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Interview: African Energy Chamber Executive Chairman, NJ Ayuk on Transforming Africa’s Energy Sector

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A leading energy lawyer and a strong advocate for African entrepreneurs, NJ Ayuk is recognized as one of the foremost figures in African business today. Founder and CEO of Centurion Law Group, a pan-African law firm and the current chairman of the African Energy Chamber, NJ strives through his work to ensure that business, and especially oil and gas, impacts African societies in a positive way and drives local content development. In this interview with  Alaba Ayinuola, NJ shed light on the continent’s biggest energy challenges, the impact of the African Energy Chamber(AEC) in the continent’s energy, oil and gas sector. And how is AEC is becoming the entry door to Africa’s oil & gas sector. Excerpt.

 

Tell us about the African Energy Chamber and the gap it’s filling.

The African Energy Chamber is based on a network of public and private executives that have been working towards the development of Africa’s oil and gas industry for several years now, mostly focusing on local content development. Seeing the need for Africa to have a stronger voice on the global energy scene and communicate better, we have opened up the organisation to all interested parties two years ago. Since then both the Chamber’s network and its activities have considerable grown. We have welcomed over a 100 new partners, both institutional and corporate from across Africa and have multiplied initiatives, especially when it comes to institutional capacity building, local content development and facilitating foreign investment and advisory.

 

How long as the chamber being in existence and how does  your organisation measure it’s impact?

We work for the interest of African companies and entrepreneurs. Seeing the number of them reaching out to us for support over the past year has been the strongest indicator of our impact and ability to both represent African interests and unite the right network of partners towards common goals. We have increasingly received requests to assist African SMEs and larger oil services companies to expand across sub-Saharan Africa. This is a very good sign for the future growth of the African content: our companies are hungry and want to expand. We are also bringing lots of support to governments and governmental institutions in capacity building, especially within rapidly growing markets like South Sudan.

 

How’s the chamber being perceived both internationally and within the continent?

Internationally, we are mostly perceived as a source of information and an access door to some of Africa’s fastest-growing or most complex markets. The need for on-the-ground information and data on Africa is growing very rapidly and foreign investors are looking for reliable local partners and information providers, especially when it comes to finding their ways around Africa’s many different jurisdictions and ways of doing business.

From within the continent, we are increasingly seen as being a voice and conscience for the sector. We advocate for the issues at heart for African companies, entrepreneurs and people. Our industry needs a strong voice pushing for local content development and domestic capacity building and we are proud to have positioned ourselves as a key advocate in this regard.

 

What in your view is the biggest energy challenge in Africa?

Africa is plagued by many energy challenges, which are all opportunities, from energy affordability to infrastructure and lack of financing. While we address all of those as an institution, we do insist on the challenge of monetising resources, especially gas ones. By flaring gas like we have for decades, we have concretely burned billions of dollars worth of resources that could power our entire continent, hundreds of factories and create millions of jobs. We believe gas is the future of Africa’s energy industry, and creating monetisation opportunities across the board, from petrochemicals to power, from cement to petrochemicals manufacturing units, should be a priority.

 

What is Africa doing right in terms of it’s energy sector?

African nations have taken positive steps in engaging each other and exploring common opportunities. This manifests itself first on the international stage. Equatorial Guinea and Congo Brazzaville joined OPEC in 2017 and 2018, strengthening the African voice within the industry’s most influential organisation. But many other African countries have also joined the Declaration of Cooperation and frequently attend OPEC meetings like South Sudan, Chad, Uganda etc. International engagement from Africa is something that was missing and has been corrected. As a result of that, African governments and companies have also been increasingly talking to each other. Major projects are moving ahead thanks to this dialogue, be it the Tortue field between Senegal and Mauritania, or the recent gas unitisation agreement between Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon.

Also Read Black Space App CEO, April Jefferson on entrepreneurship and connecting black travelers to their culture

What surprises you about this sector and it’s future?

The unexploited potential is massive, and quite frankly overwhelming. In terms of oil & gas exploration, we believe that world-class global discoveries are to be made in the near future. The recent ones in Mozambique and Senegal are just the beginning. Beyond mere exploration, the potential for meeting the continent’s growing energy needs, addressing increasing energy consumption, and providing jobs to millions of young men and women is what will define the future of the sector. This represent billions of dollars at play, both for foreign investors willing to take risks and make lucrative deals, but especially for us Africans if we are able to seize the opportunities offered to us by our land.

 

Do you see the deepen of a private-public partnership drive growth in this sector?

We do not think there has been a serious deepening of private-public partnerships, which remain a major need for the sector. This would require a market-by-market analysis, as in some places the lack of PPPs is a regulatory one, while in others you actually do have successes but in other sectors such as infrastructure. Overall, the need for PPPs in the industry is there, and the power sector offers tremendous opportunities for such projects. However, many regulations need to be revised, public institutions need to adhere to stronger governance standards, and private investors must be made aware of the right opportunities and projects to get involved in.

 

What is your vision and goal for this chamber under your leadership?

The AEC is becoming the entry door to Africa’s oil & gas sector. We are already receiving lots of queries from new investors wishing to enter fast growth markets, and having local representatives on the ground is positioning us as a strong advisor and facilitator for foreign investors, while being able to properly communicate what is happening on the ground to the international energy community. On the second hand, we also want to be building domestic capacity, both by training and skilling Africans so they can take on additional responsibilities across the value chain, but also by bringing in more technology and best practices to our local companies so we contribute to boosting local content.

 

You own Centurion Law Group, tell us about this law firm and how are you managing these two big brands?

Centurion is a pan-African legal and advisory business specialised in oil & gas. We are leaders in frontier jurisdictions like Equatorial Guinea and South Sudan and do not shy away from working in what many wrongly perceive as challenging markets. More importantly, we are a firm who believes in African talent and have dedicated ourselves to train the next generation of African lawyers. It is very upsetting to see the amount of legal work on Africa that goes to London or New York when we have high-quality and highly-trained legal talent present on the continent. As such we are more than offering legal services; we are a law firm with a mission.

 

About NJ Ayuk:

A leading energy lawyer and a strong advocate for African entrepreneurs, NJ Ayuk is recognized as one of the foremost figures in African business today. A Global Shaper with the World Economic Forum, one of Forbes’ Top 10 Most Influential Men in Africa in 2015, and a well-known dealmaker in the petroleum and power sectors, NJ is dedicating his career to helping entrepreneurs find success and to building the careers of young African lawyers. As founder and CEO of Centurion Law Group, a pan-African law firm, NJ strives through his work to ensure that business, and especially oil and gas, impacts African societies in a positive way and drives local content development. He is the current chairman of the African Energy Chamber and author of ‘Big Barrels: African Oil and Gas and the Quest for Prosperity’. His second book, ‘Billions at Play: the Future of African energy’ is due for release at the end of the year.

 

A propos de NJ Ayuk:

NJ est un avocat de premier plan dans le domaine de l’énergie et un ardent défenseur des entrepreneurs africains, reconnu comme l’une des figures les plus en vue des entreprises africaines aujourd’hui. Il est un « Global Shaper » avec le Forum économique mondial, l’un des 10 hommes les plus influents de Forbes en Afrique en 2015, et un négociateur renommé dans les secteurs du pétrole et de l’énergie. Il est fondateur et PDG du Centurion Law Group et président actuel de la Chambre africaine de l’énergie et auteur du best-seller « Big Barrels : pétrole et gaz africains et la quête de la prospérité. » Son second ouvrage, « Des milliards en jeu : le future de l’énergie africaine » sera publie à la fin de l’année.

 

CEO Corner

Graça Machel Trust Appoints Melizsa Mugyenyi as New Chief Executive Officer

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Graça Machel Trust New CEO, Ms. Melizsa Mugyenyi (Image: Supplied)

Board of Trustees of the Graça Machel Trust, announces that Ms. Melizsa Mugyenyi has been appointed as the new Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and commences her tenure in this leadership role as of September 6, 2021.

A Ugandan by birth, and residing in Kenya currently, Ms. Mugyenyi brings to the Graça Machel Trust an impressive range of executive management and strategic partnership building skills, as well as extensive experience working in multi-country settings. We look forward to her leadership to expand our Pan African programming, nurture our diverse women’s empowerment Networks, and develop the necessary relationships to fortify our resource base and long-term sustainability.

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Ms. Mugyenyi will spearhead the conceptualization and implementation of a bold new Strategic Plan for our institution and take our work of social and economic transformation to greater scale and impact. The Board has every confidence in Ms. Mugyenyi and her ability to effectively steer our organization, in conjunction with our staff and stakeholders, to augment our impact on the African continent and expand our thought leadership globally.

“We are grateful to Dr. Shungu Gwarinda, who steadfastly served as our Interim CEO, driving us forward with a determined focus on advancing the rights of Africa’s women and children, and strengthening our institution and Networks during this interim period.  Dr. Gwarinda will be actively supporting this management transition and will resume concentrating her leadership in her substantive role as Director of Programmes.  We are grateful for her invaluable contributions to further the mission of the Graça Machel Trust”. said Mrs. Graҫa Machel, Founder and Chairperson of the Graҫa Machel Trust

To our valued partners, both current and future, we look forward to positively transforming the lives of Africa’s women and children together with you as we enter this exciting new chapter of our institution’s journey.

 

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CEO Corner

Interview with Katharina Dalka CEO of StellarOne, strategic and investment advisory firm operating in EMEA

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Katharina Dalka the Founder and CEO of StellarOne, seasoned strategic and investment advisory firm based in London, UK with presence in Europe, Africa and Middle East. Highly specialized in the technology sector, she advises investors, tech companies and financial institutions on all aspects of potential investment and collaboration opportunities. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, Katharina speaks about her career in finance and tech, StellarOne, investing and technology in Africa. Excerpts. 

 

Alaba: Could you briefly tell us about yourself and your career-path into investment and technology?

Katharina: I am German born and raised and studied finance and competitive intelligence in Paris. However, I started my career as an IT project manager, managing post-merger integrations like the one of Air France and KLM – a very hands-on job. It’s only afterward that I integrated a boutique consulting company providing strategy consulting to IT companies and investors that invest into IT.

In this company I was fortunate to work with an amazing boss who gave me the leeway to found my own in-house corporate development practice that I built first in France, then in Germany and finally in the UK. By then I lived in London and  took on an internal role as Head of Corporate Development in a tech company before founding StellarOne. I have always navigated between Tech and Finance, and likewise between operations and strategy – I can only advise on one if I know the other.

 

Alaba: What inspired you to launch StellarOne?

Katharina: I come from a family of entrepreneurs and felt the entrepreneurial fever for quite a while. It simply was time and I went for it. I knew I would bring something to the table with the unique approach of combining deep knowledge of Tech, Strategy and Corporate Finance skills. Also, it’s a highly male dominated environment, more women need to enter the space. It was an opportunity to contribute to do something I care much about. It was and still is challenging, however I must say that, beyond that, I receive the most amazing support from my male colleagues and friends.

 

Alaba: As an investment and strategy advisory firm in tech, what is StellarOne’s unique offering?

Katharina: First of all there is the knowledge of both operations and strategy/finance. I believe that it is important to know both, no point to provide high-fly advisory if it is not practicable. The StellarOne team is equally diverse in terms of competencies and background.

Furthermore, we emphasize on human relations and intercultural differences. The technical part of a deal is complicated but can be mastered. No deal is ever made if people don’t get along. It is important to manage energies in a deal, it’s not a one- off thing, people need to work together once the deal is signed. Also, what is offensive in one culture, is not in another – that can lead to a lot of misunderstanding during negotiations. Intercultural knowledge is something particularly important in cross-border deals, an area we specialized in.

 

Alaba: Who is the typical StellarOne Client?

Katharina: Either it is an investor who invests in a technology company. We accompany them from the target search, to the negotiation and the post investment enhancement. Or it is a technology firm, seeking for strategy advice, or wanting us to accompany a transaction. We are about to officially launch an offering for Financial and Public institutions in Africa that wish to work with tech companies. There are amazing opportunities, but a lot of gaps to fill. So, please stay tuned.

 

Alaba: Kindly share some of the investment advice you have made and the impact?

Katharina: Our projects are strictly confidential, so I won’t communicate any details or names. However I can say that we recently advised a specialized tech investor on a post investment enhancement project. The work took place over several months and redefined the entire corporate strategy leading to an important increase in growth.

 

Alaba: As an investment and strategy professional in tech, what are some of the challenges you face?

Katharina: StellarOne is very specialized and we provide custom advice. Every project is different, every client is different. This requires constant intellectual agility, depending on where we work. There are also geopolitical aspects to be taken into account. The most challenging part in my job is certainly the negotiation part though, it’s unpredictable.

 

Alaba: Women in technology are still in the minority. How are you encouraging and supporting other women to come be part of the ecosystem?

Katharina: First of all, I am leading by example. I want other ladies to see that both finance and tech are not reserved for men. I experience quite some adversity and I also encourage women to become knowledgeable, train and educate themselves. In a male-dominated environment, we need to be 3 times as competent until we can equal it out. Education is power.

 

Alaba: What is your view on the growth of investing and technology in Africa?

Katharina: It is a market of opportunities, with huge growth potential provided the entrepreneurs have the right accompaniment. Africa is a continent and doing business in Kenya is not like doing business in Ivory Coast. It requires people that know the business environment “on the ground” and can support the entrepreneurs in their growth. The continent is “leapfrogging” a lot of technology developments that more mature markets like Europe and the US went through before getting to where they are right now. This is accelerating the growth speed and innovation – for example, mobile money as we know it is an African innovation.

 

Alaba: If you weren’t in the technology industry, what else might you be doing?

Katharina: Most likely an architect or a musician.

 

Alaba: Where do you see yourself and StellarOne in the next 5 years?

Katharina: Always striving for excellence, supporting our clients in their growth, with a competent, skillful, diverse team operating in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. At that point in time we will consider the US market, too. 

 

Alaba: Finally, what advice would you give professionals who may be less experienced in this area?

Katharina: Be prepared to have stamina, it’s a hard job but it is extremely rewarding intellectually. Educate yourself – so many great free resources out there. And network as much as you can.

Visit StellarOne

 

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CEO Corner

Ayodeji Balogun: The Genius Unlocking The Potentials of Africa’s Commodity Value Chains

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Ayodeji Balogun is the CEO of AFEX where he is leading a team of experts leveraging technology, innovative finance, and inclusive agriculture to connect agriSMEs and smallholder farmers to commodity and financial markets. He holds an MBA from Lagos Business School, Pan-Atlantic University; Global CEO – Africa from IESE Business School and a certificate in Creative Leadership from the THNK School of Creative Leadership. Ayodeji has almost 20 years’ experience trading across West Africa as well as in building and scaling businesses across Sub-Saharan Africa. He serves on several capital market boards and works with several institutions on food security and financing agriculture. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola, Ayodeji shares the AFEX Story, Impact, future and more.

 

Alaba: Could you briefly tell me about AFEX, the gap it’s filling, and the strategic role you play?

Ayodeji: AFEX unlocks the potential of Africa’s commodity value chains through the development of innovative products and services around storage, logistics and trade with access to finance and a ready market serving as supporting pillars. Our processes are technology enabled, allowing for transparency across operations that support risk management structures and the flow of capital from diverse sources. This play is backed by huge investments in infrastructure which promotes a sustained growth in the commodities ecosystem with an attendant increase in the country’s productivity.

A key aspect of the work of commodities exchanges, and our work at AFEX, is to unlock financing. The pervasive view of agriculture as a high-risk endeavour dissuades the flow of capital into the sector, and to unlock finance, the first fundamental is to ensure that the risk profile is low and manageable. With systems for price discovery and transparency that are provided by a commodities exchange, it becomes easier to monitor the flow of money in and out of the sector, and by extension measure and manage risk, increasing the amount of finance that is made available to value chain efforts over time. 

Alaba: Where did the journey begin?

Ayodeji: The journey started in 2014. At the core of our operations was the need to lift African smallholder farmers out of poverty by providing scalable solutions in areas of finance, storage, and access to the market. Farmers live in a vicious poverty cycle primarily because they are financially excluded. They remain cut off from the formal economy, and almost all their assets exist in cash or near cash. This prevents wealth creation, especially, in an inflationary economy, and results in the continued reality of smallholder farmers, who produce over 90% of food in Africa, remaining the poorest and most underserved group in Africa’s economy. The commodity exchange model provides the infrastructure for fairer and more transparent trade by offering up its platform as a shared resource for key groups of people to participate in.

AFEX Team (Image: AFEX)

We believe in having firsthand contact with farmers we work with while bringing technology right to their doorstep by providing services such as access to warehouse receipt systems, financial inclusion, and access to credit and micro-insurance. On top of this, AFEX has built a platform that facilitates effective trading and settlement commodity transactions, helping to structure and formalize the commodities markets. The Exchange facilitates the aggregation and trading of grains through its expansive network of warehouses across the country, allowing farmers to access markets.

Alaba: Why are commodities exchanges important in the agriculture value chain?

Ayodeji: The essence of a commodities exchange is to set up a transparent and fair market system that determines the fair value of agricultural commodities and promotes a fair exchange of prices among key players in the value chain. Essentially, the commodities exchange unlocks price transparency and investment opportunities that drive wealth and prosperity to everyone involved.

Our five-year legacy in this industry is underpinned by a robust infrastructure to support trade, post-harvest processing, and manage risk in the sector. By engaging with the Exchange, farmers will be able to gain access to finance in form of inputs like fertilizers, seeds, and crop protection products while also being enabled to access support in terms of extension services that impart knowledge on good agronomic services. At the end of the season, the farmers can also access larger markets through the Exchange as their products can be aggregated with that of other smallholder farmers and furnish the orders of Exchange clients on the processor side.

This process is a transparent one where farmers can get information on prices and determine for themselves when to sell considering that our storage infrastructure also allows the farmer to store their produce in AFEX warehouses which have certain quality parameters that ensure that the grains retain their value.

Alaba: As one of the biggest victims of the pandemic. What actions have you implemented to remain in business and stay competitive?

Ayodeji: Yes, there were shocks to both the demand and supply side of the agriculture value chain that happened as a result of the pandemic. I think that it became evident to everyone, however, that it was important to figure out how to keep the country’s food systems resilient, and as a business we definitely stepped up to the plate to get this done. Our technology infrastructure was probably the biggest help in staying competitive.

Ayodeji Balogun (Image: AFEX)

We leveraged our value chain management platform, WorkBench, to continue running seamless operations, where our field officers could easily execute transactions and sync up with the head office in a way that ensured timely settlement of trade, precise logistics and relevant data gathering. This helped us have one of the best years so far in the business during the pandemic.

Alaba: Do you think the industry is still very attractive despite the pandemic?

Ayodeji: The agricultural industry is still very much attractive considering the number of challenges that still need to be solved for agriculture on the continent. The sector remained resilient despite COVID-19 induced shocks. In Nigeria, the sector grew by 2.14 in 2021, outperforming all sectors of the economy except for Telecommunications which grew by 12.9 percent. The economy is currently grappling for growth and the need to diversify the economy has never been more important. The agriculture sector holds the key to diversifying the country’s revenue base. By 2050, Nigeria’s population is forecasted to increase by 2.6%, reaching 400 million. This means more and more people to feed. Irrespective of what shock hits an economy, households must feed which makes agriculture play a vital role. Nevertheless, AFTCTA presents more opportunities for commodities and Nigeria has more comparative advantage.

Alaba: Could you highlight some of AFEX’s achievements and impact in the West African market?

Ayodeji: We now have the largest supply chain infrastructure/ network in Nigeria with over 70 warehouses across 19 states in Nigeria, which serve as hubs for smallholder farmers and traders to transact. AFEX also accounts for over 100,000MT of total national storage capacity, helping to prevent post-harvest losses. Over the past five years, we have reached over 160,000 farmers and traded over 200,00MT of commodities with a total turnover of USD68. 3 million (NGN 28 billion); matching orders from smallholder farmers and brokers with buyers on our trading platform at fair prices, continuously bringing value to farmers and ensuring quality in the ecosystem.

To date, AFEX has a record of many firsts, including being the first commodities operator to create and list the first-ever commodities index in Nigeria, and working with capital market players to structure debt securities to finance over 160,000 smallholder farmers. AFEX also launched the first Asset-Backed Commercial Paper in Africa to bridge the financing gap for processors.

Ayodeji Balogun (Image: AFEX)

We also have the largest database of credible farmer data complete with bank verification numbers and land coordinates. Still, on a platform level, we introduced the first digital trading platform for commodities in Nigeria, ComX, with an increasing array of innovative commodity-backed securities, and a learning module that further facilitates the education and information needs of the commodities market on the continent.

Alaba: In your view, what needs to be done to scale the commodities trade in West Africa where you operate?

Ayodeji: The first step is an investment in Knowledge. We must fill in the information gap about commodities trading. This can be achieved by deploying several education initiatives to foster financial literacy in the market. Already at AFEX, we have over 300 publications of our price data reports and quarterly reports on key commodities that can be traded on our exchange. Once data and information are available, we can scale at an exponential rate. When people have access to the right information on commodities trading then they can make informed decisions around it.

Secondly, we need to continue to solve the problems around productivity. Basically, ensuring that we are actually producing the volumes required at the other end of the chain. Part of this is ensuring that producers have access to credit and inputs that they require to improve their productivity. The third part is then ensuring the efficiency of our market systems. So there’s transparency and liquidity that incentivizes players to continually participate in the market.

Alaba: What benefits does the commodity market offer smallholder farmers?

Ayodeji: What the commodity market offers to farmers is an enabling environment for transparent and efficient trade. Farmers can access market information that allows them to make advantageous decisions in selling their produce.

Farmers enjoy key benefits in;

  1. Productivity: helping farmers produce at the right quantity and quality through access to credit (input financing program) and extension services.
  2. Storage: Warehouse infrastructure enables farmers to store produce and determine when to sell. Also, outreach networks at that level drives farmer registration and inclusion.
  3. Aggregation: Individual farmer produce can form part of a larger order for AFEX clients giving the farmers access to larger markets.

Ayodeji Balogun (Image: AFEX)

We already have a process in place via our outreach structure, which allows us to profile farmers and include them in our systems after which we disburse loans in form of inputs and actively provide support for them through the production cycle up to harvest when we trigger our repayment structures, but also enable the farmers to get access to a market for their leftover commodities.

Alaba: Early this year, AFEX secured $50 million for finance Agri-SMEs in Nigeria. What is the update and when do we start seeing its impact?

Ayodeji: The program is under implementation as we speak with many of the benefits playing out effectively. Essentially, the unique structure of the program is having a dual impact of helping food processors ensure constant volume all through the year and also mitigating the impact of price volatility. Despite the huge volatilities we have seen so far this year, the participants have been able to save millions of naira as they have been able to aggregate the required grains at key market-moving periods of the year.

Alaba: What are the future and next milestones for AFEX?

Ayodeji: Over the next 5 years, AFEX aims to scale 10 times on all our key numbers and metrics. We are looking to expand our trade infrastructure to include a 1 million MT storage capacity that will support a robust supply chain network. The goal is also to enhance the livelihoods of 1 million smallholder farmers, aggregate 1 million MT in trade volumes, and facilitate funding of 500 million dollars for a viable commodity value chain through which farmers and commodity merchants can access commodity and financial markets.

Alaba: A piece of advice to a young and budding investor, entrepreneur, or CEO out there?

Ayodeji: I believe that the tools needed for success in life are beyond building complex financial models and creating insightful decks. They require understanding people (millennials and tech-natives particularly) and how to keep them continuously motivated; understanding the world’s wicked problems (poverty, financial inclusion, climate change and adaptation) and how to create solutions that are commercially viable; and even harder, raising capital to solve these problems and creating social and economic value.

 

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