macroafricaintel | South Africa – Inquiry nation

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

Nhlanhla Nene, the former South African finance minister, probably now wishes he stayed away from public office after his unceremonious exit a few years ago from the administration of former president Jacob Zuma. His “integrity” was paying off. He had some lucrative board memberships and there were probably more on the way before he was beckoned upon again to serve his fatherland. What did Mr Nene do? He lied about the extent of his association with the Guptas, a now infamous Indian family which rose to stupendous wealth on the back of the South African Commonwealth. This was revealed at the ongoing commission of inquiry into state capture led by deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo. Malusi Gigaba, another former minister, whose video of himself engaged in a private indiscretion became public, had to resign as well. His exit from cabinet was not particularly due to the video scandal, though. The Public Protector, the country’s anti-graft body, asked President Cyril Ramaphosa to take action against him in late October for allegedly lying under oath.

The two star politicians are a good study of contrasts. Their personalities are different. Mr Nene is ideally discreet, quiet and not one for the limelight if he can help it. Mr Gigaba, on the other hand, is attention-seeking, aims to be suave, and dresses flashily. And even as Mr Gigaba insists he has done nothing wrong, and that his resignation was not an admission of guilt, revelations since then suggest he may have likely lied about some of his activities in government. Mr Nene’s case is pitiable because there was really no need for him to lie in the first place. There is probably no senior member of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party under Mr Zuma’s leadership who did not have to deal with the Guptas at some point in time. And it is to Mr Nene’s credit that he never succumbed to the pressure they put on him to do wron

Public interest is served by probes
Asked about his thoughts on the trend of inquiries under Mr Ramaphosa’s leadership, Darias Jonker, director for southern Africa at Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy, in London says, “This is a positive trend for Ramaphosa, in the sense that it is a safer tactic to use in his strategy to remove or neutralize his opponents within the ruling African National Congress. First, by building up a solid case against them there is less room for them to wriggle out of these allegations once they get tested in court. Second, because the inquiry is public the allegations against the Zuma patronage network are being aired in the open and the public is becoming increasingly aware of the scale and audacity of the patronage network. This will boost Ramaphosa’s image as a reformer. One downside is that the inquiries take time, and some people are impatient with the slow pace and want to see arrests and court cases: but Ramaphosa is playing a long game.”

Ronak Gopaldas of Signal Risk, a risk consultancy, in Cape Town shares similar sentiments. He believes the corruption inquiries are “definitely positive.” He opines further: “From a governance and institutional perspective, we have seen a positive shift since Ramaphosa took over. There is a cleanup being undertaken and these commissions are attempts to get information out in the open and to build consensus. It also provides Ramaphosa with necessary ammunition to act against those implicated without burning his political capital within the ANC, which remains tenuous given the narrow victory margin in December.”

But would it indeed help to curb corruption as envisaged? Mr Jonker believes so: “The inquiries are part of Ramaphosa’s anti-corruption reforms and will drastically reduce the grand scale corruption in national and provincial government and in SOEs [state-owned enterprises]. Smaller scale corruption will, however, persist across government and be a particular problem on the local government level.” For his view, Signal Risk’s Gopaldas says “the commisions themselves are simply a start – much will however depend on whether Ramaphosa is able to act decisively against corruption, reform the ANC and replace captured organisations with competent technocrats. In this sense, the commissions should be seen as the diagnosis rather than the cure.”

Simply put, these inquiries make a difference. And there is empirical evidence to back the claim. New research by Eric Avis and Frederico Finan, both of the University of California at Berkeley, and Claudio Ferraz of Pontificia Universidade Catolica do Rio de Janeiro published by the Journal of Political Economy in October finds in Brazil that “being audited in the past reduces future corruption by 8 percent, while also increasing the likelihood of experiencing a subsequent legal action by 20 percent.” Expectedly, there is now palpable hesitation on the part of some ANC politicians to testify before the Zondo commission. It is increasingly clear quite a couple of them lied about the extent of their malfeasance and misdemeanour under Mr Zuma. Could the revelations cost the ANC at the polls? What does Eurasia’s Jonker think? “Yes and no. The opposition will use the revelations to paint the ANC as endemically corrupt, which it largely is. However, other major opposition parties also have serious corruption allegations haunting them, and voters know this too.”

But Ramaphosa wins as well
There are other ongoing commissions of inquiry. One has just been commissioned to investigate the Public Investment Corporation (PIC), the investment manager of the state pension fund. There would probably be more. Consequently, Mr Jonker of Eurasia Group believes there could be inquiry fatigue at some point, “especially if there are no arrests of high-level state capture participants.” That said, even as the motivation for establishing these inquiries might not be entirely altruistic, they are inadvertently beginning to serve the public interest.

Ironically, some day in the future, there might be inquiries into how past inquiries conducted their affairs. But not yet; that is even as Mr Ramaphosa’s foes probably wish otherwise. Could the costs of these inquiries become a subject of inquiry at some point, for instance? Eurasia’s Jonker does not think so. “No. Ramaphosa’s detractors are complaining about the cost in an effort to undermine him, but in reality the cost of the inquiries are a fraction of the sums that were taken from the public purse through corruption and patronage. The public knows this and it is not keeping tabs on the costs involved.” Besides, “many voters who turned away from the ANC because of the corruption and mismanagement during the Zuma years will return to vote for Ramaphosa now that he is being seen as a fighter of grandscale corruption,” he adds.

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper column (Tuesdays). See link viz. https://www.businessdayonline.com/columnist/rafiq-raji/article/south-africa-inquiry-nation/

Reporter’s notebook – In support of the northeast

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

In mid-November, I covered the launch of the “Nigeria Humanitarian Fund – Private Sector Initiative” (NHF PSI) in Lagos for London-based African Business magazine. Edward Kallon, the United Nations (UN) resident/humanitarian coordinator in Nigeria, calls it a “global first” and says it “provides a blueprint for private sector engagement in humanitarian action through a country-based pooled fund set up and managed by the United Nations.” The NHF PSI is primarily aimed at funding the relief efforts in northeast Nigeria, where over 7 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance. Having already secured more than $70 million in contributions from 17 countries, the launch in Lagos was to get private sector actors to contribute their quota.

In attendance were representatives of numerous non-governmental organisations (NGOs) operating in the region, chief executives of banks and oil firms, ambassadors, politicians, and so on. I struck conversations with at least three of the NGO-types in the room. A major point that kept coming up was corruption. There have been quite a lot of money from donors towards helping the victims of the violence in the northeast. Not nearly enough, of course. Sadly, an ample portion of the little that there is never gets to the actual people in need.

The lower house of the federal legislature recently raised concerns about the seeming pilferage of humanitarian assistance for the northeast. Their focus was on government expenditure via the emergency agency, however. And while the motive of their investigations was likely also political, there is genuine concern. Those who have visited the internally-displaced persons (IDPs) in their camps express shock at their plight. They wonder how after so much resources were supposedly put towards assisting IDPs, they could still be in such deplorable circumstances.

There has not been similar controversy around the humanitarian efforts of NGOs, private-sector actors and multilateral organisations. What they have in transparency and efficiency, they lack in scale, however. In other words, while the NHF PSI is likely to avoid some of the problems found to be associated with the government’s efforts, it would require much more heft to have a huge impact.

Thankfully, there were generous pledges by the many deep pockets at the launch of the NHF PSI. I am also aware that the Lagos Business School Alumni Association (LBSAA), the governing council of which I am a member, plans to help out in the northeast as well. As do many other similarly-minded bodies in the country.

Still, you do not have to be wealthy to help out. Every raised voice in advocacy for more relief efforts in the region matters. And the ubiquity of social media means almost everyone can add their voice to the cause relatively cheaply.

Voices must also be raised about the welfare of our men and women in uniform. If they are not able to secure the region, there can be no meaningful humanitarian assistance to the displaced. The recent killing of soldiers by terrorists in the region should be a wake-up call to the government not to become complacent. Our soldiers should be well-equipped and kitted to perform their patriotic duty. Their salaries and welfare packages must be paid in full and on time.

Another set of people I had a chat with at the launch were some young medics. It was not long before they started bemoaning the state of the country. I was a little bemused. After all, they were employed. Naturally, they want more. And they were convinced their chances would be better abroad. England, America and Canada were top choices. Having travelled a bit myself, I tried to convince them that things are not as rosy over there as they think. Silence would have been golden.

macroafricaintel | Tanzania – Recent banking trends & outlook

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

“I will not give any money to failing banks.” In typical style, President John Magufuli has adopted a no-nonsense approach to the troubles of the Tanzanian banking sector. In March 2018, he ordered the central bank not to rescue any failing bank. Mr Magufuli’s angst towards bankers is underpinned by his view that previous government bailouts for the sector of about 40 banks currently were squandered or misused. In any case, it has been about a year since the Bank of Tanzania (BoT) announced new capital rules for banks, as non-performing loans rose sharply. How have Tanzanian banks fared since then? NPLs continue to rise, hitting profits. As a proportion of total loans, NPLs rose by almost a percentage point to 11.7 percent in December 2017 from 10.6 percent six months earlier; a deterioration from what was already double the offical cap of 5 percent. Most recently, though, in April 2018, NPLs to gross loans stood at 11.3 percent. The central bank has been wielding the big stick to stem the tide. It shut down 5 community banks in early January; namely: Covenant Bank for Women, Efatha Bank, Njombe Community Bank, Kagera Farmers’ Cooperative Bank and Meru Community Bank. The January move brought the number of such banks closed to eight. While this is laudable, it is the domineering few big banks that probably require greater scrutiny and supervision. Tightening of controls on foreign exchange has also been weighing on banks’ bottomlines. Return on assets declined to 1.7 percent in April 2018 from 2.2 percent only a year before. Return on equity dipped as well; to 7.2 percent in April 2018 from 10.1 percent in April 2017.

Interest rates falling, PSCE still low
Unsurprisingly, bank lending to the private sector has slowed. In mid-December, the IMF highlighted reduced public spending and policy uncertainty as some of the reasons why. The central bank gives the sector a clean bill of health, however; reporting in June 2018 that “the banking sector remained sound, stable and profitable with levels of capital and liquidity generally above regulatory requirements.” As at end-April, the BoT put banks’ core capital to total risk weighted assets and off-balance sheet exposures at 18.7 percent; well above the minimum 10 percent. Also, liquid assets to demand liabilities was 39.1 percent in the same period; well above the minimum 20 percent. The BoT did highlight a palpable deterioration in NPLs. Some of the measures it has put in place to remedy the situation is an insistence that banks compulsorily use credit reference bureau reports for the appaisal of loans; in addition to other strategies it wants banks to develop to “strengthen credit application processing, credit management, monitoring and recovery measures.”

To the BoT’s credit, though, a joint World Bank/IMF financial sector assessment programme (FSAP) vindicated its position on the soundness and stability of the Tanzanian financial services sector. They note the country’s payments, clearing and settlement systems are operating efficiently. In this regard, the central bank has begun engagement with relevant stakeholders to develop a national switch. While still far off, once in place, the national switch would greatly reduce the cost of payment services. Also to this end, the BoT is licensing more payment service providers. There has also been an increase in transactions in the banking system on the back of an increasing adoption of digital channels. And the BoT continues to make efforts to reduce interest rates. In this regard, it cut its discount rate by 300 basis points to 9 percent in the period between July 2017 to April 2018. Yields on government securities have certainly followed suit; easing to about 4 percent in April 2018 from a little above 13 percent a year before. By and large, interest rates on commercial loans eased as well; albeit still high at about 17-18 percent. But it is an improvement from about 22 percent hitherto. Encouraged by easing measures by the BoT, which in addition to slashing its discount rate also reduced the statutory minimum reserve requirement, one bank cut its interest rate by half to 11 percent from 22 percent previously. Consequently, private sector credit extension (PSCE) should improve. Still, PSCE growth of almost 1 percent in April 2018 is an improvement from negative growth rates in late Q3-2017 and early Q4-2017. Total assets have also been growing steadily; up 5.3 percent year-on-year to 29.9 trillion shillings in April 2018.

Moody’s, a rating agency, is similarly optimistic. In a mid-March 2018 research note, it avers the Tanzanian “banking system will remain resilient, with improving operating conditions, solid capital and liquidity, despite asset quality and profitability pressure.” Christos Theofilou, vice president and senior analyst at Moody’s explains further: “We expect operating conditions to gradually improve as private sector businesses adapt to higher taxes and liquidity in the system improves with the payment of government arrears and more focus on infrastructure and development plans by the authorities.” Moody’s also assesses the country’s banks’ capital buffers as “among the strongest in sub-Saharan Africa and globally.” However, it acknowledges their declining profitability “due to lower interest income, reduced business activity and rising loan-loss provisions.” It also believes NPLs might rise some more “due to the continued, delayed impact from last year’s public sector job cuts, a corporate liquidity crunch and lower corporate margins following a crackdown on tax collection.”

More consolidation expected
On its part, the government has been tidying up its act in the sector, approving the merger of two of the banks it owns in mid-May; Twiga Bancorp and TPB Bank. It is part of a broader planned consolidation of state-owned banks. BoT deputy governor Bernard Kibesse explained the authorities’ thinking to the media thus: “We will see more mergers of government-owned banks until we remain with one or just a few banks owned by the government.” The central bank would like to see more consolidation in the sector: “We would like more mergers and acquisitions to take place between the existing banks in Tanzania, including those that are privately owned, so that we remain with a few efficient banks”, Mr Kibesse added. Key stakeholders in the sector seem receptive to the idea. In about mid-April, Ineke Bussemaker, chief executive of National Microfinance Bank (NMB), the country’s largest bank, told Reuters “if there is a coordinated effort to do a consolidation in the banking sector….NMB will play a role.” And Bussemaker, who took over as CEO in 2015 from a role at Rabobank in The Netherlands, which owns a 34.9 percent stake in NMB, is not just buying into the idea of the government, which has a 31.9 percent stake in NMB, it believes consolidation has become a necessity; with its chief executive telling Reuters further that “there are a number of small banks that are struggling with a relatively small capital base…[and thus]…forsee some consolidation in the sector.”

An edited version was published in the Q3 2018 issue of African Banker magazine

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper column (Tuesdays)

macroafricaintel | South Africa – Inquiry nation

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

Nhlanhla Nene, the former South African finance minister, probably now wishes he stayed away from public office after his unceremonious exit a few years ago from the administration of former president Jacob Zuma. His “integrity” was paying off. He had some lucrative board memberships and there were probably more on the way before he was beckoned upon again to serve his fatherland. What did Mr Nene do? He lied about the extent of his association with the Guptas, a now infamous Indian family which rose to stupendous wealth on the back of the South African Commonwealth. This was revealed at the ongoing commission of inquiry into state capture led by deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo. Malusi Gigaba, another former minister, whose video of himself engaged in a private indiscretion became public, had to resign as well. His exit from cabinet was not particularly due to the video scandal, though. The Public Protector, the country’s anti-graft body, asked President Cyril Ramaphosa to take action against him in late October for allegedly lying under oath.

The two star politicians are a good study of contrasts. Their personalities are different. Mr Nene is ideally discreet, quiet and not one for the limelight if he can help it. Mr Gigaba, on the other hand, is attention-seeking, aims to be suave, and dresses flashily. And even as Mr Gigaba insists he has done nothing wrong, and that his resignation was not an admission of guilt, revelations since then suggest he may have likely lied about some of his activities in government. Mr Nene’s case is pitiable because there was really no need for him to lie in the first place. There is probably no senior member of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party under Mr Zuma’s leadership who did not have to deal with the Guptas at some point in time. And it is to Mr Nene’s credit that he never succumbed to the pressure they put on him to do wrong.

Public interest is served by probes
Asked about his thoughts on the trend of inquiries under Mr Ramaphosa’s leadership, Darias Jonker, director for southern Africa at Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy, in London says, “This is a positive trend for Ramaphosa, in the sense that it is a safer tactic to use in his strategy to remove or neutralize his opponents within the ruling African National Congress. First, by building up a solid case against them there is less room for them to wriggle out of these allegations once they get tested in court. Second, because the inquiry is public the allegations against the Zuma patronage network are being aired in the open and the public is becoming increasingly aware of the scale and audacity of the patronage network. This will boost Ramaphosa’s image as a reformer. One downside is that the inquiries take time, and some people are impatient with the slow pace and want to see arrests and court cases: but Ramaphosa is playing a long game.”

Ronak Gopaldas of Signal Risk, a risk consultancy, in Cape Town shares similar sentiments. He believes the corruption inquiries are “definitely positive.” He opines further: “From a governance and institutional perspective, we have seen a positive shift since Ramaphosa took over. There is a cleanup being undertaken and these commissions are attempts to get information out in the open and to build consensus. It also provides Ramaphosa with necessary ammunition to act against those implicated without burning his political capital within the ANC, which remains tenuous given the narrow victory margin in December.”

But would it indeed help to curb corruption as envisaged? Mr Jonker believes so: “The inquiries are part of Ramaphosa’s anti-corruption reforms and will drastically reduce the grand scale corruption in national and provincial government and in SOEs [state-owned enterprises]. Smaller scale corruption will, however, persist across government and be a particular problem on the local government level.” For his view, Signal Risk’s Gopaldas says “the commisions themselves are simply a start – much will however depend on whether Ramaphosa is able to act decisively against corruption, reform the ANC and replace captured organisations with competent technocrats. In this sense, the commissions should be seen as the diagnosis rather than the cure.”

Simply put, these inquiries make a difference. And there is empirical evidence to back the claim. New research by Eric Avis and Frederico Finan, both of the University of California at Berkeley, and Claudio Ferraz of Pontificia Universidade Catolica do Rio de Janeiro published by the Journal of Political Economy in October finds in Brazil that “being audited in the past reduces future corruption by 8 percent, while also increasing the likelihood of experiencing a subsequent legal action by 20 percent.” Expectedly, there is now palpable hesitation on the part of some ANC politicians to testify before the Zondo commission. It is increasingly clear quite a couple of them lied about the extent of their malfeasance and misdemeanour under Mr Zuma. Could the revelations cost the ANC at the polls? What does Eurasia’s Jonker think? “Yes and no. The opposition will use the revelations to paint the ANC as endemically corrupt, which it largely is. However, other major opposition parties also have serious corruption allegations haunting them, and voters know this too.”

But Ramaphosa wins as well
There are other ongoing commissions of inquiry. One has just been commissioned to investigate the Public Investment Corporation (PIC), the investment manager of the state pension fund. There would probably be more. Consequently, Mr Jonker of Eurasia Group believes there could be inquiry fatigue at some point, “especially if there are no arrests of high-level state capture participants.” That said, even as the motivation for establishing these inquiries might not be entirely altruistic, they are inadvertently beginning to serve the public interest.

Ironically, some day in the future, there might be inquiries into how past inquiries conducted their affairs. But not yet; that is even as Mr Ramaphosa’s foes probably wish otherwise. Could the costs of these inquiries become a subject of inquiry at some point, for instance? Eurasia’s Jonker does not think so. “No. Ramaphosa’s detractors are complaining about the cost in an effort to undermine him, but in reality the cost of the inquiries are a fraction of the sums that were taken from the public purse through corruption and patronage. The public knows this and it is not keeping tabs on the costs involved.” Besides, “many voters who turned away from the ANC because of the corruption and mismanagement during the Zuma years will return to vote for Ramaphosa now that he is being seen as a fighter of grandscale corruption,” he adds.

macroafricaintel | Banking in East Africa: Recent trends & outlook

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

What are the recent trends in the East African banking industry? And what does the future portend for the sector in the region? For perspectives on these questions, African Banker got the views of two highly-esteemed Nairobi-based banking professionals: George Mutua, managing director and chief representative officer for the Kenyan office of Societe Generale, a French bank, and Elizabeth Ndungu, head of research at Genghis Capital Investment Bank. Expectedly, Kenya, the region’s largest economy, dominates. And government policy there is perhaps the most stifling for the sector at the moment. Good news is there are indications some of the measures might be reversed. First is the capping of interest rates on commercial loans at 4 percent above the central bank rate by the Kenyan government. Another is the recently introduced 0.05 percent “Robinhood tax” on cash transfers of more than 500k shillings from 1 July; which halved daily interbank volumes in the first week alone. A proposed Financial Markets Conduct Authority in Kenya also adds to increasing concerns about over-regulation. There is probably a need for stiffer rules, though. For instance, 10 Kenyan banks are currently under investigation for accepting stolen funds. But stronger rules could be self-defeating if they end up weakening the ability of central banks to rein in erring banks. For evidence, reformist Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) governor, Patrick Njoroge, put it bluntly: “The [Financial Markets Conduct] bill emasculates the central bank”, adding the CBK “…is under attack.” Without a doubt, there is increasing political interference in the region’s central banks and indeed elsewhere on the African continent. Curiously, Tanzania’s president John Magufuli, well-known for his heavy-handedness, does not plan to bail out struggling banks in his country: “I will not give any money to failing banks,” Mr Magufuli said earlier this year in March, adding “it’s better to have a few viable banks than dozens of failing banks.” The recurring theme is clearly one where on the one hand, governments in the region are more overbearing on banks with more regulations while on the other hand, in the Tanzanian case, for instance, not so supportive of those that flounder.

Reduced profits, rising NPLs
Undoubtedly, top-of-mind amongst bankers in East Africa is the expectation that the Kenyan government would repeal the law capping interest rates. Since the legislation, credit has slowed. Mr Mutua lets in on his expectations: “We expect the interest rate caps to be repealed through an act of parliament- sometimes in 2018. This should lead to more lending by commercial banks to the SME sector. Easier access to credit will drive economic growth and should improve GDP growth.” Ordinarily, banks were increasingly loading up their books with government securities. The rate cap made doing so more a necessity than a strategy. Should the rate cap be abolished, SG’s Mutua believes “banks would invest less in government securities and more in the private sector.” The move would be beneficial for banks’ bottomlines certainly with “interest margins to increase gradually as banks take more risk and charge relatively higher margins to the private sector,” Mr Mutua adds. Genghis Capital’s Ndungu provides additional insights: “The banking industry in Kenya has experienced a challenging operating environment over the past year. This has mainly been attributed to interest rate caps introduced in the third quarter of 2016 that has seen banks record reduced profitability on account of reduced net interest income. In response to this, we have witnessed banks adjust their business models through a combination of initiatives aimed at reducing costs such as cutting down branches, laying off staff and enhancing operational efficiency, coupled with revenue diversification so as to tap into non-funded income.” On interest rate caps, Ms Ndungu’s view is thus: “While the interest rate caps have been a pain to the banking sector in Kenya, the East African region has been grappling with increasing non-performing loans (17.4% in Burundi, 12.4% in Kenya, 8.2% in Tanzania and Rwanda, 6.2% in Uganda), primarily on account of the high interest rates in neighbouring countries and inadequate risk assessment, which could affect economic growth in the region adversely. Lending rates in Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda range between 18.0% and 21.0%, which has seen borrowers suffer the full brunt of accessing credit and led to high default rates. This in turn has stifled private sector credit growth as banks enhance risk management to curb this trend.” On NPLs, for Kenya at least, SG’s Mutua observes “no major shift in NPL levels considering that banks have been forced to clean-up their books and make provisions in good tome by the Central Bank of Kenya,” however, and expects “credit growth in agriculture, construction, manufacturing, retail/FCMG- as banks come up with a lending mandate in support of the president’s Big Four [agenda]”.

Stiffer regulation, consolidation, regional expansion & new entrants
Even as it is expected the authorities would abolish interest caps in Kenya, they would continue to rein hard on banks who charge their customers disproportionalely. SG’s Mutua believes there would be “stiffer regulation on how and what banks charge to borrowers [with] the Central Bank of Kenya [insisting]…on transparency on the type and amount of financial cost”. Another development Mr Mutua expects is “…more consolidation in the banking industry – across the industry in the region. We still have too many small banks in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and there’s need for consolidation. It will be pushed by both business viability needs and regulatory requirements on adequate capital levels. We see the big local banks continuing to expand and deepen their presence across the region. [And] top local banks in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda will start looking for regional dominance.” Mr Mutua also sees “the continued adoption of mobile-money and digital solutions by banks over additional/new investments in brick and mortar network [and an] increase of the agency banking model. Furthermore, there should be “more and better market segmentation with a new emphasis on wealth management, financial planning solutions,” SG’s Mutua believes.

On the outlook for NPLs and banking in the East African region, Genghis Capital’s Ndungu says: “Going forward, we expect this trend to be managed as banks tow in line with the requirements of IFRS 9, that requires a forward looking approach in loan provisioning. This will force banks to be more prudent in their assessment and will also require fiscal consolidation (government support) in order to ensure that private sector credit growth in the region does not deteriorate as a result of the crowding out effect. With a population growth rate of 3.0%, compared to other developed countries below the 1.0% mark, coupled with increasing financial inclusion and more uptake of financial services products, the East African region offers an attractive proposition for long term investors looking to take advantage of the attractive valuations.” SG’s Mutua also sees the “entrance of new global and regional payers- the likes of JP want to establish a rep office covering East Africa in Nairobi. The replacement of Barclays by ABSA in Kenya and Tanzania. He also expects “more competition from local banks- empowered by mobile money solutions, agency banking, and digital banking- the “traditional” local banks will pose new competition to established international brands in the region.” In conclusion, Societe Generale’s Mutua sees “more and better regulation of banks in Tanzania, in terms of how they classify and provide for bad debt in their books, more focus on supporting/financing intra-Africa trade [as] banks in East Africa…target traders involved in exports and imports across Africa, better and stronger relationships with multilaterals, DFIs, insurance bodies, to put in place guarantees and de-risking solutions that will make certain sectors [like] agriculture, commodity trading more bankable.

An edited version was published in the Q3-2018 issue of African Banker magazine

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper column (Tuesdays)

macroafricaintel | Making the case for #SouthAfrica and #Nigeria

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

There are some concerns about emerging markets at the moment; for no fault of theirs in some respect, as central banks in advanced economies normalise hitherto extraordinary monetary policy measures. Peculiarly structural issues in some EM countries like South Africa, which though being tackled, continue to cast a shadow as well. In general, debt and inflation are ascendant. Thankfully, the two key EM countries on the African continent, South Africa and Nigeria, are doggedly on a monetary tightening path to curb accelerating prices. That is, even as these economies are in dire need of growth to moderate retractable problems like high unemployment. Similar restraint has not been exercised towards indebtedness, however. Even so, veteran EM investors know to look below the surface. There are myriad opportunies for the discerning.

Still, rising political risk ahead of polls in 2019, necessitate some caution; albeit more so in the case of Nigeria than in South Africa. Cyril Ramaphosa, the technocratic president of South Africa provides some comfort. Evidence of this can be seen in the relative success of his investment drive. And he is almost certainly going to remain in office for at least another five years. However, most agree a competent and well-meaning head of state atop a system with many palpable governance weaknesses may still flounder nonetheless. Revelations at the ongoing judicial inquiry into so-called “state capture” during the presidency of Jacob Zuma show how deep the structural fissures are, for instance. And the enormity of the task to repair them. Curiously, Mr Ramaphosa has chosen to play it safe. A recently underwhelming cabinet reshuffle by the South African president, some argue, was a missed opportunity to sanitize the cabinet of old party cadres. Especially as it is increasingly obvious most of them got their hands soiled in one form or another during the administration of Mr Zuma. The other argument is that the president is playing for time. A likely stronger mandate in 2019 would enable him make revolutionary changes then, his supporters argue.

In the Nigerian case, there is a predominant feeling that President Muhammadu Buhari could have done more to attract investment and make doing business easier. The administration refutes such assertions by pointing to the country’s improved ease of doing business ranking by the World Bank. There is more that could have been done regardless. And without a doubt, the disaffection between the executive and legislative arms of government, even as they are both governed by the same political party, weighed greatly on the economy. The appointment and clearance of government officials took ages, budgets were approved far too late; to name a few. And with elections on the horizon, much is now in abeyance till afterwards. But would much change then? Atiku Abubakar, the leading opposition contender for the presidency, argues they would. It helps that he is perceived to be more business-friendly. Ironically, Mr Abubakar is also seen as representative of the mostly corrupt elite. How much food has been put in the mouths of Nigerians by Mr Buhari’s anti-corruption stance is a common rebuttal by Mr Abubakar’s supporters. They also argue corruption has been rife under Mr Buhari. So, it probably would not matter much who wins. What is more important is that the polls be free, fair and peaceful.

Nonetheless, there is reason to be optimistic. If, as is often argued, poor governance and corruption are the major constraints on Africa’s development, increased accountability and citizens’ engagement, owing to social media especially, suggests better African leaders would increasingly emerge. A case in point is the Nigerian case, where a couple of seasoned technocrats have joined the presidential race this time around. Although, they have not attracted as much media coverage as the two leading candidates, their participation has greatly enriched the process. It is so gratifying now to see Nigerian politicians arguing over policies. True, politics remains extremely monetized. But even beneficiaries of such largesse increasingly engage the political leadership.

macroafricaintel | Renewable power in Nigeria: Progress report

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

Renewable power sources are ascendant. China is leading the way, with a quarter of global solar capacity and a third of wind power output. Until recently, the cost of solar panels fell as economies of scale made each unit cheaper for the dominant Chinese manufacturers. But the unfolding trade war with America, which resulted in tariffs being imposed on Chinese-made solar panels, has added to costs. That is not stopping the rise of renewables. “In 2016, cumulative solar PV capacity reached almost 300 GW and generated over 310 TWh, 26% higher than in 2015 and representing just over 1% of global power output”, says the International Energy Agency (IEA). In 2016, “cumulative grid-connected wind capacity reached 466 GW (451 GW onshore wind and 15 GW offshore wind) and wind power accounted for almost 4% of global electricity generation.”

Given the prevailing trends, what are the prospects for renewable power in Nigeria, one of Africa’s most voracious energy consumers? “The prospect for renewable energy in Nigeria is quite enormous and there are opportunities for the development of grid-connected solar, wind, and geothermal power projects,” says Kayode Omosebi, energy analyst and head of research at ARM Investment Managers, a leading Nigerian investment banking firm. “Nigeria is endowed with abundant energy resources, both conventional and renewable, which provide her with immense capacity to develop an effective national energy plan,” Mr Omosebi adds.

More solar
In line with the government’s desire to have 25 percent of Nigeria’s power mix be via renewables by 2019 and about 40 percent by 2030, more than $20 billion of solar power projects are either planned or under construction. There is the $479 million 300MW Shiroro Solar Power project on the grounds of the Shiroro hydroelectric dam in northcentral Nigeria, and the $5 billion 3,000MW utility-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) projects by SkyPower and FAS Energy in Delta State in the Niger Delta region. In collaboration with Arrow Capital, an American firm, the University of Ilorin, located in the country’s middle-belt, is also constructing a 500MW solar power plant at a cost of $2.3 billion. Another is the $1 billion 1,000MW FirstGate solar power farm in Kogi State in northcentral Nigeria. There are numerous other projects on a smaller scale.

“Solar is a major renewable energy resource in Nigeria from a geographical perspective, and consensus projects that Nigeria has the potential to generate 600,000MW by deploying Solar PV panels from just 1% of Nigeria’s land mass,” says ARM’s Omosebi. “The high level of solar radiation in the northern part of Nigeria makes it easy to utilize solar power generation in the northern part of the country to steadily increase the power generation capacity in Nigeria.”

Regulation
The regulatory environment for renewable energy in Nigeria is favourable. And judging from the number of ongoing solar power projects, investors think so too. ARM’s Omosebi explains the specifics: “In terms of policies, [the] Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) has recently issued a Regulation on Feed in Tariff for Renewable Energy Sourced Electricity in Nigeria (REFIT Regulations) passed in December 2015, which provides for the tariff framework for renewables…The REFIT Regulations indicate that the government has set an on-grid target for solar renewable generation of 380MW by 2018. This means that there is a deliberate drive by the government to ramp up electricity generation from solar sources.”

Hydro still main renewable focus
But for sometimes unpredictable and meagre rains, hydropower has proved reliable. Large dam projects can sometimes be unwieldy and take too long to complete, however. One such project is the longsuffering 3,050MW Mambilla hydropower project in northeastern Nigeria; besieged by corruption hitherto. Now underway with a Chinese contractor, the $5.792 billion project is expected to be ready by 2023, if all goes according to plan. Other ongoing hydropower projects include 40MW in Kashibila, 30MW in Gurara, 700MW in Zungeru, and 29MW in Dadin Kowa. Wind power has not enjoyed as much enthusiasm, however. That relative to solar power, wind power systems require greater maintenance and are not so practical for residential use, are some reasons why. In this regard, there is only one major project: the 10MW Katsina Wind Farm in Rimi Village in northwestern Nigeria.

Make cheaper
Still, “renewable, except hydro, today can’t replace other sources of energy due to [the] intermittent [nature] and the high cost of storage. Storage will become cheaper but it’s not clear when wind and solar will serve as real alternatives both in terms of the amount of power available and the cost. It is also not clear that it will be able to properly serve dense urban areas without some form of grid, since the roof space per person is small you will need the solar panels or wind farms to be away from the households that they are serving,” says an experienced investor in the power sector. Yet judging from the trends thus far, solar power is likely to increasingly gain traction. Off-grid solar power would be a challenge in urban areas, however. But as it is ideal for rural and agricultural communities, it would free up the grid to serve more power-hungry urban areas via other power sources; which although not environment-friendly, would not be as harmful as less power would be needed from them. With government regulation in place, what would really drive renewable power sources like solar in Nigeria and elsewhere is if it becomes cheaper than other sources.

An edited version was published by African Business magazine in October 2018

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper column (Tuesdays). See link viz. https://www.businessdayonline.com/columnist/rafiq-raji/article/renewable-power-nigeria-progress-report/