New regulations to allow diaspora Ethiopians to invest in financial services sector

Ethiopians living outside the country will soon be allowed to invest in the country’s financial services sector, an activity they have been in the past been barred from engaging in.

This follows an announcement by the National Bank of Ethiopia (NBE), which is in charge of regulating the financial services sector in the country, that it will introduce a new regulation to allow Ethiopians in the diaspora to invest in the financial sector that includes banking, insurance and micro finance.

The country’s Council of Ministers during a meeting approved the Draft Banking Business Proclamation, allowing Diaspora citizens to establish banks in Ethiopia.

According to media reports, Yinager Desse, the Governor of NBE, stated that the draft regulation would be presented to relevant stakeholders for review before it can be approved.

In the past, banks had to identify Ethiopian and non-Ethiopian shareholders then sell the shares held by non-Ethiopians. Some of the disposed shares belonged to people who had changed their citizenship after moving to other countries after buying shares in local banks or being handed the shares by family members as part of their inheritances.

Affected institutions were ordered to sell the shares in an open bid and settle the extra amount of the share value to the government. This saw banks that may consider one share as having an initial value of 1,000-birr value selling out the value by, for example 10,000 birr (at current value), and then transferring the extra 9,000 birr to the government while keeping the original value which was 1,000 birr.

Soon, affected Ethiopians in the diaspora began to express reservations and oppose the government’s method of disposing their shares in the financial services industry. Addis Fortune reported that although many have not only objected the decision but also grumbled about its fairness, Sophia Bekele, the founder of DotConnectAfrica (DCA) and an Ethiopian native with US citizenship was the first to  challenge central bank’s decision with her lawyers taking the case to the Lideta First Instance Court.

Ms Bekele decided to take the legal route in the issue, mounting a legal challenge against the National Bank of Ethiopia last year after she lost shares she had inherited from her late father, the founder of both United Bank and United Insurance, at an undervalued rate at both institutions. In the end, the court ordered both companies to reinstate the shares and allow her to transfer them to a third party of her choice.

And it’s therefore not surprising that Ms Bekele was among those who welcomed the latest government move to allow those in the diaspora to invest in the financial services industry.

She told ITBusinessDirect, a news website: “We congratulate the current government for upholding what is right, however work still remains to be done in separating the investors from the inheritors, which has been the main contention of my case.  We will thus be pursuing that further and expect a reversal of decision on the matter.

She added: “What the previous government did was illegal and unjust, particularly on the blanket treatment of inheritors vs. investors. We expect the new law to redress that. Imagine siblings from the same family unit being treated differently on their inherited assets just because of their citizenship. It makes no sense at all.”

The proposed regulations would also allow banks to mobilize finances from not only local sources but overseas investors in order to expand the country’s economic growth.


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