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Interview: Alain Ebobissé, CEO, Africa50

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Interview: Alain Ebobissé, CEO, Africa50

Alain Ebobissé is the CEO of Africa50, the Pan-African infrastructure investment platform capitalised by the African Development Bank and, so far, by 25 African countries and two African Central Banks. Prior to joining Africa50, Ebobissé served as the Global Head of IFC Infraventures, the World Bank Group’s Global Infrastructure Project Development Fund. He led the design, structuring and implementation of IFC InfraVentures from its inception.

What is the role of infrastructure in implementing the AU’s Agenda 2063? 

The guiding vision for Agenda 2063 of “an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in international arena,” is very much in line with Africa50’s vision and goals. 

Bringing about the socio-economic transformation of Africa, as Agenda 2063 envisions, requires sustainable economic growth. This, in turn, can only happen if African citizens and countries can fully realise their potential. And for this you need to give them the means, of which one of the most important is modern, efficient infrastructure.

Our aim at Africa50 is to improve Africa’s infrastructure as quickly and broadly as possible, especially in sectors such as energy and transport, which have important economic multiplier effects. As Africa’s infrastructure improves it can increasingly tap into its vast physical and human resources.

We can create a virtuous cycle whereby improved infrastructure raises productivity, exports, incomes, and revenues, which in turn can help finance more infrastructure. This will bring about the prosperity Africa deserves, allowing it to profit from and participate as an equal partner in globalisation.

And let me emphasise, as the African Union and many African leaders do, that it is Africans themselves who must bring about this transformation. Outside advice and capital is welcome, but it is time we take responsibility and leadership for our own future. This is one of the reasons I am proud to lead Africa50, an initiative created by, funded by, and led by Africans.

What is your message to African leaders whose countries are yet to join Africa50, and what do you have to offer them?

Our message is twofold. First, I urge them to join this important pan-African initiative because they, the African Heads of State, initiated the process that led to Africa50’s founding by the African Development Bank (AfDB). 

In a 2012 declaration under PIDA, they called for innovative solutions to facilitate infrastructure delivery on the continent. Africa50 has become this solution and the more countries join and contribute capital, the more effective we can be. We have already reached the tipping point of having 25 country shareholders, with two more expected to join in July. 

This represents half of all African nations, and there are a lot of reasons why the others should join. We do not have a minimum capital requirement or yearly dues. We are self-sustaining since we work on a commercial model and will grow our capital not only through finding new members but also by mobilising long-term savings from within and outside Africa through attracting institutional investors and other funding sources.

Second and most importantly, countries have a direct economic interest in becoming Africa50 shareholders. While we can invest in any African country, our clear focus is on member states. By joining Africa50 they are eligible for funding far beyond their own capital contributions and can benefit from the leverage we have with private and DFI financiers, including the AfDB.

African leaders increasingly realise that their infrastructure needs far outstrip their budgets and other public resources that they can access. Outside partners are needed to fill the gap. Africa50 was designed to bring in these partners, especially the private sector, and help bridge the infrastructure gap in Africa.

What role can Africa50 play in the AU’s agenda for regional integration, especially in the context of the recent signing of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement?

The AfCFTA is a great initiative that demonstrates that African leaders are strongly committed to regional integration and cooperation. Although it will take some time to get the required number of signatories and ratification, the regulatory convergence and mutual recognition of standards that come with the process will improve the trade and investment environment between countries and Africa’s regional economic groupings.

However, this integration will be slow if regional infrastructure links are not improved. Africa needs the roads and transportation hubs, power lines, and ICT architecture that connect countries and create economies of scale and new markets. And it must extend these links worldwide.

Africa50, with its pan-African funding and mandate, can help. Regional projects, from railroads and roads, to transmission lines and power supply, require huge investments. 

Africa50, with its privileged relations with its shareholder governments, the AfDB and other DFIs, can help broker and fund such projects. For example, large hydropower projects generate quantities of power and require levels of funding that transcend individual countries and necessitate regional off-takers and cooperation. 

Similarly, to tap Africa’s large gas reserves for power generation you need pipelines that link supply and demand across borders. Africa50 can help develop and fund these projects.

What is your assessment of Africa50’s performance to date?

I think we had a very good start. Since I came on board in August 2016, we have recruited a top-notch team of executives and project development and finance professionals, have put in place the administrative, policy and legal structures that guide our operations, and have increased the number of shareholders.

Most importantly, we have established our reputation as a reliable and nimble partner for project development and financing by making actual investments in several projects including a series of six solar projects in Egypt totalling 400MW, which has reached financial close in record time, and a 120MW thermal plant. 

Amongst the many initiatives that we have been actively supporting I am pleased to report that Africa50 recently signed an agreement with the AfDB and Green Climate Fund to collaborate on the Desert to Power Program for solar projects in the Sahel. This is an important initiative that can add significant, much-needed renewable power in the region. Our project pipeline is also strong, with four more deals very likely by the end of the year and many more in early-stage negotiations. 

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