Africa’s energy: ‘If we don’t think long-term, we could play catch up,’ says KenGen’s MD

Africa’s development is hinged on access and affordability of energy yet most countries including Kenya struggle with these. What is the remedy to the energy problems?

It is very possible to have access and affordability. Sub-Saharan Africa has over 780 million people and an installed capacity of 31,000MW (excluding South Africa), which is small compared to Norway which has a population of five million and 32,000MW. Sub-Saharan Africa is also rich with energy resources like hydro, geothermal, solar and wind. We need to tap [into] these resources because the demand is there. The headroom is so high in terms of energy demand. We also need to be cost effective in the delivery of our projects so as to ensure affordability on the end of the consumer. The way we do our projects is very expensive. It takes far too long to complete a project and with that comes extra costs. We need to deliver on time and on budget. It also needs to be sustainable and that is why at KenGen our thrust is towards renewable energy.

You have been active in the private and public sector for more than 35 years and are set to retire in June. What lessons have you learnt in your long career?

I have learnt that as you go to the top your management style needs to change. You need to be looking at strategic issues and not operational issues. What is more important is that you need to be very focused. You need to set the goals and stay focused on achieving them. For us that has been to get to 1,500MW then to 3,000MW and then to over 10,000 MW by 2030. There have been difficult times too in my career. One of the worst was when we were being accused of impropriety in our procurements some time last year. That was a difficult time for us. It was not a good time to have all sorts of accusations leveled at us considering how hard we have been working to deliver.

What is next for you after retirement?

I will play golf and travel. I will be involved in non-executive positions in the energy sector and will continue to sit on several boards. I may go back to school to study because I feel there are some challenges and gaps in the energy sector and I would like to help African governments bridge those gap. I would also like to teach later.

Africa’s private and public sectors need good leadership to grow local entities. What are the best management options?

We need to identify potential leaders in our organisation. In the past we used the laid down scheme of service such that one had to go through each and every step to get to the top. Every organisation needs to identify potential leaders and take them through a route that can get them to the top as early as possible. We need to get CEOs at much earlier ages, not in their 60s and that cannot come through schemes of service but rather through identification and nurturing of potential. Younger CEOs have the energy. Sure you need the experience, but these days they can get experience by their early 40s, not necessarily in their 60s.

As you leave KenGen after ten years as MD, what path do you want the company to tread and have you groomed any successors?

I want KenGen to still be the leading power generator not just in Kenya but also in the region. I want to see it grow to over 10,000MW in installed capacity. I want it to continue being focused and play a major role in the economic growth of Kenya. As for succession, I have done a lot in preparing the people who report to me. However, the position will be filled competitively and I have no preference on either internal or external [candidates].

At the age 60, you have seen Africa through different seasons. What is needed to take Africa to the next stage?

We have a huge potential in terms of human population. We need to create a very robust and sustainable middle class across the whole continent. I believe the middle class is the buffer of society. It really is the one that anchors society. We need to have more people moving from the bottom of the pyramid, which is where a lot of people are, to the middle. We need to start reshaping our social structure which is very pyramidal. That will resolve a lot of issues.