Saturday December 14, 2019
By Samuel Gebre
Abiy Ahmed Photographer: Zacharias Abubeker/AFP via Getty Images
Ethiopia is set to receive $2.9 billion from the International Monetary Fund, adding much-needed impetus to Prime Minister and Nobel laureate Abiy Ahmed’s economic reform agenda.
Having reached a preliminary agreement for the loans, all that remains is approval by the Washington-based financial agency’s executive board that meets Dec. 18. Together with $1.2 billion from the World Bank and a further $1 billion in the pipeline, the two institutions will now cover about 60% of the funding for Abiy’s plan, dubbed Homegrown Economic Reform, the ruling party-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corp reported.
Abiy has made rapid changes to Ethiopia’s once tightly regulated political and economic space since coming to power last April, with plans to open up state-owned industries, from telecommunications to energy, to more foreign investment.
“This IMF deal is one of the biggest ideological shifts I’ve seen in Africa this decade,” Charlie Robertson, Renaissance Capital’s global chief economist, said in a note to clients. “This immediately matters to bidders for telecom licenses in Ethiopia, holders of the illiquid single sovereign Eurobonds and private equity groups who’ve already invested in the continent’s second-largest country by population, attracted by two decades of very high growth.”
While the Horn of Africa nation boasts the continent’s fastest-growing economy and drew a record $13 billion of inflows in Abiy’s first year in office, it’s grappling with inflation of 20.8% -- a five-year high -- and spends as much as $700 million a year on grain imports to cover food shortages. That’s putting a strain on foreign-exchange supplies already limited by large current-account deficits and debt.
In July, the IMF cautioned that the government could face difficulties servicing its debt obligations, and urged it to increase revenue and boost export growth by “creating room for higher levels of domestic and foreign private investment.”
Moody’s Investors Service provisionally assesses the country’s debt at four levels below investment grade, alongside Turkey and Greece, with a negative outlook. Fitch Ratings and S&P Global Ratings are one notch lower.
The funding package “undermines my view that Ethiopia will be downgraded within 12 months,” Robertson said. “It also means Ethiopia should be neutral rather than underweight as per our weighting recommendation earlier this week.”
Besides the IMF and World Bank, United Nations agencies and the European Investment Bank are finalizing agreements on a further $3 billion in funding, Abiy said on Facebook Friday.
The reforms Abiy is undertaking come against a backdrop of ethnic tension and widespread violence, partly triggered by political reforms. His unbanning of opposition and rebel groups has stoked political fragmentation and long-suppressed rivalries among ethnic communities.
The country is scheduled to hold general elections in 2020, which Abiy has vowed will be free and fair.