9 February 2014

Liberia: Billionnaire's Beef - "Tell Us What You Need and We Will Produce It."

It was all smiles on the sixth floor of the Executive Mansion when Africa's first female president met Africa's richest man of 2013.

Her usual political talks were not the same when she met Nigeria's young businessman, Alhaji Aliko Dangote.

With an interest to expand his business empire in other parts of the region, Dangote, thinks Liberia is one of the places to do that.

So, he made this statement to president Sirleaf with the aim of hearing more from her.

"Tell us what you need and we will produce it."

His statement was in reference to investing in the country; but wanted to know what president Sirleaf needed most.

So both of them looked at ongoing arrangements for a cement plant which the billionaire's company, Dangote Cement Liberia Ltd., intends to commence building in Liberia shortly, as well as plans for a coal-based power plant that would greatly reduce the cost of, and access to, electricity in the country," the office of the president said in a statement over the weekend.

Dangote, a Nigerian, was ranked by Forbes Magazine as the 43rd richest person in the world, and the richest man in Africa last year.

So, for Africa's first female president to meet with him, that was a cheerful encounter.

On the cement processing plant, Dangote informed the President that seven acres of land have been identified at the Freeport of Monrovia for its construction and a jetty. After a three-year delay, it was time to move ahead with the project, he said. To this end, he assured the President that the limestone needed for the cement - which Liberia does not produce - would be brought in, and crushed and ground for the manufacture of cement locally.

The billionaire knows that power was important for his factory. On that, this was what he said; his proposed coal-burning power plant would produce some 20 megawatts of power, but his operations would require only 1.2 megawatts. The excess could be sold to the government at no more than12 cents per kilowatt hour.

Dangote told president Sirleaf this: "Tell us what you need, and we will produce it."

He said of the power-generation capacity of the plant, could be operational in 15 months. Approximately 30 acres of land are needed for such a facility, which includes huge boilers and cooling plants, along with access to a source of sweet water - where the water table is high.

Dangote pointed out that throughout Africa, the major issue is power. "No power, no growth," he declared. Any economy will climb to double digits, once there is power at the right price, he said. With affordable power people will produce products locally, will gravitate to the private sector, leading to the creation of a middle class. He recommended coal-based power plants, noting that there is plenty of coal in South Africa, Mozambique and Guinea, and that with today's technology, emissions of coal dust is at zero level.

Excited by the comment, "tell us what you want and we will produce it, this was what president Sirleaf said: "it was time to go forward and fast-track the cement project." She assured Dangote that the land would be turned over by February 16. She did not give the location of the land.

Concerning electricity, she spoke of the 54 cents Liberians pay per kilowatt hour, and said that three heavy fuel oil (HFO) power plants will soon come on stream. She pointed out that the hydro represents the best form of power generation for Liberia, because of the abundance of rainfall and the many rivers. She said other sources would be needed in the dry season.

This, she said, could be addressed through an upstream dam producing some 1,000 megawatts of power. To determine exactly how much power the country would need, she said, the experts would need to study ongoing systems as well as those coming on stream. She invited Dangote to send his engineers to study the feasibility of building the coal-based power plant.

Among other topics discussed at the meeting were: the need for a Schengen-type visa in Africa, to facilitate travel between countries, particularly for business people; Liberia's harmonization of tariffs in keeping with ECOWAS protocols; and the production of basic commodities such as rice, sugar and other consumables.

Accompanying Dangote were: Mrs. Medina Wesseh, the International Law Group's Legal Consultant; and Mr. Bairappa Kashinath, Chief Engineer.

President Sirleaf's team included: Dr. Edward B. McClain, Jr., Minister of State for Presidential Affairs; Mr. Michael Wotorson, Chairman of the National Investment Commission; and Ms. Ciatta Bishop, outgoing Executive Director of the NIC, who will shortly assume her new position as Director-General of the National Bureau of Concessions.

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