By Kamal Tayo Oropo
The entire staff of the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) in Addis Ababa is in mourning over the death of the institution’s pioneering and longest serving Executive Secretary, Professor Adebayo Adedeji.
Adedeji, UNECA secretary between 1975 and 1991 died in Lagos on 25 April 2018, after a long illness. He was aged 87.
In a statement to all ECA staff obtained by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Friday, the Executive Secretary, Vera Songwe described Professor Adedeji as a greatly respected leader and thinker, who will be missed over his contributions to Africa’s development agenda.
“He was a visionary, a proponent of Pan-Africanism, a true icon, an outstanding scholar, thinker and activist, who was passionate about Africa’s development,” she said.
“He will always be remembered for his unique contributions to the sustainable development of Africa,” she added.
For over four decades, Adedeji was one of the foremost promoters of regional integration in Africa.
In the early 1970s, as Nigeria’s Minister for Economic Development and Reconstruction, he led the negotiations that gave birth to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), earning him the title, “Father of ECOWAS”.
Songwe noted that Adedeji’s ardent belief in Africa’s integration led to the development of the Lagos Plan of Action.
His contributions to regional integration are embodied in Africa’s development framework, Agenda 2063, for the realisation of ‘An integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in international arena’.
Adedeji vigorously advocated for a more integrated Africa, whose development foundation is based on national self-reliance and home-grown solutions.
He also worked tirelessly to reverse the adverse impact of the Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) on economies and led the development of Africa’s Alternative Framework to Structural Adjustment Programs for Socio-Economic Recovery and Transformation (AAF-SAP), which charted a new course for Africa’s development.
“Professor Adedeji also supported efforts at democratisation in Africa. The Arusha Declaration on the African Charter on Popular Participation in Development and Transformation in Africa of 1990 had ECA playing a major role under his leadership”, Songwe said.
The ECA boss pointed out that, in retirement, Adedeji continued to serve the continent in various capacities, notably, as Chair of the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) Panel of Eminent Persons.
He continued to engage in debates and discussions on pathways and strategies for Africa’s development. In 2007, he was appointed as Chair of a panel by the African Union to audit the various organs of the AU and make recommendations, a responsibility that was discharged creditably well.
“Africa will miss, but fondly remember Professor Adedeji as an illustrious son, who gave his life, energy, passion and intellectual gift to the Continent,” she said.
According to Songwe, various long-serving staff indicated that he was their inspiration for the delivery of flagship outputs, such as the Assessing Regional Integration publication and the African Governance Report.
As ECA Executive Secretary from 1975 to 1991, Adedeji actively promoted the creation of other regional initiatives, including the Preferential Trade Area (PTA), which subsequently became COMESA.
Other notable achievements of ECA under his leadership include the Final Act of Lagos (1980).
His tenure at ECA saw the institution become a leading Pan-African platform and an intellectual think tank.
“It therefore, goes without saying that we must credit the historical signing of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) on March 21, 2018, to the influential leadership of Professor Adedeji.
“As we mourn this immense loss, we commit to honoring his legacy and continuing the work he started,” said Songwe.
The Adebayo Adedeji Lecture Series, an annual discourse on contemporary issues that frame Adedeji’s vision, is a commemoration of his contribution to development on the African continent.
“We at ECA offer our deepest condolences to his family, to the Government, the people of Nigeria, as well as the people of Africa and to all who have been impacted by his life and grieve with us,” Songwe said.