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Bridging the Economic Divide Between Anglophone and Francophone Africa

Keith Boyfield - July 2012

World Economics emphasises the commercial chasm which remains to be bridged between francophone and Anglophone Africa. While the continent is enjoying strong economic growth its potential is shackled by persistent problems relating to currency exchange and bank transactions. Ecobank, the continent's fastest growing financial institution, is seeking to tackle these manifest problems. Keith Boyfield, World Economics' Africa Editor, reports on moves to remove these hurdles and interviews Arnold Ekpe, Ecobank's CEO at the bank's headquarters in Lome, Togo.

Economic growth continues to surge ahead in Sub Saharan Africa. The latest forecasts suggest Nigeria’s real GDP is set to grow this year by 7.7 per cent while Gabon is due to see its economy expand by 4.4 per cent. For the region as a whole the IMF forecast economic growth will increase from 5.1 per cent in 2011 to 5.4 per cent in 2012, albeit this figure is slightly lower than previously predicted. While the economies are smaller, this rate of expansion is far more bullish than the situation in Western Europe where economies continue to stagnate or indeed contract.

However, one wonders how much greater it would be if further progress could be achieved in terms of bridging the commercial chasm between Francophone and Anglophone Africa. Recent visits by the author to Gabon, Nigeria and Togo have reinforced the perception that much remains to be done with respect to promoting trade between the countries of West and Central Africa.

It is remarkably difficult, for instance, to exchange Naira, Nigeria’s currency, in Gabon and equally frustrating to exchange Central African Francs (CFA) in Lagos. Nor do Naira go far in Lome, the capital of Togo. West African CFA Francs are a nightmare to exchange in Nigeria, Africa’s second biggest economy and a country surrounded by French speaking nations using currencies pegged to the euro.

One rapidly expanding financial institution, Ecobank, is seeking to bridge the all too evident divide between Anglophone Nigeria and its neighbours. Whereas in 2006 Ecobank operated in 15 West and Central African countries it has now expanded its network to 32 countries throughout Africa and now boast over 1,150 branches in t...

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