The African Development Bank Must Strengthen its Information Disclosure Practices and Policies to Center Communities in the Development Process

By Elias Jika and Jocelyn Medallo

Project affected community members protesting the illegal displacement by the African Development Bank-financed Wadelai Irrigation Scheme Project in Uganda

Founded in 1964, the African Development Bank Group (AfDB) provides financing to African governments and private companies investing in the bank’s regional member countries. The bank has a stated overarching objective of contributing to poverty reduction through spurring sustainable economic development and social progress in its regional member countries.

As the International Accountability Project (IAP) and our partners have repeatedly witnessed, the profound impact of development projects warrants that the policies and operations of development banks be robust and reflect international best practice and international human rights standards. In today’s context, communities face numerous restrictions on their ability to freely speak about their concerns about projects, or even request information.

Women in front of the Sendou plant financed by the AfDB. Image from Vice article: This Tiny Fishing Town Was Poisoned By a Coal Plant. The Government Is Trying to Replace it With a Mine

Civil society and community groups have repeatedly raised concerns about the AfDB’s lack of transparency in engaging with a broader stakeholder group, citing the lack of openness that has become characteristic of how the institution engages, policy commitments to transparency notwithstanding. As noted by Aly Sagne, the Executive Director of Lumière Synergie pour le développement, a civil society organization (CSO) in Senegal:

“Looking back at the last Disclosure and Access to Information Policy review in 2010, civil society organizations across Africa and beyond expected to address most shortcomings of the access to information Policy of the AfDB. Unfortunately, CSOs and communities (including affected ones) are still facing challenges to engage with the AfDB because of lack of access to project’s documentation and contacts at the AfDB’s offices. Very often, communities totally are unaware of what is happening in their lands and how to get the relevant information accordingly.”

In our analysis of the AfDB’s disclosure practices, we tracked the project information disclosed by the Bank in 2019, a total of 179 projects. These disclosure practices were measured against criteria which are aimed at maximizing community access to information. Read more about our methodology and how we work.

Review the Early Warning System data visualization of the projects from the African Development Bank: https://bit.ly/IAP_AfDB_Analysis

While the AfDB may tout having strong transparency policies in place, our analysis of the institution’s actual practice of disclosure underscores several areas where the institution has fallen short of fulfilling communities’ right to information:

  1. The level of disclosure for information on project-specific environmental and social risks and mitigation is one of AfDB’s weaker disclosure practices. Not one of the 179 projects (0%) in our dataset provided an overview of the adverse environmental and social impacts likely to result from a project on the project web page, requiring communities to pore through dense project documents to obtain such information, where disclosed. There was moderate disclosure of adverse environmental and social impacts, but the majority of projects, or 97 of 179 projects (54%) did not have project-specific impacts disclosed.
  2. Also poor is the AfDB’s disclosure of information on the applicable environmental and social safeguards that have been triggered by the project: 123 of 179 projects (69%) did not clearly indicate which AfDB’s safeguards were triggered, limiting the ability of communities to ascertain what standards and entitlements apply to the project. When, in fact, a list of the applicable standards was available, it was again disclosed only within technical documents.
  3. While the institution routinely disclosed AfDB contact information on its project webpages for 145 of the 179 projects in the dataset (82%) — lead contact information for the borrower or client was not disclosed for 161 of 179 projects (90%).
  4. The majority of projects — 122 of 179 projects (69%) — had project documents disclosed in a language other than English. Despite the geographic scope of AfDB’s investments, however, none of the projects had translations in Arabic, Kiswahili, Portuguese, or other local languages. This practice should be strengthened to include translated documents in other regional languages.
  5. Only 2 out of the 179 projects (1%) disclosed the actual plans for stakeholder engagement, ultimately erecting barriers for communities and civil society groups seeking to meaningfully engage and be consulted on the project, its benefits, and risks.
  6. Concerningly, only 5 of the 179 projects (3%) disclosed information about the Independent Review Mechanism, the AfDB’s independent accountability mechanism, in project documents, effectively hampering the accessibility of the mechanism for communities. The AfDB should routinely disclose information about the Independent Review Mechanism on project disclosure pages and project documents, and require its borrowers to disclose the existence of and procedures for accessing the mechanism from the very beginning of the project cycle, in local languages and in formats that are more available to marginalized communities.

For our full analysis and findings, read In Practice: Information Disclosure at the African Development Bank.

We urge the AfDB to ensure that its information disclosure policy and practices and the processes around stakeholder engagement are people-centered. As a fundamental human right, access to information is integral to the successful implementation of its mission as a bank aiming to further development.

Elias Jika is the Program Coordinator at the International Accountability Project (IAP) and is based in Malawi.

Jocelyn Soto Medallo is the Deputy Director at the International Accountability Project (IAP) and is based in Washington D.C.

IAP is a human and environmental rights organization that works with communities, civil society and social movements to change how today’s development is done.

IAP is a human and environmental rights organization that works with communities, civil society and social movements to change how today’s development is done.