By Ajong Mbapndah L
Launched recently in South Africa at a heavily attended event, NJ Ayuk’s new book Billions at Play: The Future of African Energy and Doing Deals has received rave reviews.
“Africans are more than capable of making our continent a success,” says NJ Ayuk in an interview with Pan African Visions to discuss the book. Past deals have not worked for a majority of African countries and Billions At Play is a road map to the future we Africans want to build for ourselves, says NJ Ayuk.
“Oil only becomes a curse when it is mismanaged, and when extraction is done without proper supervision and regulations, without pragmatic solutions that promise sustainability,” says Ayuk.
Described by OPEC Secretary General Mohammad Sanusi Barkindo as a dreamer who has taken the time to develop a detailed roadmap for realizing that dream, Ayuk says he cherishes the battles he fights to get opportunities for fellow African to have a seat at the table.
“We are showing that we are not a helpless continent and we don’t want handouts – our future will not be based on aid,” says Ayuk in the interview which also discusses the role of the diaspora, women, alternative sources of energy ,and more.
Billions At Play is a roadmap to the future that we, Africans, can build for ourselves by getting a few things right. The biggest message that I seek to convey is that of our shared responsibility towards improving Africa and creating the Africa our future generations will thank us for. It goes beyond the African energy sector. I hope everyone can see how they can be part of the solution in a more practical, sustainable way. Africans are more than capable of making our continent a success.
In terms of doing deals, what is it that African countries have failed to understand, and what are some of the suggestions that you are offering?
It’s no secret that in the past deals have proven not to work for a majority of African countries – only benefiting a selected few. We see the repercussions of that daily, where African countries are rich in oil and gas, but their communities at large suffer from poverty and unemployment. My biggest recommendation? Better deal-making abilities and implementation of local content regulations. We need to learn how to negotiate better deals that benefit everyday Africans. We are getting smarter at building new models for managing petroleum revenue. Africans need to know the worth and value we bring into any oil and gas deals and be confident in that. Our laws must create an enabling environment for international investors who want to transfer technology and empower Africans, to be able to do business with us. As I write in Billions At Play, good deal-making is crucial. We need to negotiate deals that result in long-term benefits for the people, African companies need to negotiate deals that keep them on an equal playing field with their competition and empower them to grow, to create and sustain jobs, and to support the communities they are based in.
Looking at the continent we see some countries that have produced oil for decades unable to maintain a single functional refinery, in other countries the resources seem to benefit a few and not the broader interest of the people, how does Africa turn the resource curse to a blessing ?
Oil only becomes a curse when it is mismanaged, and when extraction is done without proper supervision and regulations, without pragmatic solutions that promise sustainability. Otherwise, it can be a true blessing. We need infrastructure – we need to build and own our own refineries, pipelines, urea, ammonia, and fertilizer plants, power plants etc. The same applies to setting up technology hubs! We have seen how some African countries have started taking steps in this direction, and that makes me really proud.
When we talk of energy, the immediate focus is on oil, could you talk on the potential of other forms of energy like wind and solar and how this could shape the future as well?
Africa will never fulfill its true potential until access to reliable power is widespread, and that can only be attained once we have functional, well-funded, transparent power utilities that make use of new technologies and solutions and that partner with the private sector to promote the continent’s ability to power itself in a sustainable manner.
Yes, most of Africa has solar exposure that is very adequate for power generation, not to mention wind, hydro, and other forms of clean power generation. The likes of Kenya, targeting a 100% clean energy mix is a good example.
“Africans are more than capable of making our continent successful,” you say in the book, looking at what is going on in the continent, what makes you so optimistic?
Take a look around you and across the globe and you will easily spot African brothers and sisters actively doing amazing things in their spheres of influence, each playing a role in transforming the lives of hundreds of thousands of Africans. Similarly, the biggest discoveries made in the world recently are in Africa. We are showing that we are not a helpless continent and we don’t want handouts – our future will not be based on aid. Good things really are happening across the continent, and the petroleum industry is a common denominator. You can find plenty of examples of natural resources contributing to meaningful changes for the better. I’ll forever be optimistic, and I know my hard work and optimism is contagious.
What role do you see for the African diaspora, especially those with the skills set that could make a difference on the energy future of the continent?
The diaspora can actively engage with foreign partners, which is essential to Africa’s growth, and contribute to spreading a more objective narrative on the promising future the continent has. Similarly, and as we seek to build better organizations and run better businesses, skills learned and acquired abroad can be highly beneficial to the continent.
“Africa needs companies that are willing to share knowledge, technology and best practices, and businesses that are willing to form positive relationships in areas where they work,” you say, what leverage do African countries have to compel companies from China, Europe, the US and other parts of the world to implement this?
We need foreign oil and gas companies to continue operating in African communities and to continue hiring African people, purchasing from African suppliers, and partnering with African companies. Like I said, foreign partners are essential to Africa’s growth, we need to push ahead, and we cannot live and prosper in isolation. We can also benefit from the companies working on the continent for investment collaborations and to build the infrastructure necessary for industrialization.
You also talk about the paucity of women in the energy sector, what accounts for this and how important is it for the trend to be reversed?
I sit in a lot of boardrooms, I speak at a lot of conferences, and I am always faced with how few and far in between women executives are in these spaces. It’s a fact that amongst African oil firms, women in leadership only account for only about 2-3%. So who is going to push the agenda for women, if not me? Not us? I know and work with a lot of amazingly hardworking, innovative, strong women that I believe need to take their spaces in executive roles. Women have a great deal to offer, and good jobs for women contribute to a more stable, more economically vital Africa. We have to do more to ensure that women and men receive equal compensation, whether it’s wages, community programs, or property royalties, etc. If I can do my part to put pressure, I’ll be happy.
Billions at Play is also hitting the stands at a time of great excitement and growing optimism with the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, AfCFTA, how does this factor in into the vision you share?
The AfCFTA like in every other industry or sector, can yield great results for the oil industry. I love unity! I love making money together! I have Centurion Law Group offices in South, West, and East Africa already – I’m glad the entire continent is catching up. I continue to embrace strong regional economy give the continent a competitive edge in the global economy and it will make a lot of pan-African work easier. Lets’ win together.
In his foreword, OPEC Secretary General Mohammad Sanusi Barkindo describes you as a dreamer who has “taken the time to develop a detailed roadmap for realizing that dream,” how far is NJ Ayuk willing to go in rallying Africa and friends of Africa towards the fulfilment of this dream?
That’s what I live for every day. Opening opportunities for fellow African to come and have a seat at the table. It is an honor for me to be able to do that and call it my work. to open doors for other people, the same way as doors were open for me and knowledge imparted. That is what it is all about.