When you have scaled the heights of both the US and Europe’s financial sector, risen through the ranks of the world’s principle development finance institutions, been a director at the largest pan-African bank, and steered the Africa department at Britain’s most important investment corporation, you might be forgiven for deciding, at some point, to rest on your laurels and take a prolonged break.
But Dolika Banda has no such intention. She sees Africa as presenting huge opportunities. “Africa is always riding on opportunity, and it’s a personal thing for me. What is important is to be able to leverage where Africa logically should be. I think that is one of the biggest challenges, but I’m hopeful. And that’s why I left Washington DC in 2012 to return to Africa.”
Unlike many Africans who have left the continent to pursue their careers in the West, and found it difficult to return to live in Africa, Banda is committed to playing a key role, on home soil, in Africa’s journey towards peace and prosperity. A Zambian economist and adviser, Banda has more than 25 years of international banking and financial management experience with a focus on economic development in sub-Saharan Africa.
Banda was appointed regional director for Africa at the UK’s CDC (formerly the Commonwealth Development Corporation) having worked at the World Bank Group’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) for 16 years within its financial markets, credit, accounting and treasury departments. As director of financial markets, she managed the IFC’s activities across sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. She is also an independent consultant and adviser to such clients as the UN, Rockefeller Foundation, the Gates Foundation and several governments.
Banda had held senior corporate and merchant banking positions at Barclays and Citibank in Zambia – and continues to sit as a non-executive director on a number of boards including Ecobank Transnational. Four years after leaving Washington and returning to Africa, in September 2016 she was appointed the chief executive of the African Risk Capacity Insurance Company (ARC Ltd). ARC Ltd is a specialised agency of the African Union (AU) headquartered in Johannesburg, South Africa that provides AU member countries with insurance against climatic catastrophes.
She also cites her biggest personal achievement in 2017 as establishing, in conjunction with the African Leadership Academy, the Dolika Banda Scholarship for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) for Zambian students. Being able to do her part with this important initiative is clearly valuable to her. “It gave me so much joy and a sense of completeness to be in a position to offer educational opportunities to deserving young Zambians who otherwise would have been young, gifted and blocked”, she says.
Success breeds success
In her determination to serve the African cause, and despite her boundless optimism, Dolika Banda is frank about the huge challenges that persist. “Africa has no lack of good blueprints – whether you are talking about Rwanda, Zambia, South Africa or Nigeria, or for that matter anywhere in Africa – there is no lack of ambitious plans for infrastructure, for education, for telecoms, or many industrial sectors. But it is in implementation that Africa falls short. I think that is the challenge.”
And does she have ideas on how this challenge can be met? “I do. I think that the best way to achieve implementation is by emulating success. Success breeds success! I take inspiration from Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum of Dubai’s wonderful book My Vision – Challenges in the Race for Excellence. I think the book is 250 pages long, and you can underline almost every sentence as an action-oriented decision taken to develop Dubai and the United Arab Emirates.
“I might mention that I also have a great deal of respect for the way Singapore was developed, and also the renaissance of Rwanda under President Paul Kagame. What they have achieved in the last two to three decades is remarkable. Many people argue that Africa needs democracy, but that should not mean a free-for-all. We need a sense of discipline, a sense of where to draw the line.”
A future president?
Musing on implementation and leadership led us on, almost inevitability, to the question of Banda’s own political intentions and ambition.
Banda recalls that she grew up within a political milieu. After her father was tragically killed in a road traffic accident when she was just 10-year’s-old, her Uncle Rupiah (her father’s brother) brought her up – in true African fashion – as his own daughter.
Rupiah Banda was appointed vice-president by Zambia’s President Levy Mwanawasa in October 2006. Later, he became the country’s acting president before he won the October 2008 presidential election.
“Yes, I grew up in a political family. Having had that fortunate experience and exposure I feel I have little choice; it would be rather selfish in my view to refuse the responsibility, if I was given the opportunity,” she explains.
Responding to the observation that Zambia has specific challenges as a landlocked country with an economy that is so reliant on commodities, she says: “For the longest time, we have used Zambia’s landlocked situation as a crutch, or an excuse, for not really achieving our optimum potential. Zambia has turned the surmountable into the insurmountable!”
In short, Banda sees Zambia’s geographic position at the heart of southern, central Africa as presenting an opportunity, with the right infrastructure being built, to play a pivotal role at the centre of the Southern African Development Community.
Getting the most from international partnerships
You would have to say that, as a presidential candidate, she would have a huge political advantage as she can point to two and a half decades of top-flight global financial sector experience as well as a firm grasp of her continent’s development agenda. She knows the value of being able to relate to the international community, and in being able to negotiate in Africa’s best interest. She cites the examples of Côte d’Ivoire, Rwanda and Kenya as exemplars of governments who have this capability.
“I learned that the most successful beneficiaries of what the biggest institutions have to give, whether it’s a World Bank or the IFC or CDC or EBRD, are those countries that can articulate and identify the partnership they are seeking from these international partners,” she says.
“Because, if you do not, the very creative people that sit within these organisations will build products and design products, throw them at you and tick off their key performance indicators for the year. And that is when you begin to get white elephants,” she cautions.