Chad is not a country usually on the radar of most investors. However, if Arnold Ekpe, CEO of Ecobank, is to be believed, business people might just find some good opportunities in the country.
“We run the biggest bank in Chad. Why? Because we are not afraid of Chad. How many of you here would be willing to go to your board of directors and say, ‘We would like to invest [in Chad]’? I don’t think there will be that many people. But if you look at the fundamental risk, it is very different,” said Ekpe yesterday during the Ernst & Young Strategic Growth Forum Africa conference in Cape Town.
He noted that perceptions about many African countries are often different from reality. “Take Chad, for example. Chad is an oil producer. Chad is part of the Central Africa CFA franc region … It just so happens to be next to Darfur and Libya, but that is just a coincidence. You can just ignore that, and focus on the core issues. And it becomes a very exciting market.”
Chad has a population of just over 11 million people, with GDP growth of 4.2% in 2010. In their Doing Business 2012 report, the World Bank and IFC ranks Chad in the last position, out of a total of 183 economies, for ease of doing business. The 2011 Ibrahim Index of African Governance also paints a gloomy picture of Chad, by ranking the country in 52nd position (out of a total of 53 countries).
“Perhaps the defining characteristic of Ecobank is that where others see risk, we see opportunity. We believe in Africa. We are passionate about Africa, and we take a long-term view,” said Ekpe.
Ecobank was established in Togo in 1985 as an initiative to create a private African banking institution in west Africa. Ekpe was CEO of the bank from 1996 to 2001. He rejoined as CEO in 2005, and since his return, has led the growth and transformation of Ecobank into a leading pan-African financial institution. Today Ecobank is a full-service bank with a presence in 32 sub-Saharan African countries, employing over 20,000 people and generating revenues of close to US$1 billion.
Ekpe offered the audience the following words of advice on doing business in Africa: “If there is one thing that we’ve learnt, is that you must take a long-term view. You must never be discouraged by challenges or unexpected roadblocks, but try to convert them into opportunities. To succeed in Africa, you shouldn’t jettison all your experience in more developed markets, [but] you need to do something different. You need to develop a more entrepreneurial, a more positive mindset … and a culture of boldness, agility and resourcefulness. You definitely need people on the ground who know the terrain. This fosters a different attitude to risk.”