OPEC’s Newest Secretary General Haitham Al Ghais Inspires Continued Optimism in Africa

This past October, the African Energy Chamber presented African Energy Week 2022, a multi-venue event that opened with a keynote address by OPEC Secretary General Haitham Al Ghais of Kuwait.

He demonstrated a strong understanding of, and concern about, Africa’s widespread energy poverty and the continent’s great need to continue harnessing its oil and gas resources while supporting global efforts to address climate change.

“Energy, like education and healthcare, should not be considered a luxury but a basic human right,” Al Ghais said. “The overarching issue of climate change and energy transition will have massive implications for Africa. Countries around the world continue to adapt to the rapidly changing dynamics of the industry. In this context, Africa is in a very fragile position. African countries stand to be on the losing end on the consequences of climate change. OPEC will continue to advocate for Africa.”

In an effort to develop a consensus on Africa’s oil and gas resources at the conference, Al Ghais also led the OPEC-Africa Dialogue Session featuring both African OPEC and non-OPEC member countries. He continues to travel the continent and makes the case for the oil industry and our sustainable development goals.

An Honorable Legacy

The timing of Al Ghais’ remarks and actions underscored their importance as he delivered them only a few months after taking over for his predecessor, Mohammad Sanusi Barkindo.

For Africa’s energy stakeholders, the untimely death of Barkindo in July 2022 — only days before the end of his term — had left a large and worrisome void.

Barkindo, a Nigerian, spent his years with OPEC pushing back against efforts to demonize fossil fuels, championing investments in the African oil industry, and tirelessly fighting to end African energy poverty.

Just hours before his passing, Barkindo delivered the keynote speech at an energy summit in Abuja, during which Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari honored the secretary general, declaring him “a worthy ambassador” of Nigeria.

Despite the fact that seven of OPEC’s 13 member states are African countries, the appointment of a Kuwaiti secretary general caused many in our continent to fear that Barkindo’s absence at OPEC’s helm would mean that Middle Eastern interests would now overshadow the needs of Africa that Barkindo had been so instrumental in highlighting.

The African Energy Chamber regards such fears as unfounded, and OPEC’s newest Secretary General has our endorsement. A 30-year career in the global oil industry has given Al Ghais the requisite experience and perspective to be an impartial OPEC leader for all member states. He has shown that. He has even brought OPEC closer to Africa and continues to encourage African countries to do more in meeting our energy needs.

Al Ghais served as deputy managing director for international marketing for the Kuwait Petroleum Corporation and as an advisor to six Kuwaiti oil ministers. He also brings previous OPEC experience to his new post as secretary general. From 2017-2021, Al Ghais served as Kuwait’s governor for OPEC and as a member and chairman of the organization’s Internal Audit Committee. Al Ghais was also a leading member of Kuwait’s delegation to the meetings of OPEC and the Declaration of Cooperation and helped to develop and draft the Charter of Cooperation that both OPEC and non-OPEC countries endorsed at the Sixth OPEC and non-OPEC Ministerial Meeting in July 2019.

A Legacy Lives On

Al Ghais’ statements at African Energy Week 2022 made it clear that he thoroughly understands Africa’s importance to both OPEC and the future of global oil production:

“With seven members, Africa makes up more than half of OPEC’s overall membership. This increasing presence led to the establishment of the first ever high-level OPEC-Africa energy dialogue. Through this dialogue, we look forward to enhancing our focus on this continent and its energy future. Africa’s energy future is bright and the opportunities are vast. As of 2021, Africa’s proven oil reserves amounted to over 120 billion barrels. There are increased opportunities for enhanced intra-African trade. Despite the many challenges that lay ahead, we will continue to see Africa’s energy sector thrive and develop for years to come.”

We also were encouraged to see that Al Ghais brought in technicians during the conference to share skills with Africans. And, he pushed for constructive dialogue around clean cooking issues and the importance and value of investments in Africa.

Al Ghais’ public support for African interests continued in the months that followed. While visiting each of the continent’s OPEC member states, he’s designated African energy poverty as a priority and spoken to the need for an Africa-specific plan for transitioning to clean energy.

I was honored to join him in Angola in November, Al Ghais praised Angola’s success in attracting new oil and gas exploration through government reform and committed to backing the country’s efforts going forward.

“OPEC will continue to count on Angola’s contribution, and the organization’s general secretariat will always be available for any support that may be necessary,” Al Ghais said. He spoke perfect Portuguese to the amazement of President João Lourenço, Diamantino Pedro Azevedo, Minister of Mineral Resources and Petroleum and Gas, Gabriel Mbaga Obiang Lima and many others in the audience.

Even this early in his term as secretary general, Al Ghais has proven his commitment to supporting the African oil industry and securing a prosperous future for the African people. It is evident that he intends to continue on in the same positive direction as his late predecessor, and the African Energy Chamber looks forward to working hard alongside him in the years ahead.