Russia leads CIS towards Islamic banking and finance

While considerably new, Islamic Banking and Finance has now taken firm roots in Russia and other Commonwealth Independent States (CIS) countries are following suit.

The total volume of Islamic Banking and Finance has now exceeded $2.6 trillion globally. This amount represents transactions, assets and investments by over 2,500 Islamic banking and financial institutions around the global.

In the modern era, Islamic banking and finance can be traced back to the 1960s from Egypt and Malaysia and its dramatic spread over the Middle East, Africa and Europe. Interestingly, while Islamic banking and finance was slow to take foot in Commonwealth Independent States (CIS) countries, its unprecedented growth over the last few years indicates that CIS countries are the emerging Islamic banking and finance market for the future.

Some well known CIS countries include Russia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan.

“The delay for Islamic finance initiative in CIS countries may count in many folds, it would be due to Russian influence in CIS countries,” suggests the Islamic Banking guru Mr. Muhammad Zubair Mughal who is the Global CEO of AlHuda Center of Islamic Banking and Economics.

According to the seasoned banker, the mind set of Russian block and limited relations with International Banking and Financial Markets hampered development of Islamic Banking and Finance in CIS.

However, owing to what he described as ‘unstable Russian relationship with Europe’ and the sharp decline of oil prices has now compelled Russia to seek better financial alternatives, Islamic banking and finance.

Effectively, Russia has gone ahead and instituted friendly Islamic Banking policies and as a result geared-up Islamic banking and finance industry in CIS countries. This opens doors for enormous investment opportunities given that the Muslim population of CIS countries is estimated to be 75 million not to mention the non-muslim bankers that, like Russia, will opt for better banking options.

Russia also has a significant Muslim population and is with the recent government led initiative to support Islamic Finance it is expected that various Islamic banking and finance products will take root like Sukuk and Takaful.

Promoting Islamic Banking in CIS

AlHuda Centre of Islamic Banking and Economics (CIBE), a pioneer organization started its efforts to promote Islamic Banking and Finance is holding an Islamic banking and finance conference in Tashkent, Uzbekistan on 2nd May 2019.

The CIS Islamic Banking and Finance Forum will gather the CIS Islamic finance industry specialists and stakeholders on a single platform to promote Islamic banking and finance in the region.

In CIS countries, the Islamic banking and finance market can be divided into three parts. At first, there are countries such as Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Azerbaijan where the pace of Islamic banking and finance can be described as is satisfactory and where it is promoted and considered the sustainable financial alternative.

Secondly, there is the second group of countries, the likes of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Russia where the growth rate of Islamic banking and finance is rather slow. And the third group consists of countries in which there is no initiative taken so far, these are like Armenia, Ukraine and Belarus.

Kazakhstan leads the CIS in the growth of Islamic banking and finance. Started only in 1992, Islamic financing has grown drastically. More so, the growth can be noted following the global financial crises that started in 2008.

In Kazakhstan there is also considerable appropriate support of government institutions. Currently it has one full-fledged Islamic bank and 4 Islamic banking windows. They offer Takaful, Islamic leasing (Ijarah) and Islamic micro-financial institutions among other Islamic banking and Finance products.

Kazakhstan also launched an Islamic Agricultural Finance product with the financial assistance of the Islamic Development Bank. Further still, the recent establishment of the Astana International Financial Center (AIFC) places Kazakhstan as the regional center for Islamic Banking.

Azerbaijan comes after Kazakhstan but with much less government involvement. There is also no full-fledged Islamic bank in the country but there are at least 4 Islamic banking windows operating with limited Islamic Banking Regulations.

Uzbekistan follows and credit can be given directly to its new president H.E. Shavkat Mirziyoyev who has spearheaded the growth of Islamic Banking. Three Islamic banking windows are currently operational and accept deposits on Shariah bases.

Few Islamic leasing companies also offer Ijarah services, but it is predicted that after proper Islamic Banking and Finance regulations, Uzbekistan can supersede other CIS countries.

Neighbouring Kyrgyzstan also takes precedence its parliament passing the Islamic banking law in 2011 making it the only country in CIS to do so. In fact, there is at least one conventional bank that is in the process of becoming a full-fledged Islamic bank.

The most important factor of the growth of Islamic banking and finance industry in CIS countries is the Islamic Development Bank’s support.


Tanzania moves to curb gold smuggling

After building a wall around the World’s only tanzanite mining area, Tanzania has now launched an international gold trading centre to curb smuggling.

The hub is made up of a gold collection centre where small-scale miners can trade their finds, and then there are two banks tasked with handling larger gold trading bids.

If it plays out like the wall around the tanzanite mines in Mererani, North East Tanzania, then the country should see revenues from gold soar.

At the moment, the government says smuggling and black market trades are denying it due revenue and hurting small scale miners as well. Up to this point, small scale miners were disadvantaged with laws and regulations that heaped huge tax burdens on small scale miners while it let larger traders off with barely a quarter of the tax the latter was tasked to pay.

ALSO SEE: Tanzania to launch first gold trading hub in East Africa

Until Tanzania’s Parliament recently approved new laws, small scale miners had to pay 5 percent withholding tax and 18 per cent value added tax. This leaves the holders of a primary license with a 7 per cent tax obligation only.

This is the country’s first international gold trading centre located in Geita, one of the largest gold producing region in the country. Geita is responsible for the production of well over 40 percent of Tanzania’s gold exports.

However, the country’s Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa recently ordered similar mineral trading centres to be set up in all the country’s mineral rich regions. Tanzania’s precious stones include world coveted diamonds, gold and tanzanite.

It is also rich in metals like tin, nickel, iron, copper, zinc and lead. The country also recently found gas and oil as well as uranium deposits.

Early last month, parliament approved a Bill designed to relieve small-scale miners of the burden of paying withholding tax of 5 per cent and an 18 per cent value added tax. This leaves the holders of a primary license with a 7 per cent tax obligation only.

 Protecting the World’s Only Tanzanite Site

In his second year of presidency, two years ago in 2017, Tanzania’s President John Magufuli ordered construction of a 24km wall around the tanzanite mines in Mererani, siting pandemic smuggling.

Complete with state of the art CCTV installations on the wall and in the mines, the wall has ever since then helped increased revenues Tanzania’s revenue from sales. From a low of merely USD74,000 in 2015 when the president came into power, to a high of USD461,000.

Tanzanite, 1,000 times rarer than diamond is a blue gemstone found only at the foothills of Africa’s highest mountain, the Kilimanjaro in a small town called Mererani Hills.

ALSO SEE: First gold bullion in East Africa launched in Tanzania