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Lenders have appetite for Africa’s more attractive sovereign credits, including fashionable francophone markets Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal. When in March Senegal raised $2.2bn in a eurobond issue, its Ministry of Finance received $10.3bn-worth of orders for the euro/dollar-denominated facility. It brought African eurobond issues to a total $10.7bn in Q1 2018, following borrowing by Egypt, Nigeria and Kenya. This was more than the 2016 total, and more than half of the $18bn 2017 record, Bloomberg reported.

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A significant market is emerging across the continent for renewables-based commercial and industrial (C&I) energy projects. In all but a handful of markets, the talk is of a potential that will soon be measured in gigawatts, rather than the usual dozens (at most) of megawatts of an established business. As Kenya-based Astonfield Solar’s chairman Ameet Shah puts it, the technology is still in its early days – as in some cases is the quality of its delivery to clients – but the C&I industry will reach lift-off even before the ‘transformational’ 24-hour storage becomes the norm.

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Twenty years ago, a new publication was launched to fill a gap in FT Energy’s global map: African Energy created in April 1998 as a monthly report, meant the Financial Times subsidiary could claim to cover the world; previously, its stable of newsletters and online products had largely ignored Africa. African Energy opened its account with news that financing for the planned $3.5bn Chad-Cameroon pipeline was falling into place. That controversial project was eventually built, while others have taken longer to leave the drawing board.

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The suspension by President Goodluck Jonathan of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi led the naira to fall sharply and investors to rue the volatility of Nigerian politics. But it was hardly a surprise, following years of controversy surrounding the highly talented and combative governor, and months of Sanusi’s increasingly public criticism of the management of the oil sector and government finances by Jonathan and his close ally petroleum minister Diezani Allison-Madueke. By naming names in the Senate, Sanusi was more or less directly implicating the ruling clique on Aso Rock in gross malfeasance.

Nigeria
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The issues that African Energy covers have risen much higher up the global agenda than seemed likely when the first issue was published in April 1998, when global concern about sub-Saharan Africa’s struggle to provide electricity to hard-pressed populations and industrial users, and the continent’s potential to provide energy to a fast-changing global economy driven by growth in emerging markets, seemed considerably less than now.

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Investor interest in Madagascar picked up when companies were attracted by the island state’s potential for power sector developments, as former president Hery Rajaonarimampianina hosted an influential donor and investor conference in 2016.The going has since proven tough for many investors, as early movers have run into payment issues with malfunctioning state utility Jiro sy Rany Malagasy (Jirama) and the administration has proved unpredictable in renegotiating power purchase agreements (PPAs).

Madagascar
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In this still young century, China has emerged as by far Africa’s biggest economic partner, establishing a vast footprint across the continent at breakneck speed. As many ties with the west have declined – especially following the 2008-09 global financial crisis – Chinese engagement shows no sign of diminishing. This will be underlined when heads of state gather in Beijing for the next Forum on China-Africa Cooperation Summit in September.

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The Zambian government’s refusal to make a $42.5m interest payment by its 13 November deadline – thereby triggering a sovereign debt default – was hardly a surprise. The investor appetite that persuaded lenders to pile into $3bn-worth of Eurobonds has waned on President Edgar Lungu’s watch, while Covid-19 and falling commodity prices have affected sub-Saharan Africa as a whole. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts the region’s economy will contract by 3% in 2020 and its forecast 3.1% growth in 2021 will be “a smaller expansion than expected in much of the rest of the world”.

Zambia
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The Abidjan-based Bourse Régionale des Valeurs Mobilières (BRVM) stock exchange is ambitious but lacks liquidity. Questions persist about the CFA franc peg, underwritten by the French treasury since the West African currency was created in 1945. Destructive trends from climate change to jihadist insurgency can be acutely destabilising to under-resourced governments, while commodity shocks are a perennial headache in economies dependent on agri-business and oil imports.

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Some African governments specialise in grandiose statements about mega-projects that will drive the continent’s electrification or achieve some other transformational goal. In many cases little happens, but the mega-project provides a useful symbol of rapprochement between two states. The Trans-Saharan Gas Pipeline (TSGP) planned by former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo and Algeria’s Abdelaziz Bouteflika is one example still prominent on the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa project list.

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There may be strong economic arguments, as well as the ethical objections raised by campaigners, why development finance institutions (DFIs) should no longer focus on supporting extractives-led growth. A Chatham House research paper* asks whether such models of development are still appropriate as the global economy reduces its carbon dependency. Discussion of the paper at the Fossil Fuel Supply and Climate Policy conference in Oxford on 26-27 September tested the thesis made popular among DFIs during the long commodities boom that exploiting natural resources could end aid dependency and drive socio-economic development.

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When most African governments struggle to fund even the most essential projects, costly new technologies may seem a luxury. But rethinking how they can be applied to energy networks can be a valuable exercise for policy-makers and investors: ‘disruptive technology’ can have far-reaching benefits, or prove a red herring for cash-strapped economies.

Kenya | Ghana | Rwanda | Djibouti | Morocco | South Africa
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Production cuts by a majority of Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) producers, working in coordination with non-Opec exporters led by Russia, have helped to raise oil prices from their 2014-16 lows; the strategy seems likely to maintain crude benchmarks at around $50 for some time. While second-guessing the oil price is a hazardous business, African Energy’s soundings of major international oil companies (IOCs) suggest this represents a ‘new normal’ for the industry, as factored into corporations’ base case scenario-planning.

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The recent increase in oil prices will be especially welcomed by Central Africa’s small but dominant ruling elites. The stand-off over Gabon’s presidential election – with Jean Ping contesting the narrow victory announced for President Ali Bongo Ondimba, his former brother-in-law whom he served as foreign minister – is just the most recent manifestation of political turbulence in a region where vulnerable economies have been rendered even more fragile by the slump in the global commodities cycle. Suggestions that Republic of Congo President Denis Sassou Nguesso and allies close to the presidency in Côte d’Ivoire might have supported Ping against Bongo point to the network of close contacts that still typifies the region’s murky politics.

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Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s announcement that he will not seek a fifth term as Algerian president has once again raised questions of gerontocracy and failed governance in Africa. Tunisian head of state Béji Caïd Essebsi benefits from a degree of popular legitimacy but many citizens are concerned that the spry ‘BCE’ at 92 is too old to stand again when presidential elections are held in December. Before that, his fractured Nidaa Tounès (NT) will come under a strong challenge from the Islamist Ennahda party, now the two major parties’ alliance has broken down, and from other rivals, when parliamentary elections are held in October.

Tunisia