What it Takes to Build a “Real” Unicorn in Africa

Building anything of consequence in Ghana, and by extension Africa, if you are an African, requires immense patience.

If the Brew Butler-Kweku Awotwi promoted 350MW Cenpower power plant is commissioned this year in Tema, Ghana (I note that both the mid-2017 and end-2017 timelines were missed, so the official Q2 2018 timeline may also be optimistic), it would have taken 11 years since the consortium was given its wholesale license to commence operations, and four years after it announced that it has finally succeeded in raising the money needed to build the plant. Raising the money alone took more than 10 years.

Cenpower, the first licensed fully private IPP in Ghana would be coming on stream a full 8 years after Sunon Asogli, the other contender for that distinction. Total development time was fifteen years, if counting from the company’s incorporation year, and more if counting from idea inception.

In the course of that time, the project scale was downsized by 50MW, the price tag ballooned from $300 million to $450 million and then to $900 million, as multiple investor rounds brought cash in tranches and backers cashed out and in, adding layers of cost. The EPC contract itself was tendered in 2010, but serious construction started sometime in 2015 after Parliamentary ratification of certain government concessions in 2012.

The “Ghana ownership” component is now about 21%, with founder’s equity whittled down to about 10%.

That’s what it takes to build a billion dollar behemoth in Ghana: 20 years and the boldness and sense to be willing to trade a 90% stake in your dream for realistic success.

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