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What we learned from the Conference on Financial Sector Development in African States Facing Fragile Situations? - Part 1

19.07.2016Amadou Sy, Director of Africa Growth Initiative, Brookings Institution

Last month, leaders from the public and private sectors and development partners gathered in Abidjan to discuss the links between fragility, resilience and financial sector development in Africa. This event, a joint initiative created by the African Development Bank, the Making Finance Work for Africa Partnership (MFW4A), FSD Africa, FIRST Initiative and the Initiative for Risk Mitigation in Africa (IRMA), also provided an opportunity to explore prospects for partnerships, innovative policies and private sector-led solutions to accelerate financial sector development in fragile situations in Africa.

In this first instalment of a six-part series, Amadou Sy, Senior Fellow and Director of the African Growth Initiative, Brookings Institution, looks at some of the major takeaways of the conference.

What is fragility?

Using a "harmonized definition," the African Development Bank (AfDB), the Asian Development Bank, and the World Bank classify states as being fragile when they exhibit poor governance or when they face an unstable security situation. For practical purposes, governance is measured by the quality of policies and institutions (states with a CPIA score less than or equal to 3.2) and insecurity is assessed by the presence of United Nations or regional peace keeping operations (PKO). In sub-Saharan Africa most fragile states are also low-income countries (LICs).

While the focus of the "harmonized definition" is on institutions and insecurity, participants stressed that fragility is a multi-faceted concept. In particular, fragility implies weak state institutions, poor implementation capacity, underdeveloped legal and financial infrastructure as well as low social cohesion and the exclusion of a large share of the population from financial and other services. The nature of fragility is also fluid and fragile states face situations ranging from violent conflicts to post-conflict economic recovery. The sources of fragility go beyond poor governance, low GDP per capita, and conflicts to include vulnerability to commodity shocks and other macroeconomic shocks, and exposure to the risk of pandemics.

The need to broaden the definition of fragility was further explored with reference to a quote from President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia "fragility is not a category of states, but a risk inherent in the development process itself". Mr. Sibry Tapsoba, Director of the Transition Support Department of the AfDB argued for a multidimensional approach, which applies a fragility lens to (i) look beyond conflict and violence; (ii) focus on inclusiveness and institutions; (iii) recognize the importance of the private sector; and (iv) recognize the presence of asymmetries in resources, policy, and capacity.

Participants also insisted on the need to go beyond the negative connotation of fragility and recognize instead that fragile states are in transition and present opportunities for human and financial sector development.

What role for financial sector development (FSD) in fragile countries?

Empirical evidence points to the positive role that financial sector development (FSD) can play in fragile countries. There is a positive correlation between financial sector and economic growth, poverty reduction, and inequality reduction. FSD can be a driver of growth through increased job creation and it can help mitigate risks through increased savings, loans, and insurance.

A key finding stressed by Ms. Emiko Todoroki, Senior Financial Sector Specialist at FIRST Initiative is that fragile countries fare worst in all macro and financial metrics, except one: the share of adults with mobile accounts. Digital financial services are offering solutions in fragile states and there is a need to understand better their role.

In the same vein, Ms. Thea Anderson, Director at Mercy Corps argued for the need to focus in on micro issues such as the role of delivery channels, payments infrastructure, insurance, and blended finance (including impact investment), and Islamic finance. As she noted, FSD is relevant even in the more volatile security situations. For instance, refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) can be viewed as a market segment and their financial inclusion can be kick-started with the use of functional identification (which also help comply with Know Your Customer (KYC) requirements). Mr. Paul Musoke, Director of Change Management at FSD Africa also highlighted the role of markets and market building in a difficult context. He noted the need to look for scale, sustainability, and systemic change. As markets are dynamic and not predictable, taking a systems approach can be useful. Such an approach includes asking questions such as what factors are going to play a role in the future? Who is going to pay for infrastructure? What level of development should we target?

Lastly, Mr. Cedric Mousset, Lead Financial Sector Specialist, World Bank reminded the audience that governance remains a key dimension of fragility. Weak governance in fragile countries exposes them to a higher risk of non-compliance with regulations such as anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism (AML-CFT) regulation. Improving governance, although it may be a slow process, is needed to support FSD. Measures to support political stability, improve the business and macroeconomic environment, ensure legal security, and build capacity remain important.

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You can download all the presentations on the conference website.

You can also view a selection of photos here.

For more information, please contact:

Pierre Valere Nketcha Nana
Email :p.nketcha-nana[at]afdb.org

Abdelkader Benbrahim
Email: a.benbrahim[at]afdb.org

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