Johannesburg — A prominent advocate in the oil and gas industry has condemned the prevalence of xenophobia in the continent and decried the exclusion of women in the sector.
NJ Ayuk, hailed as the sector's most vocal champion, spoke after weeks of tensions in South Africa, the continent's most advanced economy, where at least 12 people died when locals attacked foreign-owned businesses.
There are concerns such violence was a deterrent to investments.
Ayuk, the chief executive officer of the pan-African energy legal firm, Centurion Law Group, denounced xenophobia as a scourge during a recent interview.
He said the problem was not peculiar to South Africa.
"It's not just South Africa - a lot of African countries there are these undertones that are not good. We have to condemn these issues, racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, immigrant-bashing, or gay-bashing - it's wrong," he reproved.
He added, "You know, black bigotry is just as bad as white bigotry and God is not interested in any of that. We have to condemn it," he said.
Ayuk made the sentiments during a discussion on his latest book, "Billions at Play: The Future of African Energy and Doing Deals."
He bemoaned the exclusion of women in the industry, particularly at executive level.
"The oil industry has done very bad with women. We have done really badly," Ayuk emphasised.
"There is nothing as horrible today, that all day, all night, (it is) all male in the oil industry. Oil executive, very few executives - maybe one, or two, or three - are women. You can't have that."
He said the absence of women was in spite of more women going into colleges with sciences in Africa.
The advocate said the industry could still tap into the African Diaspora.
"There is a huge number of women who have engineering degrees, science degrees, management degrees, they don't get their shot."
A recent study by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) pointed out the lack of women in the energy sector.
Women represent 32 percent of the workforce for the production of renewable energies and 22 percent of the oil and gas industry workforce.
Describing the energy sector as having an "image problem", Ayuk also encouraged stakeholders to ensure the participation of youth in the sector.
He noted youths were mostly opting for employment at technology companies.
"We need to encourage young people. They need to get in, we need to be like a reverse Moses; not 'let my people go' but 'let my people in.' We need to get in and we need to shape the future."
Ayuk meanwhile downplayed growing hostility to the energy industry due to climate change.
"I don't see climate change as a problem, I see it as an opportunity, you have to start looking at the opportunities for energy," he said optimistically.
"I'll tell you why, you're not going to see a lot of oil and gas companies in the future. You are going to see a lot of energy companies. Don't forget, the oil industry is the first today to really champion energy transition."
Ayuk projected significant innovation in the sector.
"We are going to be the engine for innovation because we're confronting these problems."
He said amid the uncertainty in the future of the energy sector lay vast opportunities for the continent.
"Here's what I see, I smell money, I smell opportunity for Africans," Ayuk said.
"This is the time for us, for Africans, to really get in and look at energy transition and start finding new ways to be involved with the entire movement that's going on because our young people can use technology to really drive this," he said.