The Currency Board and the Rise of Banking in East Africa
University of Milan Economics, Business and Statistics Working Paper
44 Pages Posted: 28 Mar 2007
Date Written: 2007
The East Africa region consists today of three independent countries, Kenya, Tanzania (formerly Tanganyika) and Uganda, which, from the early 1920's to the achievement of independence, formed an administrative unit under British rule: the British East Africa. The paper presents an historical synthesis of the basic problems and developments of the monetary and banking system in British East Africa. The research covers the period included between the beginning of European colonisation and the attainment of independence by the three above mentioned countries and focuses on the experience with a currency board arrangement in this context. A survey on commercial banking in the region, reveals that this industry, since its rise, carried the imprinting of the British banking tradition.
In the first stage of monetary evolution, owing to the influence of Indian trade and settlement in East Africa, the currency most in use was undoubtedly the Indian rupee. In that period banking industry landed in East Africa, brought in by European colonial powers. The second stage in monetary evolution began when a currency board was established, in 1919, in the British colonial possessions of East Africa, just after the acquisition, as loot, of Tanganyika, a colony previously under German rule. Originally the area of Board's operations, i.e. the East African shilling monetary area, consisted of the three mentioned territories. Zanzibar was added in 1936. During World War II were included, temporarily, in the area also Aden and British Somaliland and eventually the former Italian colonies of Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia.
The start of activity by the E.A. Currency Board was not easy. In 1925, when the conversion of circulating rupees was completed, because of overvaluation of silver coins in the exchange rate adopted, the E.A. Currency Board suffered substantial losses and the reserve ratio was 43.6 per cent. Yet the situation worsened with the crisis of the colonial economy during the depression of the 30's, which caused a sharp decline in money supply in East Africa because of heavy redemption of local currency. In 1932 the lowest point was reached with the reserve ratio at only 9.9 per cent. Circulation of E.A. shillings increased rapidly after 1940 because of war economy and of a favourable balance of payments of the colonies. In addition, a great enlargement of the original currency area was achieved following British military conquests in the Horn of Africa. In 1950 the circulation was fully covered by reserves, but during the previous decades the colonial currency was mainly based on government credit. However, it was not until 1956, that the fiduciary issue was officially introduced and, by this event, reasonable opportunities for monetary policy were offered. This innovation was introduced to free part of the external reserves held in London. Prior to that act the role of the Currency Board was just passive because the automatic exchange of currency did not allow any kind of money management. It represented a simple and inexpensive mechanism directed to issue currency.
A long period of British rule came to an end when the colonial territories of East Africa obtained political independence and this dramatic change marked the epilogue of the story of the colonial monetary institution. The new emerging states would not accept to renounce monetary sovereignty. Therefore the liquidation of East African Currency Board was decided and the establishment of three national central banks was officially announced simultaneously in June 1965 by the governments of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. The East African Currency Board ceased operations one year later.
Note: The downloadable document is in Italian.
Keywords: Currency Board, East Africa, Colonial Monetary System, African Banking History
JEL Classification: G21, N27
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation