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Africa bids to enter the ratings war

Leaders plan for African agency to boost the continent's voice in world finance

The African Union (AU) appears determined to enter the credit ratings market having set itself a 31 December deadline to launch its own agency.

The plan was confirmed following a two-day gathering in Zambia of the AU's African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), organised with the Open Society Foundations (OSF), the foundation  funded by billionaire philanthropist George Soros.

Part of the motivation for the AU is the belief that the current 'big three' –  Moody's, Fitch and Standard & Poor's – do not fairly assess the risk of lending to African countries and are also quicker to downgrade them during crises (Dispatches 15/8/23, Leaders mull ways to rein in the global credit agencies).

A United Nations Development Programme study in April 2023 showed that African countries could save up to US$74.5 billion if credit ratings were based on less subjective assessments.

Currently, 22 African countries do not have credit ratings from the big three, and the idea is that the new African Credit Rating Agency (ACRA) will fill this gap.

UNECA says that an AU agency would provide 'balanced and comprehensive opinions' on African credit instruments, that could, in turn, support affordable access to capital and the development of domestic financial markets.

'There are a lot of instruments that need rating on the local financial markets. The idea is that once there is enough domestic financial market support, countries should be able to borrow in local currencies,' said Misheck Mutize, the APRM's credit rating agency expert.

It is not the only recent proposal by African leaders to strengthen the continent's voice in international finance. At the African Union summit in March, leaders launched the so-called 'Africa Club' – The Alliance of African Multilateral Financial Institutions (which are African-owned and controlled) – as an equivalent to the Paris and London Clubs that gather international state and private sector creditors.

However, without market credibility, the ratings will carry little value and the initial annual operational capital of $873,000 for the ACRA – which is intended to be self-financing – looks distinctly meagre.

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