Because of historical and cultural reasons, French speaking African countries have traditionally been tied to financial institutions in France. As a result, many excellent investment opportunities have gone begging. Now a new bank with African shareholding has been set up in London to correct the imbalance. Anver Versi reports.
If China's intense interest in Africa served as the starting pistol in the new scramble for Africa, then the race is now well and truly engaged on a global level and the devil take the hindmost. Where once Africa went searching for investors, investment is now seeking out Africa.
"Today, there is tremendous excitement over Africa in the investment world," says Eric Aouani, the 42-year-old chief executive officer of the very recently established Medicapital Bank. "The question is 'invest where and in what'? Africa is still a big question mark in many people's minds."
An even bigger question mark in the minds of investors based in London is the potential of Francophone and Lusophone Africa. "In London, when people talk of Africa, they mean Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya and other Anglophone countries; says Aouani. "Because of linguistic and historical reasons, non-Anglophone African countries tend to slip under the radar. This is a pity because both parties miss out on valuable opportunities."
It was precisely to plug this gap that Medicapital obtained a UK banking licence in May last year. The aim is to act as an interface between the large pool of investors in London and the bank's clients, mainly in Francophone Africa and Angola. As it stands, French and Portuguese speaking countries tend to rely almost entirely on French and Portuguese institutions.
The new bank has excellent pedigree. It is the new wholesale banking and investment arm of one of Africa's most successful groups--Banque Marocaine du Commerce Exterieur (BMCE). It also becomes the very first bank from Francophone Africa to be established in the UK.
We were conversing in Medicapital's impressive offices directly opposite the world famous St Paul's Cathedral in London's financial district.
Why move across the water to London when Paris would seem the natural base for a primarily Francophone organisation? "Because London is the financial capital of the world for emerging markets," said Aouani. "Large and small investors from every part of the world trade in London. If you are trying to connect investors with projects in Africa, or for that...