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Africa: A Broader View of Eximbank’s Activity and Achievements in Africa

In mid-April, the Bank hosted an exceptionally popular and well-attended Global Business Development Summit which highlighted the African diaspora and specifically focused on increasing - and financing - U.S.-Africa trade. Africans from the public and private sectors were there, as were their counterparts from the United States and the Caribbean.

The undersigned are members of the U.S. Export-Import Bank (Eximbank) Sub-Sahara Africa Advisory Committee (SAAC), an outside advisory body made up of professionals who in each instance have extensive experience in U.S.-Africa trade, investment and development policy and/or diplomacy relating to the African continent.

We are prompted to submit this letter by an article that appeared in Bloomberg News on May 15 detailing a report from the Eximbank Inspector General. Among other findings, the report – Evaluation of EXIMBANK’s Sub-Saharan Africa Mandate – faults the bank’s current leadership in regards to certain of Eximbank’s Africa activities. This letter expresses the opinions of the undersigned only, not the SAAC or the Bank.


The IG report does not provide a fulsome picture of the work Eximbank is currently engaged in across Africa.


Indeed, having reviewed the IG’s report, we believe that, while certain of its recommendations are supportable, the conclusions do not provide a fulsome or particularly up-to-date picture of the work Eximbank is engaged in across Africa.

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For instance, we note that the report covers the period FY 2014 through FY 2023 – a decade during which Eximbank’s operations were severely impacted over several years by authorizations and funding being withheld. Eximbank’s statutory authority lapsed between July 1 and December 4, 2015. A lack of quorum on Eximbank’s Board of Directors prevented the agency from authorizing transactions in excess of $10 million from July 2015 to May 2019. As a result, the total value of Eximbank’s annual authorizations declined by nearly 84 percent – from $20.5 billion in FY 2014 to $3.3 billion in FY 2018. The normal pipeline of projects seeking financing for exports to sub-Saharan Africa was depleted and rebuilding that pipeline took some years to begin recovering once Eximbank’s authorization was restored in 2019.

Upon assuming office as President and Chair of the Board of Directors of Eximbank in February 2022, Reta Jo Lewis – the first African American woman to serve in that role – pronounced her intention to make the Bank’s involvement in African trade and US/Africa economic partnership consequential. Those of us with decades of interaction with Eximbank and with considerable experience in U.S.-Africa trade issues recognize the important contribution the Bank’s involvement can make to any effort to engage in productive trade partnerships in Africa.

We do not intend to second guess the Inspector General regarding the purposes of the report. However, we are of the opinion that if the IG Report was intended to create a productive outcome for the Bank’s Africa programs, that goal was not fully met.

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While we do not ascribe any particular motive to the OIG’s report, its tenor might create an erroneously negative impression of Eximbank’s current Africa initiatives. We believe it is important to augment the public record with facts relating to some historically important achievements in Africa of late by the Bank.

To begin with, we are immediately struck by the fact that Ms. Lewis is the first African American woman to serve in Eximbank’s top post, a factor which is not inconsequential with regard to interactions with trading partners in Africa. Moreover, Eximbank has – on dozens of occasions of late, at home and internationally – publicly committed to greatly improving its coverage in Africa and to making its involvement in the U.S.-Africa trade partnership reflective of the importance of Africa to world commerce.

Eximbank
Export-Import Bank of the United States
Eximbank CEO Reta Jo Lewis swith Nigeria’s Bank of Industry CEO Dr. Olasupo Olusi at the Global Business Development Summit in Washington, DC, after signing an MOU “to encourage collaboration and identify projects that enhance economic prosperity between Nigeria and the United States. ”

We believe that the Bank is largely living up to those intentions, even as it acknowledges inherent and historical challenges. As some examples of current forward-leaning activities by the Bank in regard to its Africa portfolio, we wish to list just a few of the Bank’s recent actions that highlight focused and dedicated attention to U.S.-African trade.

In mid-April, the Bank hosted an exceptionally popular and well-attended Global Business Development Summit which highlighted the African diaspora and specifically focused on increasing – and financing – U.S.-Africa trade. Africans from the public and private sectors were there, as were their counterparts from the United States and the Caribbean.

Moreover, senior leaders of Eximbank have been proactive in reaching out to African leaders and African project sponsors where they are. The Chair and other officials have travelled to the African continent eight times and have met with and hosted over 60 African heads of state and senior ministers.


Eximbank currently has the most active presence in Africa and engagement with the African diaspora in its history.


Additionally – and importantly, given the endemic lack of financing available to those wishing to trade with Africa – Eximbank has focused on forging new trade-finance leveraging arrangements with African sovereigns and with Africa-focused financial institutions, including U.S. banks and Afreximbank, African Development Bank, African Finance Corporation and the Bank of Industry in Nigeria.

Eximbank has been heralded worldwide for its historic $1.4 billion financing of solar energy and related infrastructure projects, as well as, for example, financing for Ethiopian Airways asset acquisitions that were needed to sustain the airline’s leadership role among global carriers.

In all, from where we each sit and based on our work across Africa, we believe Eximbank currently has the most active presence on the continent and engagement with the African diaspora in its history.

Our job as the SAAC committee is decidedly NOT to publicly defend Eximbank or its officials in any way. Far from it. We are instead asked to use our experiences to provide advice to Eximbank and support towards greater Eximbank financing of U.S.-Africa trade, done in a way that is both sustainable and designed to improve the lives of citizens on both continents.

By ensuring that the record of Eximbank’s achievements in African trade is accurate and ensuring that policymakers and stakeholders know of the Bank’s earnest efforts, we believe growth in the U.S.-Africa trade relationship can grow.

Signed:
Jude Kearney, Managing Partner ASAFO & Co. US LLP
Florie Liser, President and CEO of Corporate Council on Africa
Ambassador (Retired) Harry Thomas, Kissinger Fellow, Yale University’s Jacks`on School of  Global Affairs
Rev. Matthew Watley, Senior Pastor, Kingdom Fellowship AME Church
Wellington Webb, former Mayor of Denver and President and Founder of Webb Group International.

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