Islamic Finance’s Africa Affinity Sweepstakes

Malaysia’s Islamic Finance Center regular bulletin surveyed the sector’s “centerpiece” status in a half dozen African countries, with 50 banks including major ones in Egypt, Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa providing sharia-compliant products through dedicated windows. Sukuk bonds in turn have spread to Senegal, Mauritius, Gambia and Morocco with the African Finance Corporation recently issuing a $150 million pilot. Globally the industry should have $6 trillion in assets by end-decade, and Kuala Lumpur’s example, with 75 percent of corporate fixed income in sukuk form, can be replicated elsewhere. The worldwide Islamic bond total last year was $350 billion, almost a 10 percent annual increase. The report argues that the style fits a “responsible investment” strategy with over $20 trillion in commitments and that the regulatory and liquidity management pieces are now in place with twenty core standards and official backstop facilities. African growth is partially due to Asian and Middle East funds seeking additional outlets and to its natural resource and demographic base creating demand for credit and savings tools. It is also a means to financial inclusion with the vast unbanked population, with family and friends relied on ten times more than formal sources for small-scale loans across eight representative countries including Niger, Uganda and Zambia. Micro-finance could be a catalyst for business such as halal food export and the Islamic Development Bank and Sudan have concentrated efforts there.  Regional infrastructure needs are close to $100 billion/year and long-term Islamic bonds should meet diversification goals as short term government activity picks up in Gambia, Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal. “ Green” clean energy projects are proliferating across the continent to relieve shortages where these techniques could be adopted at the outset, aided by technical assistance from official lenders as well as consulting and training arms attached to more advanced Islamic hubs.

Egypt’s previous push was associated with Muslim Brotherhood rule, but since President Al-Sisi came to power it has been tied to local and external bond market normalization in the context of IMF program return. Foreign investors have acquired $1 billion in domestic instruments after shunning them entirely since the Arab Spring. The first Fund mission praised the 9 percent of GDP budget deficit and 4% growth for the first quarter, although inflation spurted to 30 percent after currency and subsidy swings. The central bank hiked the policy rate 200 basis points to over 17 percent to further fatten local yields although taxation could change. Nigeria has also tightened monetary policy through open market operations and foreign exchange sales as officials try to ease currency controls in the belief that economic shock has passed with oil price recovery and non-oil sector stimulus. Spending is due to rise 10 percent in real terms in the latest budget as the government looks to foreign military and diplomatic support to fight Boko Haram and famine in the north. The president is still on extended medical leave with an undisclosed illness and the vice president is by all accounts in charge of the reform and stabilization agenda to include a new petroleum industry bill debated for years without passage. A diaspora external bond is in the pipeline with a sukuk version likely as the family expands.

Posted in