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Banks try to rebuild Morocco’s trans-Saharan empire

Across Africa, French leadership in banking is being replaced as Moroccan banks expand south of their borders, reviving historical political influences and ancient trade routes. Are these dreams sustainable or are they adventures heading towards disaster? Dominic O’Neill reports from Casablanca.

ONE OF MOROCCO’S most senior bankers is somewhat notorious for giving history lessons on the country’s relations with sub-Saharan Africa. But investors might be more interested in figures about profit growth and asset quality. As a first impression, the data do not do much to dispel the impression that romanticism is a bigger factor than commercial sense in Moroccan banks’ recent growth in Africa.

But the expansion continues. Morocco’s biggest bank by assets, Attijariwafa, has already taken control of four out of the five banks across west Africa whose majority stakes it agreed to purchase from France’s Crédit Agricole in late 2008. Attijariwafa now owns one of the biggest banks in each of Congo-Brazzaville, Gabon, Côte d’Ivoire, Tunisia and Senegal.

Ismail Douiri, co-chief executive at Attijariwafa

"Our international strategy in Africa is not about size or pride. It’s about value creation"

Ismail Douiri, Attijariwafa

Attijariwafa is also growing organically elsewhere in west Africa under its subsidiary brand CBAO, the biggest bank by assets in Senegal, with more than 30% market share, thanks to various acquisitions over the past three years.

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