Afreximbank president Benedict Oramah’s allies and inner circle

By Aurélie M'Bida

Posted on Tuesday, 12 July 2022 18:29
Afreximbank president Benedict Oramah's networks. © The Africa Report

A champion of the AfCFTA, Afreximbank president Benedict Oramah has made the bank the financial arm of the project. To carry out his mission, he relies on people who support the integration of the continental market.

Since the March 2018 signing of the intra-African free-trade agreement in Kigali, and the launch, three years later, of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) has been at the forefront of continental economic cooperation. The African Union leads the project from a political standpoint, with the bank as its financial arm.

The multilateral financial institution, headed by Benedict Oramah since 2015, is responsible for implementing the Pan African Payment and Settlement System (PAPSS) project, expected to resolve the difficulties linked to multi-currency convertibility across the continent. This will remove a key stumbling block for the development of inter-African trade.

A leading figure at Afreximbank and a fervent defender of continental market integration, over the past few months the Nigerian has become one of the faces of the AfCFTA, and one of its main promoters. So who does he rely on to accomplish this mission?

Jean-Louis Ekra, a former president of Afreximbank (2005-2015), contributed to Oramah’s rise within the bank. Ekra is now accompanying him on free-trade issues as deputy chairman of the advisory board of the Intra-African Trade Fair (IATF) to be held in Côte d’Ivoire next year.

George Elombi, the bank’s executive vice-president in charge of legal and governance issues, is a loyal ally. The University of London graduate with a doctorate in law is a specialist on customs barriers.

The Egyptian banker Amr Kamel, the bank’s executive vice-president in charge of business development and corporate banking, is behind several agreements that help implement Oramah’s strategy, including a $100m risk-sharing contract signed with the UK development finance institution the CDC Group and Société Générale.

Nigerian Kanayo Awani, formerly at Citigroup, rose through the ranks at Afreximbank alongside her compatriot Oramah, who became president in 2015. A year later, she was appointed director of the institution’s intra-African trade initiative division.

Outside of Afreximbank, Oramah has built a solid network among leading African economic figures. Among them is the Cameroonian economist Vera Songwe, who is executive secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. She is another key figure in the championing of intra-African trade. Another close friend of the Nigerian banker is Albert Muchanga of Zambia, who is commissioner for trade and industry at the African Union.

These are the people lifting the heavy building blocks of the AfCFTA. South African Wamkele Mene, the AfCFTA secretary general, has become a very frequent interlocutor of the president of Afreximbank. The Nigerian Mike Ogbalu III, the general manager of the PAPSS, has emerged from the shadows in recent months. This engineer by training is a specialist in fintech. He was managing director of a subsidiary of the Interswitch group and head of the cards and e-products division at Ecobank. Abdulrahman Al Hamidy, is CEO of the Arab Monetary Fund, which operates Buna, the cross-border and multi-currency payment system with which PAPSS has partnered.

In addition to the African Development Bank’s (AfDB) financial contribution to the implementation of AfCFTA, Oramah’s compatriot and mentor, the AfDB president Akinwumi Adesina, is seeking to attract foreign investment on the promise of smoother economic exchanges on the continent.

Another high-end salesman for the cause is the former president of Nigeria (1999-2007) Olusegun Obasanjo, known for his outspokenness and the depth of his address book, who has always been close to the leaders of the pan-African financial institution. He accompanies the Afreximbank president on many international business visits. Obasanjo is also chairman of the advisory committee of the IATF, on which Oramah sits.

Afreximbank has always had strong links with Nigeria, having been founded in Abuja in 1993. Also close to the bank’s president is Godwin Emefiele, the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria since 2014 and formerly of Zenith Bank. He often travels with with Oramah, notably in his role as chairman of the PAPSS governance committee.

Although he is discreet about his links with the political sphere, Oramah cannot hide the support of ‘ambassadors’ like heads of state Alassane Ouattara of Côte d’Ivoire and Paul Kagame, president of Rwanda. The former will host the next IATF in 2023. And the latter hosted the signing of the AfCFTA in 2018. In addition, Afreximbank’s Fund for Export Development in Africa, launched in August 2021, is headquartered in Kigali.

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