Championing infrastructure investments-an interview with Johnson Mwawasi

Johnson Mwawasi, Chief Executive Officer, Lean Africa Consultants.

Lean Africa Consultants is an advisory firm incorporated in Kenya in 2015 that offers project finance and Public-Private Partnership (PPP) advisory services in Africa. The firm brings together a driven team of experts from different fields that jointly deliver quality services to clients. It recently hosted the inaugural edition of the East Africa Infrastructure Project Finance Conference in Nairobi. The high level conference sought to explore mechanisms that can increase investment in infrastructure in the regional market through efficient structuring of infrastructure projects. In the following interview with this magazine, Johnson Mwawasi, the organiser’s chief executive explains why Africa needs to package infrastructure project proposals efficiently to attract sustainable financing and why his consultancy is leading the way.

  1. What did you set out to achieve with Lean Africa Consultants?

Being in the construction for some time, I have seen major challenges faced by government contracting entities, EPC contractors and subcontractors that adversely affected the delivery of the projects on time and on budget. Projects that were fully funded were not left out either. It is clear that there are inherent problems that need to be addressed besides access to financing.

Lean Africa was funded to help clients to efficiently structure, plan schedule and package infrastructure projects so as to attract sustainable and longer term financing and ensure successful completion of projects.

  1. How has been the experience since starting out?

Just like any other business, packaging and marketing a new brand can be an uphill task. It has not been exceptional for our brand. It has been a difficult journey with challenges like convincing business owners that you can deliver, that you have the expertise, that there is value in contracting a local advisor over a foreign one, and the list is endless. However, there is value in building networks as the first contracts we signed were product of relationship that I had established during my employment time.

  1. Whom do you target with your solutions?

We have set our sights on the entire African market with a vision to structure sustainable project financing solutions that addresses the needs, requirements and opportunities in the continent. We have a strategic plan that sets out the milestones and guides us to achieve our ultimate goal to serve the entire Africa.

  1. Why should customer use your service/products?

I am a strong believer of the school of thought that the African youth that have the key to turn Africa into the continent of the future. This is because we understand the African terrain, the challenges and the opportunities that it offers. We leverage on the expertise of international players to deliver the best for our clients and at relatively fair rate.

  1. Is Africa well-resourced to compete globally?

As I said before, Africa is the continent of the future. Africa is among the few regions in the world whereby investors can earn double digit returns on their investment. According to the United Nations, more than half of the global population growth between now and 2050 is expected to occur in Africa. Yes, Africa can compete globally, we only need to realize that we need to do things right! For Africa to compete globally, we need to invest in our people, in efficient infrastructure and energy so that we can industrialize the continent. If we do this right coupled with the population growth, we have a direct ticket to compete globally.

  1. What are the social and economic benefits of infrastructure and project financing advisory to Africa and its investors?

Research indicates that for every 1 US dollar invested in infrastructure, we stand to recoup 3 to 5 US dollar in the next 20 years. Infrastructure development drives economic growth and plays a big role in improving the lives of the people. Imagine what the new roads and electricity connections have done to the Kenyan population living outside the major cities? These investments are reshaping the lives of Kenyans who are now playing a role in building the nation.

Our project financing advisory will ensure that these projects are structured properly so that the citizens get value for money. Proper planning and execution of projects will definitely assure investor confidence and thus attract direct foreign investment and private investment in infrastructure projects in the country. This will lead to improvement of lives in the entire country.

  1. What are the emerging trends infrastructure/project/investment financing and their impacts on your operations?

Today, there is sufficient project financing around the world scouting for well structured, thought-out and well packaged projects. Investors, project lenders and donor countries are more than before keen on ensuring that they get their investment and margins back within their preferred investment tenures. Investors are keen to invest in infrastructure projects where governments have invested in proper and transparent procurement processes, where governments adhere to the rule of law, where governments have put in place a conducive environment for business. If all these are in place, Africa needs not to beg for funds, it will actually attract sustainable financing partners for its infrastructure projects.

These emerging trends of course present enormous opportunities for the consulting fraternity as things have to be done right going forward.

  1. Have you faced challenges? Possible interventions?

I am a strong believer that nothing worthwhile comes easy. Challenges exist to strengthen our resilience and make us stronger. We are still wading in a pool of challenges but this will not bring us down. How then do we become mentors for the youth if we throw in the towel on the way? We survive this by having mentors who have made their way before us; they build our stamina and give us reason to continue fighting.

  1. Any future prospects?

We recently organized a successful conference dubbed the 1st East Africa Infrastructure Project Finance Conference that brought together infrastructure development stakeholders in the region to discuss the importance of efficient structuring and planning of infrastructure projects in attracting sustainable capital for infrastructure. Our goal is to package the annual conference so as to reengineer how we conceptualize, plan, structure and implement infrastructure projects in Africa so as to ensure we achieve value for money and quickly improve the lives of Africans.

  1. Other pertinent issues?

Africa needs to realize that we are not going to live in this continent forever. We need to realize that time has come for us to do things right. We will not make any progress if we do not start to put the future of our continent close to our hearts.

 

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