Africa is experiencing an economic boom, and the African Development Bank (AfDB) is an important institution financing development on the continent. It is one of the leading institutions in the recently launched Program for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA), which was created to increase intra-regional trade in Africa. The AfDB Group (consisting of the AfDB and the African Development Fund) also provides hundreds of millions of dollars of official development assistance (ODA) to Sub-Saharan African countries each year. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), in 2012 the AfDB disbursed USD 1.7 billion in ODA, or approximately 10% of multilateral ODA disbursed that year (link to statistics, Table 29).
Like the World Bank and all other multilateral development banks, the AfDB has a dispute resolution mechanism to handle disputes involving communities affected by AfDB financed projects. This mechanisms, known as the Independent Review Mechanism (IRM) was established in 2004, and undergoes periodic reviews by the AfDB Boards of Directors. In 2014, the AfDB began its second review of the IRM. As part of the process, the AfDB commissioned a report by a consultant to review the performance of the IRM. It then invited comments from civil society on that report between 1 July 2014 to 30 August, 2014.
Natural Justice worked with a small coalition of civil society organizations to provide substantive comments to the AfDB regarding the IRM. The submission first notes concerns with the consultation process during the review, a process that limited opportunities for civil society to engage with the AfDB on the IRM. It then analyzes the policies of the IRM and the consultant’s report using four main factors: Independence, Transparency, Effectiveness, and Accessibility. Of particular concern with regard to accessibility is that despite being operational since 2006, the IRM has only received a total of 16 complaints, with 8 of those actually being registered. Indeed, the consultant noted that AfDB management and staff have a tendency to tell communities that projects are going to be implemented rather than engaging in a meaningful dialogue with communities. Meaningful dialogue could make communities aware of the fact that the IRM exists so that they can access it if they are concerned about impacts on their territories and livelihoods.
Ultimately a total of 67 mostly African civil society organizations signed on to the submission (available here in English and French), demonstrating the engagement and interest on the continent in AfDB issues. It is hoped that the AfDB takes the suggestions in the submission on board in order to improve the effectiveness of the IRM and ensure that communities can obtain effective remedy when they are impacted by AfDB projects.