* Projects focus on West Africa, starting with Burkina Faso
* Bank to commit about $7 bln to Africa over 5 years
By Emma Farge
DAKAR, June 3 The Islamic Development Bank has launched a programme to release $180 million in financing to six African countries for renewable energy projects as part of a broad strategy to deepen its involvement in the region.
Islamic finance is growing in Africa as governments seek to develop large-scale infrastructure projects. Last year Nigeria's Osun State began offering the country's first Islamic bond.
Saudi Arabia-based IDB promotes economic development in its 56 countries through Shariah-compliant loans and grants. Nearly half of the bank's member countries are in Africa which is home to hundreds of millions of Muslims.
The new $180 million initiative, called Renewable Energy for Poverty Reduction, will target projects over the next three years to improve access to electricity in Africa's rural areas where about 70 percent of households lack power.
"This is just seed money. The goal is to enlarge it and to build a pipeline of projects," Sidi Mohamned Ould Taleb, regional director for IDB, told Reuters on the sidelines of a conference in Dakar.
Around $125 million has been committed by the bank and initial talks with potential partners such as the OPEC Fund for International Development have started to secure the rest.
"Other partners have expressed a readiness," said IDB Vice President Ahmet Tiktik.
The initiative will focus on West Africa and projects in Burkina Faso have already been approved.
Projects such as mini-grids and rooftop solar systems for Mali, Senegal, Niger and Nigeria are likely to follow and a sixth African country not yet determined.
The initiative follows the launch of a new IDB energy sector policy called "Energy for Prosperity" which seeks to support sustainable energy solutions for the poor.
IDB began a Special Program for the Development in Africa in 2008 and is active in financing projects for health, education and infrastructure. It committed around $5 billion in financing for sub-Saharan Africa between 2008-2012, or around 23 percent of its budget.
Taleb said that IDB planned to increase that to around 33 percent or around $7 billion in the next five years. (Editing by Susan Thomas)