Billions at Play

The Future of African Energy and Doing Deals

by Nj Ayuk

Two decades of negotiating African oil and gas deals have given NJ Ayuk a grasp of the continent’s energy landscape that few can match. The American-educated, African energy lawyer serves up generous doses of that insight in his second book, “Billions at Play: The Future of Africa Energy and Doing Deals.”

He offers a road map for the continent doing a better job of using its vast energy resources to improve its peoples’ lives. He addresses how African countries can use their energy industries as spring boards for diversifying and growing their overall economies. 

Another is how they can negotiate better deals with international energy companies and how the continent’s countries can use marginal oil and gas fields to develop domestic energy industries that, once strong, will compete  globally.

In addition, Ayuk discusses why Africa’s fledgling natural gas industry can become an international powerhouse, how the continent can improve its notoriously unreliable, economy-sapping power industry, why American energy companies should stop curtailing their investments in Africa, and why the continent’s energy industry needs more women.

The book’s underlying theme is that — in Ayuk’s words — “too often, our natural resources create wealth for foreign investors and a select group of African elites while everyday people fail to benefit.”

As for Africans needing to step up their energy-negotiations game, Ayuk notes that when he became an oil and gas lawyer years ago, “Africans were not part of any kind of deal-making structure: When negotiations involving foreign investors’ oil and gas exploration, production, and revenue-sharing took place, Africans were not at the table–or even in the room.”

Although African negotiators are at the table now, some are being out maneuvered, he suggests. He goes on to list steps that African negotiators can take to achieve oil and gas deals that please their clients, such as remembering that the best agreements benefit both sides. A mutually rewarding deal will reduce the chance that one side will become  resentful and demand a renegotiation.

Although Africa has been an oil-market force for decades, it has lagged on natural-gas development. This needs to change, he says. While more gas exports would boost the continent’s economy, the main reason he wants to see a gas-development boom is that gas would ease the continent’s power shortages until renewables inevitably take over.

Africa has so much gas potential that many energy experts see the continent as gas’s new frontier, he enthuses. The power shortages that gas could help fix have been battering Africa’s economy for decades, Ayuk laments. The main reason is that governments own most countries’ utility assets, he contends. Governments that have separated power creation and distribution, and privatized it, are reducing their electricity deficits, he says. If adopted continent-wide, unbundling could go a long way toward solving the power crunch, he asserts.

Ayuk also makes a case for Africa’s oil and gas industry hiring and promoting more women. His main argument is one that you hear reverberating across the business world: Why limit your company’s potential by failing to consider half of your country’s human capital? He underscores his argument by pointing to African women who have achieved petroleum-industry success, including becoming CEOs.

Although “Billions” deals with one of world’s most complex industries, it is easy to digest because Ayuk writes in a straightforward, concise and zesty style. This makes the book a joy to read. I learned a lot about Africa’s oil and gas industry in “Billions” — and its prospects for the future — and had fun while I was doing it. 

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