Afren at home in Africa
Chief executive Osman Shahenshah is reliving his African experiences and is hopeful that his company can help build a positive future for the continent that has won his affection
Osman Shahenshah, chief executive of Afren, the Gulf of Guinea focused independent, has developed a strong affinity for Africa.
He was heavily involved in the continent’s affairs for eight years when working for the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC), and travelled regularly to Nigeria, Cameroon, Congo-Brazzaville, Gabon and the Ivory Coast.
“I fell in love with Africa. I feel passionate about the industry and the region,” Shahenshah says.
After leaving the IFC, Shahenshah worked for a period in the financial services sector in London, where he met Liberian entrepreneur Ethelbert Cooper and became heavily involved in the formation of Afren. “It’s funny how I’ve gone back to my early history,” he says.
He says relationships formed during his time at IFC have endured over the past 20 years and have helped in establishing Afren’s credentials in the region, adding: “We’ve got a strong African identity and ethos. We work closely with governments, national oil companies and indigenous companies.” Since Afren was set up in 2004, it has grown from a business with two employees and
1 million in funds provided by friends and family to a player churning out 26,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day from 15 assets in five countries and employing 150 people.
By the end of next year, when the 42-million barrel Ebok field is set to come on stream, output should hit about 60,000 boepd with a “a fair wind”.
He believes Afren has sufficient funding to move ahead with this project, with city analysts suggesting Ebok could be the first project to be handled by Afren’s joint venture with Japan’s Sojitz.
Shahenshah, who has a keen interest in development economics, has little time for the benefactor-beneficiary view of Africa and believes the best way to contribute is to lead by example. In the case of Afren, this means “creating an African company that can compete and has a strong African identity”. He tires of the “famine and corruption” perception of the continent, describing it as a “gross over-simplification”.
“Having had experience of working in Africa, treating people with respect and understanding is key to getting things done, in addition to putting aside pre- conceived ideas,” the Pakistan-born chief executive believes.
Nigeria is Afren’s core area due to both relationships and its substantial hydrocarbon resources and, while admitting it can be a very difficult place to work, Shahenshah says that the problems in the Niger Delta and the perception of political risk “keep the competition at bay”.
Finding a solution to the delta issues will not be easy, despite Abuja taking the problem seriously.
“It’s a deep, complex issue with many tentacles,” says Shahenshah. “There are legitimate political and social issues alongside financial and criminal aspects, and the second element has hijacked the first.” Shahenshah attaches great importance to, and is very conscientious of, working with local communities wherever Afren does business but particularly in the Niger Delta.
This involvement covers funding as well as educational initiatives, such as scholarships and apprenticeships that give people the tools to get jobs. One of Shahenshah’s main ambitions is to help create an African Petroleum Institute – in Africa for Africans.
He says Afren has put in a little bit of seed money with other funding expected from the United Nations, while assistance could come from an Organisation for Econcomic Co-operation and Development university, most likely in the US.
The Ivory Coast’s state-owned Petroci has also offered assistance and help with staffing.
In terms of the institute’s location, there have been strong expressions of interest from the Ivory Coast, Ghana and Nigeria. Afren’s assets lie in Nigeria, Ghana, Gabon, the Ivory Coast and Congo-Brazzaville, and it is looking at further opportunities in these countries and elsewhere.
“We look throughout Africa and are open to the entire continent”, he says, pointing out that “in time, we will do something in North Africa”.
He says his time with Afren has been “deeply rewarding” and he is more optimistic now about the future than at any time in the last four years “because we’ve done a lot of very hard work in getting established and having a track record and credibility”.
He says Afren’s growth strategy is clear and it ultimately aims to be an African company that is involved in all forms of the energy business, including liquefied natural gas, downstream and renewables.
“I would love to take the Afren model and expand it across the energy spectrum. I’m confident we will get there,” Shahenshah adds.
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