This is a bitter-sweet issue for us. We bid adieu to one of the greatest bankers in Africa, Ecobank Transnational’s Arnold Ekpe. No doubt the multinational bank will go from strength to strength under its new leader, Thierry Tanoh, who takes over later in the year, but the leadership gap that Ekpe leaves in terms of African banking will be difficult to fill.
For me personally, Arnold Ekpe has been a friend and a patient mentor guiding me through the labyrinthine highways and byways that is African banking. He has been a staunch supporter of this publication and was among the first to encourage us to venture into, what was for us, uncharted waters of financial publishing.
He strongly believed in the power of banking to transform African societies and he saw the role of Ecobank as a vital factor of regional integration – something that he felt was indispensable for the continent’s accelerated development. For him communication was the key to unlocking the continent’s latent potential and he paid African Banker the compliment of considering it a vital channel of this communication. In our interview, he reflects on his time at the bank, the global African economy and casts a critical eye on the future.
The Ekpe interview is one of three we are pleased to present in this issue. Our second interview is with the Finance Minister and Vice-Prime Minister of Mauritius, Xavier-Luc Duval. We met while he was in London with some members of Mauritius’s Board of Investment. Mauritius is one country in Africa that refuses to rest on its laurels and always seems to be thinking ahead. Duval wants to position Mauritius as the hub of investments, especially from Asia, destined for greater Africa. He explains that while there is tremendous interest in investing in Africa, lack of knowledge about the continent is giving many potential investors cold feet. And this is where, he thinks, Mauritius can play an important role.
Our final interview is with Dr Ahmed Heikal, the CEO of Citadel Capital, Africa’s largest private equity fund. Heikal does not mince his words. Although the political situation in Egypt, the company’s seat of power, is in flux, he sees unlimited opportunity both in North Africa and the rest of the continent. He presents a strong argument for a root-and-branch reform of the subsidy systems that he accuses of distorting development and stultifying growth.
Africa’s technical leap
We look at how the rapid development of banking in Africa is having a profound effect on the design and functions of banking technologies and equipment. Some of the innovations, forced by the nature of the market, have become globally avant-garde and some of the systems, such as the ‘mobile wallet’ are now migrating to the developed world. It is good to know that Africa has taken the technology lead in some quarters.
We review the past few months in West African banking, focusing on Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal and Cameroon. West Africa’s largest two economies, Nigeria and Ghana, are both in the throes of mergers and acquisitions and the game of musical chairs going on there makes for fascinating watching.
We also learn that African currencies have now found great favour in international forex markets as the uncertainties over the euro and, to a much lesser extent, the dollar, continue. The ramifications of this will no doubt unfold over the year.
We report on the finding of a research project examining the spread of some form of banking among the majority of the population of South Africa. The surprising conclusion is that around three quarters of the country’s population are ‘financially included’ although the definition is a broad one. This perhaps explains the urgency behind many of that country’s banks reaching out beyond their usual banking parameters, as growth possibilities are staggering.
Finally, there is our usual Letter from Mauritius on the latest developments in the sector on that dynamic island nation.