Public and private sector stakeholders within the Central African Economic and Monetary Community addressed key barriers impeding economic growth and development in their region.
Opportunities and challenges for Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC) member states rose to the forefront of discussions at African Energy Week 2022 in Cape Town on Tuesday, during a panel session entitled, “Powering Up the Heart of Africa: Improving CEMAC’s Capabilities and Coordination to Eliminate Energy Poverty.” The CEMAC region – which comprises Cameroon, Chad, the Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and the Republic of Congo – has struggled to coordinate its members and ensure long-term economic growth, fiscal and monetary stability and financing for energy and transport infrastructure.
Panelists included H.E. Bruno Itoua, President of OPEC and Minister of Hydrocarbons of the Republic of the Congo; H.E. Gabriel Mbaga Obiang Lima, Minister of Mines and Hydrocarbons of Equatorial Guinea; Leoncio Amada, CEMAC President of the African Energy Chamber; Grace Orife, CEO of Adelaar Energy Limited; Jude Kearney, Managing Partner of ASAFO & CO, Washington D.C.; Paul Eardley-Taylor, Director of Oil & Gas, Southern Africa, Standard Bank; and John Hamilton, CEO of Panoro Energy. The panel was moderated by Maggie Mutesi, Managing Editor of Mansa Media Africa.
“Central Africa has five producing countries, with some of the most important hydrocarbon potential in the Congo Basin,” stated H.E. Bruno Itoua.“Because of that, most countries feel that they do not need integration. When you are rich, you are rich enough for your needs and your own population. We have been struggling for integration for a long time. But now, things are changing. We have to face the energy transition. We need to have one single voice – not just for Central Africa, but for all of Africa.” “If we evaluate what it has and what it has done, CEMAC is one of the greatest areas in Africa – rich in natural and mineral resources and a young population. For any investor, this is the best place to invest, and anyone who has invested in CEMAC has been able to get a return on their investment. We have to stop being victims. We have to bring solutions,” added H.E. Gabriel Mbaga Obiang Lima, Minister of Mines and Hydrocarbons of Equatorial Guinea. Home to some of the largest oil and gas reserves and LNG developments on the continent – including Equatorial Guinea’s Gas Mega Hub project, Africa’s first Floating LNG project in Cameroon, and the Congo’s Gas Master Plan, to name a few – the CEMAC region holds enormous potential across energy and infrastructure sectors. That said, oil sector investment has declined over the past decade, owing in part to a low ease of doing business, restrictive currency regulations and unfavorable market conditions associated with oil and gas assets, among other factors. With oil representing almost 70% of CEMAC exports and more than a third of its fiscal revenues, the region is seeking to scale-up investments, realize its energy sector goals and accelerate project developments. “CEMAC countries have not seen any historical benefit to collaborating. However, the need for regional and continental collaboration is the new focus on transition,” noted Jude Kearney, Managing Partner of ASAFO & CO, Washington D.C. “It’s no longer just about your oil, your gas or your other resources, but a lot of Africa is being told to push back and to not necessarily exploit all of their fossil fuel resources. Africa needs to come together and come to an agreement on this and on anything that would potentially dispossess Africa. “CEMAC should be hungry to grow,” affirmed Grace Orife, CEO of Adelaar Energy Limited. “Each nation is content with what they have. But we need to work on infrastructure and human resource capacity. We need the skills. It’s time to look at CEMAC as a region, and not as different countries.” “Oil prices are likely to remain strong for the rest of the decade – growing to about $70 by 2026 and not dropping below $60 through the end of the decade,” forecast Paul Eardley-Taylor, Director of Oil & Gas, Southern Africa, Standard Bank. “So there is the ability to invest and achieve the integration that panelists are talking about.” The panel also addressed the role of new foreign exchange regulations from the Bank of Central African States (BEAC), which impose stricter rules on currency transfers and payments, along with BEAC’s recent interest rate hikes. Both measures – intended to curb inflation and shore up hard currency reserves – have proven contentious among CEMAC stakeholders, who argue that they deter investment and private sector growth by limiting access to foreign financing for local businesses, thereby resulting in job losses, increased operational costs and an additional degree of bureaucracy and red-tape. “The CEMAC zone is not easy to operate,” noted Leoncio Amada, CEMAC President of the African Energy Chamber. “The BEAC Forex is killing the CEMAC. The Central Bank is making it almost impossible for local companies to operate. How can we compete if we cannot pay our service providers on time? We are killing jobs and killing local companies.” “There have been regional currency laws passed whose origins are entirely defensible – strengthening financial systems in the region and creating more transparency in terms of what happens to the exports of these various countries,” stated John Hamilton, CEO of Panoro Energy. “As an oil and gas company, the issue is that it has materially impacted the appetite of financial institutions to lend money.”
“The origin of these currency controls were laudable,” echoed Kearney. They were focused on strengthening CEMAC countries and trying to limit the transparent exit of capital. But the regulations, as they were written, created such a disincentive for new investment and for current investors.” The lack of an inadequate commercial banking system was identified as a key barrier to CEMAC regional growth. Coupled with volatile foreign exchange rates, a lack of local financing bears a heavy impact on large-scale infrastructure and energy financing, which largely depend on foreign-denominated loans from multilateral institutions, development funds and private investment corporations. “If we look at financial institutions in CEMAC, it’s still backward. In order to talk about infrastructure funding, we need to have an aggressive financial industry,” noted Orife. “Investing in CEMAC is tough. We need private investment. We need to look at public-private partnerships and we need private investors to go in and collaborate, so we can deliver like any other region. “Our projects are attractive enough to push investors to find funds. But as a region, we must see how we can do this by ourselves,” added H.E. Minister Itoua. “Especially in terms of local content, we need to improve our financial capacity so that investors can find local solutions. Our projects are attractive, but we are not organized enough locally.” “There needs to be an overhaul of the banking sector not only in Central Africa, but also throughout the continent,” concluded Kearney. “Many of the local banks in Africa do not have the resources or international connections that allow them to freely participate in international commerce. There needs to be focus within regional discussions on how to attract strong private sector banks and issuances of RFPs to get banking companies to come in and create new opportunities for funding local commerce.” *Source African Energy Week (AEW)