Jean-Louis Ekra: Chairman and President, Afreximbank.

Author:Ekra, Jean-Louis

The Bank is celebrating 20 years this year but how has the Bank evolved or changed over those last 20 years?

The Bank was created at a time of Afro-pessimism during the '80s. As a result of the debt crisis, many international banks had stopped their lending operations to Africa. That's what led the African ministers of finance to think about establishing a trade finance institution that will fill the gap created by the departure of most international banks from African trade finance.

The Bank started supporting financing for the import of oil, rice and other essential products, eventually moving on to the crucial issues for the transformation of economies from those based on the export of commodities to those that are based on adding value to exports.

So really, the role of the Bank is as an instrument to fill the gap that was observed. We believe that, although this road is quite long, we are a long way down it.

The mandate of the Bank to help to transform economies is very large. What sectors or industries are you looking to focus on at the moment?

The Bank has been supporting private sector entities in the agriculture, energy, transportation, telecommunications and mineral/metals sectors. It also supports manufacturing sector entities involved in the transformation of the continent's primary products.

We have financed cocoa--not only raw cocoa but the installation of agro-processing plants to transform raw cocoa into products which have value addition to the continent. If you take four countries in West Africa--Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon--they control about 75-80 per cent of the production and export of cocoa in the world and yet less than 20 per cent of that cocoa is transformed in Africa. That's what has led us to initiate what we call the AFRICOIN, meaning Africa Cocoa Initiative. It is an initiative intended to transform the current economy of cocoa to ensure that you have more of this cocoa transformed on our continent.

We have also made headway in the hospitality/tourism sector. We have a product which we call CONTOUR, the Construction and Tourism Relay Facility, which helps African countries develop first-class hotels, in support of the tourism service export. Unless you have hotels that are of international standing, you have difficulties...

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