News / 16 September 2014

African NGOs want better complaints mechanism at the African Development Bank

The African Development Bank (AfDB), which was founded in 1964 to stimulate economic development in Africa, has had a complaints mechanism since 2006. Individuals who have somehow been affected by projects financed by the AfDB can make an appeal to this mechanism. Yet, according to a large number of African and international organisations, this system has its weaknesses and there is much to improve. How exactly? Well, the organisations have recently presented their recommendations to the AfDB. Anouk Franck of Both ENDS coordinated this process.

What is Both ENDS’ role in all this?

“For years, Both ENDS has been a member of the ‘CSO Coalition on the AfDB’. This is a group of African and international civil society organisations which closely monitors the bank’s investments. Seeing that the AfDB invests in large infrastructure projects, large-scale agriculture and the financial sector, one can question who benefits from this. Local communities are often negatively affected by large dams, roads, mining and large-scale agriculture, while the AfDB’s investments should actually aim to improve the circumstances of these very communities. The current complaints mechanism basically provides these people with too few options to advocate for their rights. The fact that only 9 complaints have been approved and dealt with since 2006, signals this problem*. Therefore, our coalition, together with the ‘African Coalition for Corporate Accountability’ (ACCA) and the ‘International Alliance for Natural Resources in Africa’ (IANRA), has come up with ideas for improvement.”


Can you give an example of what could go wrong?

“Well, take for example the Bujagali dam in Uganda: this dam had negative environmental impacts and people living in the area were forced to move out of their homes. Also, the water level in Lake Victoria – a lake millions of people depend upon for their survival – will drastically decrease. More than 7 years ago, local communities filed a complaint against the AfDB concerning the building of the dam and the placement of high-voltage cables, which would force people to move. The houses they have moved to are of very bad quality and urgently need to be repaired. That, however, still has not happened. So now the dam is built, the high-voltage cables are there, while the affected are still waiting forcompensation. The bank does not comply with its own social and environmental rules  and this really has to change.”


So, what exactly has to change?

“First, the complaints mechanism has to be as independent, transparent and effective as possible. And easily accessible, so that local communities that have been affected by an AfDB project can file a complaint without too much administrative hassle. For this reason, one of our recommendations is that the AfDB should provide a simple format which can be sent via email instead of post. It should be a format which does not oblige the complainants to send a pile of evidence, but only the most essential pieces. We are talking about people who often do not have the resources to do their own extensive research or travel very far. And another very important aspect is that a complaint should be dealt with within a reasonable timeframe, which means that research must start from the very moment a complaint is issued. Otherwise, you will get a hopeless situation, just like Bujagali.”


What will happen now?

“Everyone has had the chance to provide written input, so now we will have to wait and see which elements will be adopted by  the Board. We have insisted that the AfDB should make the new complaints mechanism public and that another public consultation round take place before the document is finalised. Of course, we sincerely hope that the AfDB will incorporate a large portion of our ideas in the new design. A weak complaints mechanism will help neither the Bank, nor the people who are looking for solutions to problems which have been caused by the Bank’s projects.


* This is a very small amount, especially in comparison to the IFC, which is the part of the World Bank that financec projects of the proivate sector in developing countries. In 10 years time, IFC's complaints mechanism approved 76 complaints, which is more that 8 times the amount of complaints approved annually by the AfDB, while volume of IFC's  lending budget was only 2.5 times as high. 


The document with the recommendations of the group of 52 African and 14 international CSO's.

The website of the CSO coalition on the AfDB



Photo: Steve Lietzau on Flickr Creative Commons




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