Fresh off another edition of the African Energy Week in Cape Town, South Africa, the African Energy Chamber (AEC) and its leadership is marching forward in its crusade to make energy poverty history by 2030. Led by Executive Chairman NJ Ayuk, a delegation of the AEC is on a charm offensive to Houston, Texas, USA. The AEC delegation comprising Senior Vice President Verner Ayukeba amongst others, held stimulating engagement sessions with key stakeholders in Houston, a city hailed globally for its energy prowess.
The trip to Houston which came on the heels of a similar mission to Guyana where NJ Ayuk participated in the African Caribbean Trade and Investment Forum 2023 is part of a series of high-profile events in line for the AEC to cap off a hectic year.
Speaking to PAV, NJ Ayuk describes the mission to Houston as hugely critical considering strong and growing ties between the AEC and stakeholders in the energy sector across the USA. Discussions with energy actors in Houston were fruitful and more of such engagements will take place in other cities across the USA, Ayuk said.
NJ lauded the record participation of energy actors from the USA, including Senior Officials from the Biden Administration at the recent African Energy Week. The potential is there, the African energy sector is open to investment, and the investment climate is not as bleak as some naysayers may paint it, NJ Ayuk said in a sales pitch to U.S and global investors.
In a continue where the energy needs are dire, the AEC will continue to play a leadership role in speaking up and rallying vital investments to give hope to hundreds of millions, NJ Ayuk said in the interview which also covered the recent AEW and his mission to Guyana.
What is your take on the African Energy Chamber on the 2023 edition of the African Energy Week?
NJ Ayuk: I think the Africa Energy Week 2023 edition was really, really important for Africa. We, the delegates, the government officials, the private sector, and also the international community made it very clear that Africa has a right to develop its natural resources for the benefit of its people. We welcome, we embrace a transition, but it has to be a just transition and a just energy transition for Africa has to deal with 600 million people without electricity, 900 million without clean cooking technologies. We cannot meet our sustainable development goals without that and without addressing these issues, but also that before we get to net zero, we need to get first to net energy poverty, because climate change and energy poverty are two sides of the same coin. Both energy development and energy growth were at the center of African Energy Week, where you saw new deals being signed for the development of energy, especially LNG, in Congo. We saw the development of new gas projects in Angola, Mozambique, Senegal, and South Africa. So, Africans and the companies were saying that we have to develop energy in a low carbon, cleaner, better, sustainable way to ensure that our people have jobs, have opportunity, and we create millions of dollars in revenue for governments. We also have to build an enabling environment so that we don’t have to pick, or governments don’t have to pick winners and losers. I think that is what made this African Energy Week so unique. We came out very strong, and I’m excited about the results. I’m really, really excited, given the nature of how people, and how the delegates responded and really engaged with one another, and left with a very strong committed spirit to go back and do more to develop our continent, Africa.
From the AEW, you had a working visit to Guyana and participated in the African Caribbean Trade and Investment Forum 2023. What is the message you took there?
NJ Ayuk: Guyana is so important. You know Guyana has gone from zero to hero in energy development and producing oil and natural gas, which will come up very soon. Guyana is working together with African countries and the Caribbean. It is unique because, first, we’re going into COP28. From an energy perspective, we need a united voice, a global south voice to unite Africa, the Caribbean, and the African diaspora for trade and business.
As we go to COP28, we must have a solid position to ensure we do not leave one drop of hydrocarbons in the ground while transitioning. Don’t forget the wealthy nations; they need to decarbonize while African and Caribbean nations need to industrialize, and we need to do that with baseload heavy industry, baseload energy that can drive heavy industry. What we saw in Guyana was Afreximbank putting out a lot of financing for small and medium enterprises. The majority of our people in the Caribbean need to be able to access credit lines and financial opportunities to develop and grow their businesses.
And in the case of energy, they can get involved in energy because even when you have local content-driven opportunities, in places like Guyana, Trinidad, you will not be able to move on that without the finances that you need to hire people, import goods, import services, and be able to drive and do local manufacturing. We want to change that.
We had great meetings with the President of Guyana, the President of Barbados, and the Prime minister of St. Lucia. We also had representatives from many Caribbean nations coming together, high-level ministers, and cabinet secretaries. So, it was a very, very successful meeting. On the Chamber side, we participated in roundtables, but also engaged in carrying out working visits to various facilities. Exxon Mobile has done an amazing job in really getting the platforms up and running, producing oil in a low-carbon, sustainable way in that country, engaging the communities, hiring new people, continuing to search for Guyanese citizens to see how they can train, hire, and have active recruitment. But also looking at the Guyanese diaspora to bring them right back into the country to join forces and develop the country and really, really drive better campaigns on this. So, Exxon Mobile in Guyana has been a blessing to the country, and a blessing to the people who need so much support more than ever. And we hope to see more of those kind of projects.
There will also be collaboration between Africans and Guyanese, especially on the service side, and investments on key critical issues, especially when it comes to forests, forest management, and the environment.
You’re currently part of a high-profile AEC delegation on a working visit to Houston, Texas. May we get insights on some of the meetings and engagements that you’ve had there?
NJ Ayuk: Texas and the city of Houston is the energy capital of the world. There is no better place after living in Guyana, being in this hemisphere, without being able to stop in Texas. So, I made a very big decision with the city of Houston’s energy officials that are members of the AEC ,to come right into Texas to engage with partners and stakeholders. First of all, they’re members of the AEC, but also different energy alliances and the corporations that are producing in our continent, meet with them, understand, listen to them, and understand some of the challenges that they face when it comes to operating in Africa. We also discussed new opportunities that could unleash Africa’s energy potential to create jobs and opportunities for our young people.
And my hope is to be able to get some of these investments back into Africa. Investment into exploration for oil and natural gas, training and development of our young people, partnerships that build capacity, and building for governments and national oil companies. Also, investment with service companies to see how they can do more local content, hire more people, and create more opportunities for Africans to be part of day-to-day energy productions and transparent technologies that we so need to be able to do a lot of work for ourselves.
So being in Texas is an amazing opportunity for us to really put Africa and Africa’s message at the centre of energy in the world, but also look at different innovations that we are seeing right now with companies trying to operate in a low carbon environment. And my hope is to be able to get some of these investments back into Africa, investment into exploration for oil and natural gas investments, investment in investments into training and development of our young people, partnerships that build capacity building for governments and national oil companies, but also with service companies to see how they can do more local content. They can hire more people and also create more opportunities for Africans to be part of day-to-day energy productions and transferring technologies that we so need to be able to do a lot of work for ourselves. So it’s been a very, very successful Houston visit. They have been very open, and their support base and the collaboration has gotten even stronger, met with the geological societies, and they are going to do some really big things. I think in the next few weeks, we’re going to be announcing some big projects that are going to have some big-ticket items on some shovel-ready projects that we think could really take off, between US companies and African companies. But also, some investment movements that are going to come in from Texas into the continent. And I think that’s really critical at this moment.
What appraisal did you make of the American participation at this year’s edition of the African Energy Week, and for companies and actors still in doubt, how do you make a serious pitch to them on the opportunities and attractiveness of Africa as an investment destination?
NJ Ayuk: I think Africa, which most of us call home. Is very attractive and it will continue to be attractive as long as we have resources. But then, we shouldn’t stand idly by and let the above ground risk issues become the biggest problems. We are not short of natural resources, but our above-ground risk issues have become areas of concern. So, we got to deal with the enabling environment issues. We got to deal with permitting issues, we got to deal with governance issues. And those issues are issues that the Chamber is going to be very firm in pushing. When we open up and do better things, it doesn’t matter whether it is visas, whether it is other issues, it makes it enabling for companies coming from the US to invest and continue to put more money. And we’re going to be drivers of that.
African Energy Week was a showcase of that, where we had a no-holds-barred conversation with US government officials, African businesses, US businesses with African officials and African businesses really having a strong conversation, very strong conversation on how we’re going to develop the Africa of the future. Houston and the United States had one of the largest delegations coming from oil-producing companies, developers, service companies. They felt at home in Cape Town. They are going to turn back up in 2024. They really were a strong support base too and that is really important. For a lot of years, we have worked very hard to really have a strong courtship of US investments into Africa, and into the African Energy Week and I think it’s paying dividends right now, but we must not stop there. There is still a lot of work to do. And we got to continue engaging because when we engage, we work with each other. Then we discover that it is possible to really do amazing things, especially when it comes to energy and Africa.
What did Chairman NJ Ayuk And African Energy Chamber make of the presence and message Of Deputy Assistant Secretary Josh Volz of the U.S. Energy Department?
NJ Ayuk: It was very important. We must be very thankful to the Biden administration for sending him to engage with African leaders, African NOCs, and the international community at large. Mr. Volz, as the highest representative of the U.S. government, played a very unique role. A message that said they supported Africa with developing energy for the 600 million and more that don’t have energy. Bigger than that, they came in, Mr. Volz came in and outlined significant initiatives in Ghana and different African countries that they are investing in clean energy. One of the unique things I felt was he talked to everybody and listened. He listened to a lot of what Africans were thinking. So that was a key part, and most people left very pleased with Mr. Volz being there.
He really was committed to saying, and he sent a very strong message that America is going to be a partner of Africa as it fights energy poverty, as it fights to use its critical minerals to industrialize, and it fights to grow. It was a renewed hope for a feeling that where a marriage was strong, Mr. Volz made the marriage with Africa stronger by being there and really passing a strong message that America is going to be Africa’s partner.
America is going to stand shoulder to shoulder with Africa. America will not forget one of its most reliable allies in our continent. But equally important, he was very candid on issues around governance, that Africa also has to step up. When we step up to do things better, they will meet us on the other side, and there will be American support.
So American support for Africa came out very strong, Mr. Volz and America’s commitment will only grow. We in Africa also have an obligation to do some things that are going to really engineer that growth when it comes to creating an enabling environment, good governance, and meeting core values when it comes to issues around the rule of law, human rights, and opening up markets for American products and American business. As you see from that, after Mr. Volz left Cape Town, you also see different discussions around AGOA and extending the partnership even further. So, we were blessed to have him. Africa was blessed to see a strong message and commitment from the United States. It was the right thing to do, and we really welcomed that relationship. He was a strong advocate for Africa.
What next for you and the African Energy Chamber to cap off 2023 and roll out 2024?
NJ Ayuk: You know most people believe that walking this city, Houston, is going to be the end of 2023. No. We’re going to have teams in Washington DC, and in New York. We will have teams in different places across the United States working with our members and producers to drive up energy growth and energy partnerships, but bigger than that, we’re going into COP28.
COP28 is going to be so important in Dubai to be able to drive up a strong African position that comes with partnership, with growth. That’s what we’re going to do, and we’re going to make that happen. And I think that, when we’re able to cap that, it will close out 2023 very big. I’m really looking forward to seeing how 2024 would be prosperous for Africa and driving energy across the continent.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Pan African Visions.