The Chronicle Gambia

Gambia Lagging as West Africa Bloc Plans Cross-Border Debt Market in 2023

Plan by 15 West African nations to link up their debt markets is on track to become a reality by the end of 2023, part of a wider push toward great integration for their economies and finances, a market regulator said.

The aim is to open up the debt auctions of individual countries to investors from across the Economic Community of West African States, or Ecowas, as the bloc is called, Daniel Ogbarmey Tetteh, director-general of Ghana’s Securities and Exchange Commission, said in an interview with Bloomberg.

To allow that to happen, regulators and stock exchanges from across Ecowas are working to put in place a passport system that would allow broker-dealers to trade across the different markets, he said. The idea is that by giving member nations access to a wider pool of lenders, they’ll bring down their borrowing costs.

One major advantage is that you get a bigger base of investors bidding for a country’s bonds,” Tetteh said.

The plan is part of a wider drive for greater economic integration by Ecowas, a trading bloc with a combined population of 380 million people. The group has been setting up a common currency — called the eco — for more than two decades, although the pandemic has forced it to push that project back to 2027.

Tetteh said the key to the debt-market plan’s success would be ensuring that the countries are on an equal footing in terms of systems and processes.

The Gambia and a few, lagging.

While Nigeria, Ghana, and the eight French-speaking Ecowas have well-developed stock exchanges and regulatory mechanisms, The Gambia, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea still lag behind. The African Development Bank is providing grants to help those countries improve their market infrastructure.

Tabling a supplementary budget proposal before the parliament, Gambia’s Finance Minister Mambury Njai confessed that  “The Gambia has accumulated substantial share capital arrears owed to the ECOWAS Bank for Investment and Development (EBID).It must be emphasized that this is an institution that we stand to meaningfully benefit from, especially in the area of the private sector and rural infrastructure development. To maximize these benefits, we deem it necessary to commence settling some of our equity arrears.

Prices for the debt of the different Ecowas nations show how much borrowing terms vary across the region. For example, yields on government local debt maturing in 10 years range from 5.9% in Ivory Coast and 12.7% in Nigeria to 19.7% in Ghana, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The long-term goal is to set up one virtual secondary market for bonds and stocks, said Tetteh. After that, Tetteh said that cross-border deals would be done through convertible currencies such as dollars, pounds, and euros until the region creates its own common currency.

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