NJ Ayuk, the executive chairman of the African Energy Chamber in this interview with BusinessDay’s Abubakar Ibrahim, speaks about the challenges with energy security in Africa and highlights how the upcoming African Energy Week (AEW) (October 16 – 20), will share insights on what is being done to improve energy accessibility, affordability, investment, and sustainability in the continent. Excerpts;
African nations often have vast energy resources, yet many still struggle with energy access. What do you see as the primary barriers to utilising these resources effectively?
To be more concrete, we have to deal with our above-ground risk issues like regulatory, political, security, and environmental risks around the energy sector in Africa.
It shouldn’t take more time to approve a project than you need to build it. We’ve got to ask ourselves, how many projects across Africa today are stuck in the hands of bureaucrats who are either waiting to collect bribes/perks or not approving them.
We should be moving fast. We should be driving, issuing permits, monetising things, and cutting red tape so that young Africans, entrepreneurs, and business people can go out there and drive Africa the way we deserve.
In your book “Big Barrels: African Oil and Gas and the Quest for Prosperity,” you discuss the potential of Africa’s oil and gas resources for economic development. How can this potential be harnessed while avoiding the resource curse phenomenon?
This is 2023, and the game has changed. We’ve got to start asking ourselves: What are China, America, and Europe using our oil and gas for? For example, Europe is using oil and gas to drive manufacturing and industry, create jobs, and build products like medicine and other things that we use in our hospitals. They also create petrochemicals, design them in Europe, and sell them in Africa.
The second thing is that we go on a massive industrialisation drive to create more jobs and opportunities on this continent for our young people, rather than them trying to cross the Mediterranean and the Sahara to go find jobs in Europe on the European streets.
The third part of it, which we need to consider when we look at how to avoid that resource curse, is economic diversification. But that would not happen if we didn’t make a concerted effort to start diversifying by building industries. For example, Russia moved from importing food to using gas to develop its economy. Today, that country exports 30 percent of the grain that is needed across the world.
At the just concluded Russia–Africa Summit 2023, most African leaders were saying we need grain, food, and all of that. We can produce food in Africa rather than beg for food from Russia, Europe, or other wealthy countries.
We need to go back to the basis of the African economy, which is Agriculture. Africa’s green revolution is not hydrogen, wind, or solar; it has to be about agriculture and producing food, and it can be driven by natural gas. That way, we can beat the resource curse because new jobs will be created and people can be fed.
Energy infrastructure is essential for economic growth. What role can regional partnerships and collaborations play in enhancing energy security across Africa?
We’ve got to build pipelines into and across Africa; we need to pipe gas across Africa and make sure that we get gas into the homes of people.
When you talk about building pipelines in Europe and America, nobody cares, but in Africa, they say no, don’t build pipelines. That is wrong. Natural gas is cleaner, better, friendlier, and greener than anything else. We need to be able to do that and drive it across Africa.
The Continent’s energy infrastructure is also one of the big problems that need solving if we want the seamless movement of gas or any form of petrochemical, even medicines or food, to people across Africa.
Geopolitical factors can impact energy security. How can African nations navigate these factors to ensure a stable and reliable energy supply?
First of all, the African Energy Chamber believes that Africa needs to drop all visas on the continent. We need to become visa-free, It doesn’t make sense in 2023, that an African child has to ask for a visa to go around Africa, it should be on the platform of the African Union; They should mandate that if you don’t give visa-free access to Africans, get out of the African Union, you’re “Un-African.” I take a principled position on that.
We’ve been talking a lot about intra-African trade, commerce, and geopolitics, and there have been promises for all of this to happen. It is very easy for Europeans and Americans to travel to African countries, but Africans can’t travel within Africa, and we are talking about driving intra-African free trade. Trade within Africa is so low, that less than 10 percent of Africans trade within themselves.
Some people say it’s a conspiracy by wealthy nations to keep us divided from one another, but I don’t believe that. I think it is the problem of the elitist leadership we have in Africa; we need people who can get these things done and make things happen.
How can African governments attract foreign investment to develop their energy infrastructure while ensuring the benefits are shared equitably among their citizens?
African governments need to create an attractive fiscal framework that helps attract investors from around the world and do what they have to do.
The fiscal framework must include a positive regulatory environment; it has to be so that you can create regulatory certainty, and fiscal stability, and give them the confidence that when they are in the country, some general or power station is not going to walk in and take over the project.
Once that is done and investors are assured, the financing flows in. African leaders need to leave business to private entities and focus on creating an enabling environment for businesses to thrive, which could lead to more jobs, taxes, and what have you.
African Energy Week is approaching. Could you provide an overview of the event’s main goals and objectives, and how it contributes to the advancement of Africa’s energy sector?
First of all, we are going to have a just energy transition concert this year to involve the youth in making energy poverty a thing of the past. We have Nigeria’s Ruger and Chike and are looking to bring in more artists from across Africa.
AEC wants to bring more young people into the energy space. It can’t be a game for people 50 and older, but it’s got to be one where we look at young people under 30 coming in and playing too. We’ve created that space for them to thrive and drive bigger ideas/projects.
Last year, African Energy Week was able to put together $25 billion of investments going into African energy projects. We want to do even more this year; our goal is to get at least $43 to $44 billion in investments going out across Africa. We think it is impactful to get investors from all around the world to sit at the table, deliberate, and sign deals.
Also, discussions are going to be about everything: oil, gas, coal, renewables, and green hydrogen. We’ve got to bring everyone together to discuss these issues rather than just focusing on solar and wind. It’s an energy mix, and we will discuss all kinds of energies, but we want to give Africans a voice; the world has to listen to what Africans have to say.
But bigger than that, we are going to have a united front going into COP 28. We will have an African agenda, position, and policy and that’s what the chamber has been working through year-round. We’re going to make sure that every African Minister of Petroleum, African Minister of Power, African Minister of Environment, and more young Africans goes into COP 28. Let’s do business, let’s get deals done.
What key themes and topics will be addressed during African Energy Week, and how do they align with the current challenges and opportunities in the African energy landscape?
Energy security is going to be the focal point of the event. We want to ensure that we can provide energy to all Africans, making energy poverty a thing of the past. Drill, Africa, drill; it is a must. But we also want to look at the sustainable development of those energy resources in Africa, financing Africa’s energy growth and industrialization.
Very important, and lastly, in beating the resource curse, we see new nations like Namibia, Mozambique, Senegal, and Mauritania that are starting to come into the oil and natural gas space. We want to be able to sit down with them and ensure that they don’t make the mistakes that Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria, or Angola have made in the past. We’re going to sign deals, and we’re going to do it better, and bigger for and by Africans.