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Banking

Ecobank faces moments of truth

A long, debilitating battle over the position of its chairman has led to much soul-searching and investigation at Ecobank, one of Africa’s leading banks. But the direction of the business is the most pressing issue for its bullish chief executive, Thierry Tanoh.

October 29 was no ordinary day for Ecobank Transnational, the pan-African lender that serves many of the world’s most underachieving and underbanked markets.

Months of bickering between board members divided over the future of the bank’s embattled chairman, Kolapo Lawson, and vexed by a near-constant stream of controversies, from chief executive Thierry Tanoh’s bonus to leaked claims of high-level mismanagement, finally came to a head.

This was the fifth such get-together in just three months – this time in Accra, Ghana. Each meeting proved more hostile than the last, pitting factions either supportive or critical of Lawson – and thus the bank’s tone, shape, direction and strategy – against one another.

Yet even the die-hard supporters of a man who had been with the company for much of his working life, joining Ecobank in 1989 and ascending to the chairmanship 20 years later, were wavering. So much so that the bank’s octogenarian co-founder, Gervais Koffi Djondo, had called for the ousting of Lawson.

In the eyes of many, the firm’s good name had been stained – although not yet irretrievably – by the constant flow of conjecture and allegation. Shareholders, politicians and regulators spanning sub-Saharan Africa, along with a smattering of interested global institutions, were demanding to be served the chairman’s head on a plate.

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