Game Changers Ouédraogo, Coulibaly, Koné: One motto…innovation!

In depth
This article is part of the dossier: Game Changers

By Estelle Maussion, Quentin Velluet
Posted on Tuesday, 28 December 2021 13:06

From Burkina Faso to Côte d'Ivoire, whether it's electricity, agriculture or digital technology, these leaders are doing everything they can to shake up the status quo.

This is part 7 of an 8-part series

Bachir Ismaël Ouédraogo, driving force behind solar electrification

Bachir Ismaël Ouédraogo © Stéphanie Scholz/Colagène

Electricity consumption is skyrocketing, but production is not keeping up, and energy imports are becoming increasingly expensive. This is the problem that Burkina Faso must solve. The country is forced to import nearly 60% of its energy from Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana to meet a demand for electricity that has been increasing by nearly 10% per year since 2012.

Yet the country has already started to get out of the rut. And, in the opinion of several sector specialists, it is thanks in part to Bachir Ismaël Ouédraogo, minister of energy. Appointed in 2018 during the first term of Marc Christian Kaboré, the 40-year-old trained in the United Kingdom and is an expert in renewable energy. He was reappointed to his post at the beginning of the year while seeing his duties extended to mines and quarries – recognition of his ability to “deliver”.

Under his leadership, Burkina Faso is becoming a solar champion. In recent months, three private power plant projects (30, 38 and 24 MW) have reached financial close – thanks to support from the Dutch development agency FMO – the final step before commissioning in 2022. Two other projects of 30 and 20 MW are expected to follow the same path soon.

We have insisted on a diverse range of projects so as not to put all our eggs in one basket

There are also four power plants totalling 50 MW financed by the French Development Agency (AFD) and the African Development Bank (ADB). There is also a World Bank (WB) envelope to improve rural electrification and then launch, from 2022, nearly 300 MW of projects.

Without counting this last contribution from the WB, the country will gain nearly 200 MW of solar energy in the short term. This is a big step forward considering its current installed capacity amounts to 357 MW of mainly thermal with only 34 MW of solar energy via the Zagtouli power plant, financed by the European Union and the AFD.

To achieve this, the Minister met with all the major players in the sector, organising “deal teams” which included personnel from the Ministry of Economy and Finance and the National Electricity Company of Burkina Faso (SONABEL), the sector regulator. He followed the projects attentively, managing everything from start to finish. “We have insisted on a diverse range of projects so as not to put all our eggs in one basket,” he emphasises. The range of public players – WB, ADB, AFD, FMO, EU – is matched by several private promoters, including Africa REN, Qair, GreenYellow and UrbaSolar.

Unlike several countries, including Togo and Senegal, which have benefited from the International Finance Corporation’s (IFC) “Scaling Solar” programme, the WB’s dedicated private sector subsidiary, Burkina Faso has “followed its own path”.

“Even if we could have gone even faster, we have expertise that we can reuse,” comments the Minister, who emphasises the soundness of the technical aspects of the projects and the care taken in working with donors to guarantee speed and efficiency.

Adama Coulibaly, standard-bearer for agricultural transformation

Adama Coulibaly © Stéphanie Scholz/Colagène

The good news from the agricultural world has gone unnoticed: in 2021, Côte d’Ivoire has become the 3rd largest exporter of cashew almonds – the name of the cashew nut once processed – taking third place from Brazil and trailing behind Vietnam and India. Abidjan, already the world’s second-largest exporter of raw cashew nuts behind Vietnam, is thus working to overcome a key challenge on the continent: the processing of agricultural products to generate added value locally.

This long-term battle – Côte d’Ivoire still only processes between 10 and 12% of its annual production – is being waged by Adama Coulibaly, the director-general of the Cotton and Cashew Council (CCA), the sector’s regulator created in 2013. A doctor of veterinary medicine from the Catholic University of Louvain, the Ivorian joined the CCA in 2013 as deputy director-general before taking over as its head in 2017.

Despite contending with competition from Asian markets and the difficulty of structuring a sector subject to fluctuations in world prices, the head of the CCA has accompanied the rise of the sector. Ivorian production of raw nuts has risen from 460,000 tonnes in 2013 to one million tonnes in 2020 and cashew kernel production has jumped from 30,000 to 100,000 tonnes over the same period, according to official figures. For 2021, the progression continues with gross production of 1.1 million tonnes and 110,000 tonnes of almonds, according to the specialist firm N’kalô.

To achieve this result, it was first necessary to increase production, this was partly achieved through the introduction of a minimum purchase price in 2013 and a crackdown on smugglers. The emphasis was then placed on processing, which is currently carried out by around ten factories, run by Olam, Royal Nuts, SG Agro, Novarea and ICN.

His plan: export directly from Côte d’Ivoire to the United States and Europe, without going through Asia

After launching a cashew nut innovation and technology centre in Yamoussoukro in October 2020, the head of the CCA is now working on the creation of industrial zones for the manufacturing of nuts (used in cooking and cosmetics) and apples (also prized in the agri-food sector) in Bondoukou in the east, Korhogo in the north, Séguéla in the north-west and Bouaké in the centre of the country. These initiatives should help stimulate new investments in a sector with over 2500 producers grouped in over twenty cooperatives.

Even if some critics consider progress to be too slow, Coulibaly, who recently returned from COP 26, is not letting up, aiming for a 50% transformation rate by 2025. He wants to multiply the number of partnerships and generalise the certification of Ivorian production, which is the key to placing Made in Ivory Coast nuts on the international market.

Digital sovereignty: a conductor named Lacina Koné

Lacina Koné © Stéphanie Scholz/Colagène

In Dubai at the end of October to talk about the continent’s tech-wizards at the Gitex exhibition and then on CNN. In Cairo in November, to sign a funding agreement between Alliance Smart Africa and the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa (BADEA).

In Douala, a few days later, to attend the signing of a contract which puts an end to roaming charges within the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC), before returning to his headquarters in Kigali to meet with the board of directors of Alliance, which he leads, in the presence of Paul Kagame.

Lacina Koné, director-general of the Smart Africa Alliance since March 2019, has an agenda that is as complex and difficult as the task before him. The former presidential advisor from Côte d’Ivoire is responsible for defining and guaranteeing the conditions for the development of a single African digital market that manages to preserve digital sovereignty.

Indeed, the existing network infrastructures are mostly owned by foreign players, (the Chinese Huawei, the French Orange, the British Vodafone or the Indian Airtel, to name but a few), and Africa is now seeing the arrival of big names in American tech with projects like Facebook’s 2Africa or Google’s Equiano submarine cables.

Thus, a necessary vigilance guides the strategy of the Smart Africa initiative, whose board of directors brings together 35 states, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the AU commissioner in charge of infrastructure, and private companies such as Econet, PWC, Huawei and Google.

Some have already given up, as the task seems impossible in a zone that represents only 1.3% of the global digital market and where the only significant text guaranteeing a degree of sovereignty and the protection of personal data – the Malabo Convention – is struggling to be ratified. After seven years of existence, only 12 countries have signed it, and six have ratified it.

Because of this, what can Smart Africa really do? Lacina Koné chooses to be optimistic. “The failure of the Malabo convention does not mean that Africa is not making progress on these issues. 29 countries currently do have a law on data protection, and nine are in the process of adopting one,” observes the engineer and former managing director of Qualicom, a Malian telecommunications company. But, according to him, African states will only negotiate well if they are united on this issue.

This is why Smart Africa has set itself the goal of harmonising the various international, continental and regional texts on data protection and privacy to analyse their similarities and differences. Ultimately, the aim is to create a new set of regulations capable of uniting all Smart Africa member states. “The document should then be used by the African Union to extend the text to the whole of Africa,” concludes the leader.

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options
Also in this in Depth:

Game changers: Security, justice, climate… These Africans are transforming the continent

In the early 2010s the World Bank and the African Development Bank launched the slogan 'The Africa that wins'. The concept has quickly shown its limits. A narrow perspective, which implies that another part of Africa can be called 'loser', and groups together 54 countries and as many human, historical and social differences into a single value judgment.

Game changers: Tinto, Muyembe, Wonkam…Pioneers of African health

Antimalarials, treatments against Ebola, studies of African genomes... These relentless and visionary scientists succeeded when no one dared to believe.

Game changers: Zondo, Touré, Merzoug… The incorruptible seekers of justice

They are on the frontline of the fight against corruption, fighting to guarantee the independence of justice in an often difficult context. Portraits of independence from the continent: South African Justice Raymond Zondo, Prosecutor Idrissa Hamidou Touré of Mali, and Algerian magistrate Saadeddin Merzoug.

Game changers – Felwine Sarr, Touria El Glaoui, Acha Leke… Idea shaker-uppers

Publishing, contemporary art, education... From Senegal to Cameroon via Morocco, portraits of the Africans helping the continent’s artistic and intellectual achievements shine on the world stage.

Game changers: Ibrahim Hachane and Kalista Sy, in the name of women

One is a lawyer in Morocco, the other a scriptwriter in Senegal. Both have, in their respective fields, helped shake up the conservatism surrounding women’s rights.

Game changers: Innocent Kabandana and Pascal Muhizi, Rwandan officers who overcome jihadists

“African armies: why are they so bad?” A few years ago, after noting increasing conflicts and the inability of the armed forces to rectify them, we dared to ask this deliberately provocative question, causing something of a scandal on the continent. But asking a question does not prevent us from qualifying the answer, nor even from recognising encouraging victories when they do occur.

Game changers: Vanessa Nakate, a voice for the climate

From Ugandan schools to the podium of COP26, this young activist warns us about the effects of climate change in Africa, and she does not hesitate to hold world leaders to account.