BUSINESS: Invest or Divest? Ponderings of an African Investor

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Ponderings of an African investor...

The imaginary thoughts of an African investor about to invest in coal, or not. Weighing the desire for profits in the ‘era of the megawatt boom’ against fears of investing in stranded assets as elsewhere, the time of coal seems to end. This is a hypothetical piece.

Thursday 16 April:
(It's been a while since I kept a record of activities; this should make for interesting reading when the project is up and running.) Had another meeting with the power plant developer and the regulator today. Came away with a long list of requirements - problem is we have to meet up with everything. No cutting corners here oooo!

Tuesday 28 April:
Still expecting EIA template from inside man at the Ministry. I did not know they insisted on these environmental impact assessments now. I hope he doesn't fail to deliver. It doesn't matter if it's for a limestone quarry in the South-South; we'll just modify it for our coal project in North State and no one will be the wiser.

Wednesday 29 April:
Chai! See me see wahala ooo! Some disturbing news! Those environmentalists have picketed the mine site. Their leader (who has refused to see reason; maybe I should increase the offer to $20,000.00?) is saying all sorts of things about the future impact of excavation on the land. Why should I care about that? (E no concern me at all). It's in the future and I'd have recouped my investment and been long gone by then.

Friday 01 May:
Relaxing in the business class lounge at Schiphol airport en-route to Geneva to meet our investors and bankers. I do hope our press contacts have been able to "kill" the story about the protests; enough money was shelled out for that purpose. We wouldn't want our Swiss friends worried about the deal at this late stage. Those activists are not good for our country, they oppose rural electrification! Luckily the government committees on these matters are not aware of all the issues raised by the protesters.

Monday 04 May:
The meeting went quite well under the circumstances. I was able to reassure them that the risks are not as serious, and that our EIA process is flexible. They liked to hear that, one was even smiling saying that the lack of enforcement can be a good thing sometimes.

Tuesday 05 May:
Europe can make you worry too much. I picked up the papers this morning and read that a farmer is now taking RWE to court for producing carbon emissions. That’s one of Germany’s leading energy companies, the queen of coal! Carbon what? Community what? Our communities at home need the electricity. But what if someone decides to take my company… for carbon’s sake… how can we avoid being taken to court over smoke from some chimneys?

Wednesday 13 May:
Good story on the project appeared in "Business Times". Finally the media are picking up on the great advantages of coal, that it’s cheap and so on. Great job, they didn’t mention the health cost and environmental cost that comes with decommissioning coal plants. We’ve got it sorted.

Saturday 16 May:
Ran into Senator Ilag at a wedding ceremony; he was happy that Sonnix Investments' project is in his zone and has pledged all the support he can provide. He promised his people coal jobs during the campaign. Smart move, it made him win the elections. Coal jobs that will bring more electricity - the coal revolution was a good sell! Obviously, most of the jobs will not go to the locals in his constituency. Not a chance - that would mean a lot of investment into training for them. We didn’t put that in our business plan. Let’s get the best people wherever we find them…

Friday 29 May:
Listening to the President's speech on my way to the gubernatorial inauguration; he listed solids minerals mining as one of the areas by which youth unemployment will be tackled. Too early for specifics but very encouraging nonetheless; must be sure to send full text of the speech to Geneva.

Arrived at Gomboro City in time for the ceremony there - got to shake the Governor's hand and let him know his continued support is appreciated.

Saturday 30 May:
Decided to visit the mining site since I'm here - work here is proceeding quite well. The Australians are worth every US cent they're charging but I can't wait to see them leave. Person must make profit from this venture after all. Meanwhile the village head and youth leader have come up with some fresh demands. What did they think they were signing 3 years ago, when we met with some of their chiefs… it wasn’t a blank cheque after all. Sonnix is not a charity.

Monday 13 July:
Super-exciting - latest reports from the mining crew indicate that we're likely to exceed our projected output by at least 15% per annum! Based on available information there should be sufficient coal resources to support the mining operation for over 30 years at this rate of production. Where is that bottle of Dom Perignon?

Tuesday 21 July:
Conference call with the Swiss investors and Australian mining crew; the former are worried that we still don't have clear policies/direction on mining… Luckily the 2 local banks providing funding for the venture are not as jittery about this situation; they're certainly well hedged against risk and their interest rates are through the roof in any case. But still, we need direction from the Ministry. They should come out clear and loud to say that our country is not interested in carbon reductions, but in coal power. That’s how successful businesses grow.

But what do I do with my plots of land near Gomboro City... they were meant for my children, for their future. Should I buy somewhere else now, in case the place becomes like Beijing where you cannot know night from day with all that coal smoke in the air. This carbon question is starting to vex me…