11r the past few years, Kenya has witnessed considerable growth in Shariah-compliant products, a sign of the vast potential of Islamic finance in Kenya. The country now boasts two fully fledged Islamic banks, one fully fledged insurance provider (Takaful), one Islamic fund manager and one approved Collective Investment Scheme (CIS). For all this, as at December 2014, the Global Islamic Finance Report (GIFR), the developers and publishers of the Islamic Finance Country Index (IFCI), an indicator of developments in Islamic financial services, ranked Kenya 22nd globally and third in Africa behind Sudan and Egypt, but ahead of South Africa, Tunisia, Algeria, Nigeria, Senegal and the Gambia.
According to the IMF’s Islamic Finance: Opportunities, Challenges and Policy Options, Kenya is poised to see further contributions in at least three dimensions: greater financial inclusion, especially of large underserved Muslim populations; greater support for small and medium-sized enterprises (SME), due to its risk-sharing features; and the lowering of systemic risk, owing to its prohibition of speculation – a major risk for conventional finance. Clearly, the decision to amend the Central Bank Act, allowing the monetary authority to recognize the payment of profits based on income from underlying assets rather than interest on government securities, thereby opening up the spectrum of Sharia-compliant investments, was a sound one.
Kenya is now gearing up to issue its eagerly-awaited Sukuk (Islamic bond) in the 2016/2017 fiscal year, hoping to limit domestic borrowing and increase funding for mega infrastructure projects. The government appears to be following in the footsteps of Senegal and South Africa, both of which managed to raise $200 million and $500 million respectively through Sukuks. Countries and companies raise $100 billion globally every year through Sukuks, with African countries accounting for just 1% of the issues. The planned sovereign issue is also set to pave the way for the private sector and further development of Kenya’s capital markets.
From a sovereign perspective, through Islamic bonds, the Kenyan government will able to access a new investor base. According to a report by Standard & Poor’s (S&P), the Islamic Sukuk investor base is estimated to be over $500 billion, excluding sovereign wealth funds, official investors (central banks and multilateral organizations), and other conventional investors. Essentially, the move will tap into a vast pool of Persian wealth.
Sukuk bonds are known to offer more favorable repayment terms than conventional bonds and therefore attract infrastructure financing. It’s also worth noting that investors from the Middle East accounted for only 2% of Kenya’s debut Eurobond. The planned Shariah-compliant bond should see a ramp up in participation.
Individual investors in the country are also set to benefit immensely as Shariah-compliant products are not restricted to Muslims. What is also vital, perhaps due to its unique qualities, is that Islamic finance has become a good vehicle to diversify risk away from traditional asset classes. It is noted that Sukuk bonds and other financial instruments avoided many of the most severe consequences of the recent financial crisis because they were underpinned by equity, as opposed to debt. For instance, while the S&P 500 dropped 64%, Shariah-compliant indices lost no more than 53% and showed lower volatility, according to KPMG’s report, Islamic finance: From niche to mainstream.
Although Islamic finance has already taken off, there are some challenges facing the niche market. In January, the first International Islamic Finance Conference of Africa was held in Nairobi. It highlighted issues around regulations, investor education, compliance, and the limited range of available products and services. Kenya needs to deal with these challenges to see a smooth increase in Islamic financial products in its financial markets.
As the country positions itself as a financial and investment hub to tap into the growing capital inflows into Africa, it is important to celebrate the milestones achieved so far while working to improve further. With Islamic finance set to grow to $3 trillion within the next decade, according to S&P’s report: Islamic Finance To Still Grow In 2016 But With A Sag, rising popularity of Shariah-compliant products in Kenya will surely contribute to the country’s growth story.