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'Yes we can,' says IFAD's President-elect Nwanze

It was the "Yes we can" moment for International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) when it elected Kanayo F Nwanze, a Nigerian national, as its President. The President-elect shares his thoughts about India and his visions, with Kumkum Chadha in an interview.

india Updated: Feb 20, 2009 19:31 IST
Kumkum Chadha
Kumkum Chadha

It was the "Yes we can" moment for International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) when it elected Kanayo F Nwanze, a Nigerian national, as its President. An "Obama moment" so to say.

"Yes you can describe it as one," the President-elect told Hindustan Times in his first post election interview, adding that the "solid vote of confidence that he secured, places on him a responsibility which comes with "high expectation" of performance.

Nwanze brings with him a "little bit of India" given that he has lived and worked there for a decade, one third of his 30 years in the development field. Mention India and he is visibly moved, "I have an emotional bond with India given that I spent nearly a decade in your wonderful country. It was a training ground and a learning experience. I saw medium scale entrepreneurs transform into semi industrial entities and small companies emerge as private enterprises both in the food and technology sectors. At one point India was written off as a hopeless case but it re-emerged as a major food exporting country. It set an example of good governance, a committed leadership which is determined to put in place a mechanism which works". Nwanze intends to replicate and showcase India's "yes we can moment" which began with its green revolution. More important, what makes it exceptional is that it did not sit on its laurels, said Nwanze.

Apart from the will and commitment of the Indian people's "Yes we can" spirit, Nwanze credits its leadership, political and otherwise, with a vision, commitment and maturity, to ensure that its rural poor have access to facilities.

IFAD's success stories in the North eastern states of Meghlaya, Assam and Manipur in India are examples Nwanze is determined to showcase to other regions of the developing world. The challenge, the President-elect said, is not about the number of projects, which are being run, or the amount of money spent. The issue is whether any of this has touched and transformed the lives of the rural poor.

Clearly action oriented, Nwanze said it was important to demonstrate that investments have been put to good use and the taxpayers' money has helped reduce poverty. All of us have a responsibility to send the message loud and clear. There is no use crying fire, fire when we do not move an inch to douse it," he said.

Despite his clear resolve to translate words into deeds, Nwanze was apprehensive about achieving the Millennium Development Goals of bringing down the number of the world's poor by half by 2015. "We are only six years away. My fear and concern is the global community has not gone beyond words. Neither has it translated its commitment into action to reduce poverty. If words are not backed by action, then we have a major disaster on our hands," said Nwanze.
Juliana Olabintan Nwanze
His election also saw a rather emotional Juliana Olabintan Nwanze, his wife, who has been often described as the one he draws strength from. Ask him and he makes no attempt to underplay her role. On the contrary, he speaks at great length on how he has counted on her support at every step. To quote him, "My wife has been a crucial force in my life. She is not behind my success but besides me. She has not only performed the role of a wife but a friend. She has demonstrated the resilience of a woman, the wisdom of a mother and the assurance one can get from someone who can make your home a haven of peace". Also a Nigerian, Juliana is the Founder Director of a Home for Children.

IFAD, which is an international financial institution (IFI) and a United Nations development agency dedicated to eradicating poverty and hunger in developing countries, has a substantial presence in India. If Nwanze's words are anything to go by, then his Indian connection will come handy and showcase the country's "yes we can" spirit.

First Published: Feb 20, 2009 19:23 IST