of the ACBF Executive Board, what stands out for you in terms of ACBF’s transformation or results?

I think we have worked on many initiatives.  I would say that we have successfully consolidated the gains of the initial years in terms of the organizations we have supported. For example, in Kenya there are strong institutions that now to stand on their own and initial support was from the ACBF. I think that is one measure of success.

Capacity development has become a competitive field. Is ACBF meeting the challenge and how can it maintain its relevance amid the myriad of global changes?  

In the first instance, I am sure the word competitive is incorrect. We can say there are many players and there are also risks of duplication. But I would go further to say that there is no duplication of what ACBF is doing. The challenge for ACBF as we move forward is in articulating its niche and its unique contribution to the continent. The challenge is also in identifying areas where due attention has not been paid and therefore addressing issues of capacity development challenges in a way that we can see very concrete results for the continent. The ACBF cannot do enough about it. I am not sure that in the medium to long term ACBF will not close the capacity gaps on the continent. And as we close some gaps others will come up because the continent is in a process of change as just like the rest of the world. The challenges facing Africa yesterday are not the same as the ones Africa faces tomorrow. In the past decade there was the big issue of HIV/AIDS, for example, for the continent, but now everybody knows that Africa needs to address the challenge of youth unemployment. There was a time when the problem was policy making and budget planning, and now we know we have more serious issues in terms of ensuring that we have competencies to develop our infrastructure in a sustainable way. The mission is there, the value proposition for having ACBF is there, so I see ACBF working and supporting Africa in its transformation for many years.

What, in your opinion, are the urgent capacity needs for the continent?  

I think one thing that has become very clear is the extent to which Africa needs more resources for development than in the past. Secondly, it is Africa and therefore ACBF addressing its critical development challenges and as I have indicated before, one of those is about youth unemployment. Related to that is also the quality of education – both at the basic and higher levels. ACBF may not be able to go the whole hog, but maybe we can develop its niche in some of those areas.  I would suggest that if we look at our institutions the problem of leadership on the continent is very real because even without resources, if the leadership is smart, you can see results. But with resources and no good strategic leadership, you will not see results. I am not talking about political leadership because I am drawn to a school of thought that believes that strategic, technical leadership is more crucial than the political leadership in the sense that if you are strategically inclined then you are able to have political leadership.
What is your vision for the future of the Foundation?

ACBF has faced a number of external problems especially with its funding and for this reason, ACBF has been on a seesaw both in terms of its internal capacity and outlook and what it needs to do. I think ideally we should see ACBF as the developed countries see the OECD and I am making that typology very clear.  If the countries of Europe and the developed countries of the North find the need to have an organization like the OECD, which is separate from NATO, separate from European Union and even G20, it is therefore clear that they go to OECD to share knowledge. But for the continent the needs are more serious than for Europe and other developed countries.  So I don’t want to stretch my imagination to a vision of 2050 and onwards.  Let’s talk about a vision 2020 – 2030. I see ACBF as the central organ for harnessing knowledge on the continent, knowledge about capacity, disseminating that knowledge and supporting the governments of the continent to close the capacity gaps. I see it as a centre of excellence for the continent. But I also see it as an institution that enables the sharing of knowledge and competencies among African leaders in professional, technical and even political. And lastly, Zimbabwe has made the dream possible by giving us a new home and the possibilities for the future for the ACBF. 

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Thomas Kwesi Quartey

ACBF has been granted the status of a specialized agency because of the potential to transform Africa through capacity development.

H.E. Thomas Kwesi Quartey, Deputy Chairperson, AU Commission
Erastus Mwencha

The recognition of ACBF as the African Union’s Specialized Agency for Capacity Development launches the beginning of a new era for capacity building by ACBF, which will require an appropriate level of political commitment and financial support from all stakeholders.

H.E. Erastus Mwencha, Chair, ACBF Executive Board
Lamin Momodou

The remarkable achievements ACBF has registered over the past 26 years is not by accident in our opinion. They have come through hard work, dedication, commitment, purposeful leadership, support from the member countries as well as productive partnership building.

Mr. Lamin Momodou MANNEH, Director, UNDP Regional Service Centre for Africa
Goodall Gondwe

Africa needs ACBF as much, probably more now, than at the time it was created in 1991.

Hon. Goodall Gondwe, former Chair of the ACBF Board of Governors and Minister of Finance – Malawi
Ken Ofori Atta

Ghana’s partnership with ACBF is a tremendous blessing for us and therefore the opportunity for Ghana to host the 26th ACBF Board of Governors Meeting is something that we treasure.

Hon Ken Ofori Atta, Chair of the ACBF Board of Governors and Minister of Finance - Ghana