Bob Diamond takes foothold in African Banking

Former Barclays CEO Bob Diamond’s, and his Ugandan-born entrepreneur and multibillionaire partner Ashish Thakkar’s, investment firm—Atlas Mara—took just under a week to make good on plans to target African banking opportunities. First, by snapping up BancABC and its controlling shareholder, ADC African Development, for $265 million, and then by signing a nonbinding MoU to take over the commercial arm of the state-owned Development Bank of Rwanda.

Garry White, chief investment commentator of UK stockbroking firm Charles Stanley, sees Atlas Mara’s first moves as a shrewd investment, but does not believe Diamond is motivated by charity or altruism—as he claims: “Bob Diamond exists to make money for Bob Diamond, whatever he says. This isn’t to help develop Africa, it’s to make money for Bob Diamond and his partners.”

That said, White agrees Diamond knows how to build a bank and build a business in Africa—a view shared by Emma Wright, business development manager at consultancy Africa Matters. She believes two such savvy businessmen in the African financial markets is testament to the scale of opportunities in Africa today. “The development of the financial sector will bring liquidity and access to finance, strengthening the financial systems and supporting growth. [It] will not be without its challenges but … the challenges should not be insurmountable. We hope to see the positive effects of their investments contributing to financial deepening in African markets, which will be beneficial to entrepreneurs and businesses and will support economic growth across the region.”

“It’s quite exciting, but I also see lots of risks,” cautions White. “I do wish them success. I don’t necessarily want to make Mr. Diamond any richer, but if he can increase the development of Africa, then that has to be good on a global context.”