It was with great pleasure that on December 30th, I took part in the RTS’s “Je t’invite” show presented by the very dynamic and warm Anta. We had a good time discussing several topics.
From the creation of the West African Energy consortium to the involvement of Locafrique in the agricultural sector, to the various entrepreneurial projects in which I am participating, discover my interview transcribed below from Wolof to English.
Hello dear viewers! Welcome to the show “Je t’invite”, which focuses today on a large consortium that is part of one of the largest projects in Senegal. A consortium created by private Senegalese investors who share the common desire to contribute to the development of their country. Its name: West African Energy. To find out more, we suggest you to meet the youngest member of this consortium. Let’s discover our guest together.
Hello Mr. BA, we are very pleased to meet you to discuss the consortium of which you are a member, and which owns the largest power station in Senegal. In 2020, our program “Je t’invite went to meet the personalities, which you are a part of, who marked the year . My first question is:
What motivated you to join this consortium?
Thank you, Anta, for the opportunity you are giving me to share with the Senegalese the real reasons for our entry into the energy sector. But before I start, I would like to thank you and salute the remarkable work of RTS in terms of information to the population.
I would like to take this opportunity to express my condolences to the Niassène family, for the passing of our mother Sayda Mariama. We also think of all those who have been affected by the pandemic in their work, who are experiencing difficulties or have lost a loved one. I really wanted to start with this.
Getting back to the topic, I would say that the reason which motivated me to enter the energy business is simple. We wanted to take up the challenge of setting up the largest power plant in West Africa, designed by Senegalese people. God made me the youngest member, but I am surrounded by men of great experience who are references in this country. We all have in common the ambition to positively influence the national economy through the various projects we are implementing. It was a great first to have such an opportunity that allows us to actively participate in the development of the energy sector. I remind you that Samuel SARR, Arouna DIA and Abdoulaye DIA are also part of this consortium, West African Energy.
As a Senegalese man, how do you feel about the contribution you are making to the development of your country?
First of all pride, especially since many people did not believe at all in the success of such a project led end to end by Senegalese people. We can only be proud of having succeeded in setting up a 300-megawatt plant, moreover, the most powerful in West Africa, built by nationals. This pride is all the greater as this power station will have a very positive impact on the lives of the populations, with a drop in the cost of electricity of almost 40%, which will constitute a real competitive advantage compared to other countries.
You reminded us of the scope of this power station on a sub-regional scale. Do you intend to limit yourself to Senegal only?
Absolutely not, it should be remembered that the creation of this plant is part of a precise vision and has its source in a clear macroeconomic framework. The discovery of gas and oil resources in Senegal should normally result in lower energy costs, which will be a definite competitive advantage. This will also position our country as an electricity hub and will encourage foreign investors to set up their industries in Senegal to take advantage of competitive electricity prices, which will ultimately impact their production costs. Once this framework is created it will have a positive impact on our economy in general. Let us not forget either that both gas and electricity will become cheaper due to the elimination or reduction of certain charges such as transport. The economic and social impact will therefore be very positive.
Khadim Bâ is a young man who invests and who is the majority shareholder of the SAR (African Refining Society). Where does this taste for investing come from?
The truth is that we seek to transform the constraints that we face into opportunities. If I take the example of my entry into the shareholding of the SAR I can say that it all started with the project that I nurtured when I returned from Canada in 2006, which was to make Senegal a hub, a kind of “African Rotterdam”, because as you know all the oil tankers in the world pass through this port. I thought that Senegal could perfectly take advantage of its geographical position to play this role of oil hub. That is to say that, even if I was not able to achieve this ambition, 11 years later, I had the opportunity to buy SAR 34%’s shares from the Bin Laden group, which enables me today to have a participation of this scale.
How was your association born?
We discussed among ourselves, with the firm will to change things. We have a kind of common ideology. We put forward the common interest and that of the Nation. The members of the project are all business leaders. As Senegalese citizens, we seized this opportunity to influence the lives of populations. In summary, I can say that our association is based on a convergence of ideas and orientations.
You are also known as the Director of Locafrique. We know that the company is specialized in leasing. Can you tell us more?
When one refers to Locafrique, one immediately thinks of leasing. Locafrique is before anything else a credit institution. Such structures are categorized according to well-defined rules. Locafrique is classified as a category 2 financial institution whereas conventional banks are classified as category 1. Locafrique offers loans, leasing, credit sales, and so on. What mainly differentiates us from banks is that our clients cannot open a current account at Locafrique, or have a checkbook to withdraw money, because we do not manage deposits. Our vocation being to make credit, we will seek financing with our own resources on the financial market. Then, with this additional funds borrow on the market, finance our customers.
Do you use guarantees? Do you provide support to your customers to guarantee the sustainability of their activities?
As far as customer support is concerned, it should be noted that we do not differ greatly with banks. In fact, we are subject to the same rules imposed by the legislator, and which govern our interventions. Locafrique works according to these standards. The only notable difference is the cost of the resource, which is higher for us. Therefore, our loans are, inevitably, a little more expensive since they include our margin, related costs, risks, etc. Actually, to come back to the question, it is up to the client to convince us to accompany them through the file that they submit to us for study. If the client convinces us that his project will generate a return on investment , we finance it. Exactly as banks would.
Does this mean that your interest rates are higher than those of the banks?
Normally, yes! This is the reason why Locafrique is moving towards the sectors it considers promising. When we took over Locafrique in 2011 we made the bet of supporting the agricultural sector, knowing that we would not be in competition with traditional banks even though they have more resources and lower costs. As resources are not extensible, this sector is of little interest to them. Why invest in a risky and uncertain field? They might as well stay in Dakar.
When we bought Locafrique, we found a rather difficult situation. I’ll give you a brief history to help you better understand the situation the group was in. When we arrived in 2011, we found a company with a balance sheet size of 3 billion FCFA. Half of it, or 1.5 billion, consisted of overdue debts. The healthy loans representing the other half consisted of loans granted to farmers in northern Senegal. We felt like, despite everything, this could be an opportunity. During this period, we have succeeded in capturing resources from the Italian Cooperation intended to finance promising sectors such as agriculture, fishing, and handicraft. This allowed us to ascertain that rice farmers had the best loan repayment rates.
From there, the Americans came to take me on a three-day tour of Saint-Louis. I was able to witness on this occasion the commitment of the populations and the opportunities presented by the region. I was pleasantly surprised. I’ll give you an example: In Saint-Louis, you see producers who want to be financed machines such as harvesters which cost on average 70 to 80 million FCFA. When you ask them for a 30% guarantee, they leave and come back with 30 million.
We have repeated the exercise several times with success, and this is where I thought “here is an opportunity”, especially since I am sure the banks won’t come and compete with us in this market. Today, we are proud to say that Locafrique’s contribution to rice self-sufficiency is a reality.
Statistics show that 40% of agricultural equipment in the Saint-Louis region was financed by our institution, whether it be rice mills for husking, harvesters and even campaign credits. It is therefore a source of pride for us to share what we have been able to achieve in this area. These are the reasons why we decided to focus on the agricultural sector.
I seize the opportunity to say that whatever the cost, we remunerate the resource. Still in this vein, when the State took over SONACOS, we were the first to finance the groundnut campaign with a line of credit of 20 billion. We accompanied them on their 2015, 2016 and 2017 campaigns. It was when the banks later joined us in this sector that we withdrew, as our rates were higher.
You are in several fields of activity including finance, energy… What schooling did you follow?
I received entrepreneurship training. I have a bachelor’s degree in hydrocarbon management. This explains why, as I was saying, when I returned to Senegal in 2006, I was thinking of nothing else other than hydrocarbons. Then, I found myself working in finance. It was all about the opportunities. Turning constraints into opportunities, that’s what I learned.
I heard you bought a clinic to help with the pandemic. Is it true?
I wouldn’t say we’ve bought it, but in this project, we have a controlling stake of about 51%. It’s an opportunity that we have seized. This is a 200-bed hospital that we plan to set up with General Electric. The objective is to provide Senegal with an American-type referral hospital to ensure synergy.
I am delighted to welcome a young entrepreneur who is determined to help young people. You have set up a fund intended to support them in carrying out their projects. Can you tell us more?
As part of our activities at Locafrique, we sometimes see young people who have good projects, but that we cannot unfortunately finance due to the lack of formalization of their activity. They are, however, good people who only want to be supported in the path they have chosen. In addition to this are the solicitations we sometimes receive. Finally, we thought: why not set up a fund, not to earn money but to support young people?
This fund will allow them to benefit from loans that they will repay later. Each year we will contribute up to a billion, the objective of the fund being to help these young people who lack more or less formalization get started.
Yet once their activity will reach a certain stage, we will no longer be able to support them because they will have exceeded the fund’s scope of intervention. In that case, if they want to make it to the next level and be eligible for Locafrique’s financing, they will need to meet the formalization criteria. Once they reach a certain stage of development of their activity, it is the traditional banks that will have to take over from Locafrique. As you can see, the extension process has several phases. And to come back to your question, this fund is my contribution to young people. A way of sharing with them the opportunities that Senegal offers me. I want to show them through all this that there are indeed possibilities for success in our country.
Coming back to West African Energy, you are the youngest of the consortium. What is your secret Mr. BA?
Can we talk about a secret? I just have faith in myself. I do things with passion. I want to succeed in my initiatives. The rest is secondary. I am afraid of shame and failure. You know, it’s not easy to be a young person in Senegal, people often do not trust us and our abilities. We have to take this as a challenge, have the courage to push through our limits and prove our skills. If there is a secret, it is to always remind yourself that it is possible. This is determination.
I see you are a perfect example for the youth. What do you think of illegal immigration?
In my opinion, illegal immigration is an educational problem. People need to understand that if they put the same determination to leave in staying and being successful here, they would do well in this country. This is my belief. It is true that I left early. I spent three years away, from 2003 to 2006, but I came back every year telling myself that the opportunities I had in Senegal would never exist anywhere else.
It’s true that it can be tough at times, but you have to keep fighting alongside your people. It is better to go for it all to be successful here rather than to going on an adventure abroad, knowing that the chances of success are very thin. At least that’s my point of view. Young people must stay and fight where they are, especially since everything is to be built in Senegal. The proof is: even Westerners come to invest hereabouts because they are aware of the much potential there are in our country.
Mr. BA, I have also heard that you have invested in aviation. Is it the case?
I come back to what I said earlier. It’s all about opportunities. It must indeed be said that at one point, we realized that Senegal’s geographical position made it a platform with real potential around aerial rental. It was from there that we actually decided to develop this.
With so many activities, do you find time for leisure, listening to music…? Who is Mr. BA apart from his professional occupations?
I’m a young person like any other. I listen to all kinds of music. There is no difference between other youngsters and me.
Who is your favorite singer?
I would say that I listen to all singers, from all generations!
Let’s get back to the consortium. What are the prospects for West African Energy?
The outlook has already been mapped out by the state. When I say this it’s because the opportunities are clear. Moreover, I take this opportunity to salute the far-sighted vision of the President of the Republic. If the country acquires a gas-fired power station, this will result in a drop in the cost of electricity, which will in turn lead to a reduction in production costs. This will give us an undeniable competitive advantage. Our long-term goal is to be able to sell electricity outside the country. We cannot reveal everything of course, but it is part of our strategy.
Does Senegal have the expertise you need in this field, in terms of human resources? Is there any training that takes into account the skills you need?
If I may say so we can encounter these skills both in Senegal and abroad. The important thing is to achieve a mix between the foreign expertise that we call on and the training that we need to develop locally. By providing everyone with their own know-how – I am talking about both companies in the field and Senegalese workers trained on site – we should be able to meet the challenge.
Mr. BA, I was about to forget. Did you really live your youth?
I must admit that I have lost a good part of it. The weight of responsibility means that when you are entrusted with something, you give it body and soul because you do not allow yourself any possibility of failure. It is time-consuming. For example, I would have liked to be somewhere else now, but I can’t. It’s not easy with work.
You certainly have a message for Senegalese youth, graduates and even those who do not necessarily have an orientation yet?
My message is simple. Success is not far away but it is here. What is possible elsewhere is also possible here. Everything has to be built in Senegal. Absolutely everything! We are not going to reinvent the wheel. Copying, creating and innovating are the three possibilities available to everyone. Let us take inspiration from what is being done in developed countries and replicate these successes. At least, that’s what I advise young people.