Leading the charge

Afreximbank’s Kanayo Awani at the forefront of AfCFTA

By Julien Clémençot

Posted on November 30, 2022 16:00

 Nigeria’s Kanayo Awani, first woman from the left, was recognised for her role in Afreximbank as a major contributor to AfCFTA’s success. © AFIS
Nigeria’s Kanayo Awani, first woman from the left, was recognised for her role in Afreximbank as a major contributor to AfCFTA’s success. © AFIS

Named Woman of the Year at the Africa Financial Industry Summit, Afreximbank’s new vice-president Kanayo Awani has helped make her group one of the major players in the continental free trade area project.

Afreximbank will always see Kanayo Awani as a pioneer. Appointed in July as vice-president in charge of the Intra-African Trade Bank (Inat), she is the first woman to reach this level of responsibility within the pan-African institution headed by Benedict Oramah.

She shares this rank with Zimbabwe’s Denys Denya and Cameroon’s Georges Elombi.

On 28 November in Lomé, she also became the first recipient of the Woman of the Year award at the Africa Financial Industry Summit (AFIS), the pan-African financial sector’s new annual meeting, organised by the Jeune Afrique Media Group (JAMG) and International Finance Corporation (IFC).

The award recognises her involvement in promoting intra-African trade, particularly the African Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). During the event, AFIS also honoured Ade Ayemi, Ecobank’s CEO, and John Rwangombwa, governor of the Central Bank of Rwanda, the Sunu Group and start-up Jumo.

Focus on intra-African trade

A graduate of the University of Nigeria and Harvard, Awani began her career in Nigeria in the early 1990s with Citigroup. By the time she left the US bank, she was the head of the department in charge of industrial and commercial enterprises.

After a short stint at Nigeria’s Agricultural & Cooperative Bank (NACB), she joined Afreximbank in 2009 as head of trade finance and branches, making this department the bank’s most profitable within a few years (80% of its loan portfolio).

Then, in 2016, one year after Oramah became the head of the institution, she was appointed director-general of the intra-African trade initiative.

In 2018, she and her president embodied Afreximbank’s involvement in implementing the African Continental Free Trade Area project, whose agreement was signed in Kigali by 44 states.

Under her watch, the bank increased its share of intra-African trade from 3% to 28% by the end of 2021, making more than $20bn of financing available to economic operators.

$10bn contracts

At the same time, the financier, who continues to accumulate training by attending management programmes at the best schools, from Insead to IMD, has also overseen the creation of a support programme for African champions.

25 contracts were signed, enabling major companies on the continent to expand their activities outside their country of origin, representing a sum of around $10bn.

Finally, Awani was the driving force behind the creation of the Intra-African Trade Fair in 2018. The last edition, which was held in Durban in November 2021, brought together more than 1,500 exhibitors from 69 countries and resulted in more than $42bn in contracts signed.

In total, Afreximbank currently oversees no less than 10 initiatives and structures related to AfCFTA, which it manages under the Inat division.

“Kanayo Awani’s appointment recognises the pivotal role she has played in promoting intra-African trade over the past few years.

“It also demonstrates the Board’s confidence in her ability to provide much-needed leadership as Afreximbank intensifies its efforts to further boost trade in Africa, in parallel with its activities in support of AfCFTA,” Oramah said after the committee meeting that endorsed her promotion in June.

In February 2023, the African Union, recognising Afreximbank’s role in AfCFTA’s operationalisation, is expected to grant the bank the status of AU trade agency. This will give added legitimacy to Awani’s work, which seeks to make African potential one of the main engines of development – and therefore of sovereignty – for the continent.

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