Interview with Mr. Mohamed Yahya SIDI, Director General Banque Mauritanienne de l’investissement (BMI)

Interview with Mr. Mohamed Yahya SIDI, Director General Banque Mauritanienne de l’investissement (BMI)


Business Focus: New oil and gas finds are setting up the country to become a key exporter of gas during the global energy crisis, which could be quite lucrative. How significant are the upcoming Greater Tortue Ahmeyim and Sangomar oil and gas projects in positioning Mauritania as an important regional energy player, and how involved are local banks in supporting this kind of new industrial growth in the country?

Mohamed Yahya SIDI: The country’s vast capacities in renewable energy sources, particularly in solar and wind, position it as a notable energy hub within the sub-region. This recognition of Mauritania’s potential in the energy sector underscores the strategic significance and opportunities present, aligning with Banque Mauritanienne de I’investissement (BMI’s) role in the financial sector amid the country’s evolving energy landscape. The convergence of abundant gas reserves and renewable energy capabilities reinforces Mauritania’s standing in the energy domain, presenting new avenues for investment and economic growth that BMI is well-placed to navigate.


BF: How involved are banks in helping the government diversify into industries beyond extractives and agriculture?

Mohamed Yahya SIDI: Local banks are actively contributing to the expansion of this emerging sector by offering specialized financing solutions designed to facilitate the logistical requirements for its seamless operation. This includes financing for essential components such as road infrastructure, local inputs, and other logistical needs. It’s noteworthy that local banks are playing a crucial role in supporting this sector’s growth, demonstrating their commitment to fostering economic development despite the constraints posed by their limited financing capacities. This strategic involvement of local banks highlights their dedication to empowering key sectors within the economy, ensuring the necessary financial resources are available to drive sustainable growth.


BF: Mauritania’s financial sector remains quite stable, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. 18 national and foreign banks currently operate in Mauritania, and the sector has supported growth of the country’s economy. How do Mauritanian banks integrate into the global financial order? Where do they stand in terms of compliance, good governance, transparency, AML? What are the latest progress and reforms made? 

Mohamed Yahya SIDI: Banks have strategically allocated a substantial portion of their resources towards financing sectors characterized by high added value. Specifically, BMI has secured long-term credit lines from European investment banks (€40 million) and an international financial company ($20 million). These funds are earmarked for financing projects within high-value sectors, including fishing, services, and the food industry.

In 2023, the central bank took proactive steps to establish a robust regulatory framework for governance within banks, aligning with widely accepted standards. Key components of this framework include:

  • Mandating that one-third of the board of directors must consist of independent directors meeting well-defined conditions.
  • Defining the composition and responsibilities of various management bodies and technical committees.

It’s noteworthy that virtually all banks consistently adhere to prudential ratios calculated in accordance with Basel III directives. In terms of compliance and combating money laundering, banks have implemented an effective system ensuring adherence to the majority of Financial Action Task Force (FATF) recommendations. Their robust Know Your Customer (KYC) and operations monitoring system have demonstrated effectiveness in ensuring regulatory compliance and preventing illicit financial activities.


BF: Financial inclusion is a large issue in Mauritania. According to the International Trade Administration, only 21% of Mauritanians had bank accounts in 2022. What is the banking sector doing to popularize the use of banks beyond major cities?

Mohamed Yahya SIDI: One of the primary obstacles to advancing banking inclusion is the challenge faced by banks in reaching a substantial portion of potential applicants for banking services, primarily due to the inadequacy or absence of essential infrastructure such as communication, electricity, and transport. Recognizing this challenge, banks have responded by introducing digital applications that enable users to access banking services through their mobile phones. This innovation has proven highly successful in extending services to a broad segment of the population.

For instance, BMI’s proactive launch of a digital application, “sedad,” has yielded remarkable results, with the number of BMI accounts surging from 30,000 to an impressive 230,000 within a span of two years.

At our organizational level, in collaboration with key partners such as the European Investment Bank, the International Financial Company, and the French Development Agency, we have initiated a financing program totaling $75 million. This initiative is specifically designed to bolster the development of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs). The funds are intended to provide crucial financial support for the growth of these enterprises, aiding them in structuring and organizing their operations more effectively.


BF: Digitization is a top priority in Mauritania’s national development strategy. In 2020, the country saw its first digital banks, which has kicked off a new fintech market. How would you assess the level of digitization of banks in Mauritania, and of your bank in particular?

Mohamed Yahya SIDI: The central bank has embarked on a series of initiatives dedicated to modernizing the market, with a significant focus on advancing the digitalization of banking services. This strategic move has resulted in a commendable transformation within the financial landscape. Presently, nearly all local banks have successfully implemented and provide their customers with robust digital banking services.

These services encompass a spectrum of functionalities, including seamless access to accounts, execution of various banking operations, and the facilitation of credit application processes. The widespread availability of these digital services not only signifies the commitment of local banks to stay in step with technological advancements but also underscores the central bank’s overarching objective to foster a modern and efficient financial ecosystem.

As digitalization continues to be a driving force in reshaping banking services, the collective efforts of the central bank and individual financial institutions have contributed to offering customers enhanced convenience and accessibility. This aligns with the broader vision of positioning the banking sector at the forefront of technological innovation and meeting the evolving needs of the populace.


BF: Investment from the USA in Mauritania has generally been in hydrocarbons and mining. However, other sectors such as green energy and telecommunications are now looking promising for US investors. At the end of 2022, the US government committed to investing 55 billion dollars into the African continent, which could have an impact on Mauritania. What has the government and the banking sector done to make Mauritania a more attractive destination for foreign direct investment? What more could be done to entice new investors?

Mohamed Yahya SIDI: Several compelling factors contribute to positioning our country as an attractive destination for foreign investors. Foremost among these is the political stability that defines our nation, providing a secure environment within a region marked by instability. This stability lays a robust foundation for sustained economic growth and investment confidence.

In addition to political stability, significant efforts have been dedicated to overhauling and enhancing the business climate. Judicial reforms further bolster the overall framework for conducting business, ensuring fairness and efficiency in legal processes. These initiatives collectively contribute to creating an environment conducive to both local and foreign investment.

The modernization of critical infrastructure, including roads, water, and electricity, reflects our commitment to providing the necessary foundations for sustainable development. These improvements not only facilitate the ease of doing business but also enhance the overall quality of life for the population.

Furthermore, our strategic geographical location positions us as a secure haven within an otherwise unpredictable region. This advantage, coupled with the plethora of investment opportunities spanning various sectors, creates a compelling proposition for foreign investors seeking stable and lucrative ventures.

As we continue to evolve and invest in our nation’s development, we are confident that these factors collectively form a real competitive advantage, showcasing the immense potential and attractiveness of our country on the global investment stage.


BF: Could you give a brief overview of BMI to our readers: how does the bank stand out in the market, what is its role and contribution in Mauritania? As leader of the organization, what are some of your key priorities right now?

Mohamed Yahya SIDI: BMI stands as a universal bank with a robust capital base, backed by a formidable group engaged in diverse sectors such as energy, construction, telecommunications, and the distribution of computer equipment. The bank’s structure is meticulously organized, adhering to universally recognized governance standards, ensuring transparency, and fostering effective management.

BMI has cultivated strong ties with a network of foreign banks, fostering collaboration and expanding its reach in the global financial landscape. These international relationships contribute to the bank’s resilience and its ability to navigate various financial landscapes.

Financial indicators at BMI consistently align with guidelines set by the central bank, surpassing prudential standards and national averages. This financial robustness reflects BMI’s commitment to maintaining sound financial health, ensuring stability, and instilling confidence in its stakeholders.

The diverse portfolio of the bank’s parent group, operating across different sectors, provides BMI with a strategic advantage, contributing to its overall strength and resilience. This diversity not only mitigates risks but also positions BMI as a versatile and adaptive financial institution capable of weathering various economic scenarios.

In summary, BMI’s commitment to governance, international collaboration, and robust financial health makes it a reliable and well-positioned institution in the banking sector. The alignment with global standards and the backing of a solid parent group further contribute to BMI’s standing as a key player in Mauritania’s financial landscape.