Knowledge Institute Podcasts
Max Jarrett on Energy Economics
Max Jarrett, Africa Programme Manager for the International Energy Agency, explains how access to sustainable modern energy impacts education, health, and the future of a nation.
Hosted by Jeff Kavanaugh, VP and Head of the Infosys Knowledge Institute.
“Unless you have energy, just like a human being, unless you eat or drink water, you can't do anything. Unless we get to a scale where the majority of Africans have the access to energy that they need, that first principle, you can't be talking about a truly transformed African continent.”
- Max Jarrett
Jeff describes the energy price drop in April 2020
Maximilian Jarrett, you work at the International Energy Agency as its first Programme Manager for Africa. What is it about energy economics in Africa that's so important to you?
Jeff introduces Max Jarrett
You've mentioned about some early ideas on power. What really inspired you to join the IEA?
If you go back early, especially back in college or early in your career, was there anything that you noticed about energy? What has changed maybe today about how energy affects power and politics, compared to when you were younger?
You mentioned energy, water, food. Can you talk about maybe, almost like a Maslow's ladder, how these structural foundational things affect those more aspirational or more sophisticated components, and how maybe it's important for Africa?
As you look to the past few years, what are the green shoots or the hopeful signs of progress that you've seen?
What are some implications and opportunities as [the emergence of China] has happened? And has that played out or do you still see that as being important for the future?
What do you see is the mix of sources of energy, from traditional, to solar, hydro, or even some of the newer types?
As you think about energy in your program, what are you thinking about for education and for people to gain skills, and to be able to maybe transfer more and more of that wealth into the African society of the different countries? Learning is important. How do you use your role or your platform to help learning and build this for the future?
For the business leader, the executive, what can they do working with opportunities in Africa going forward, whether it's the consumer, whether it's productive capacity or trading relationships?
Max shares reading and news source recommendations
Jeff Kavanaugh: On April 20th, 2020, at 02:08 Eastern Standard time, global energy markets went through the looking glass. 83,000 barrels of oil exchanged hands at zero dollars a barrel. The same month, the International Energy Agency released its Global Energy Review 2020. Due to COVID-19, the report estimates countries in full lockdown experienced an average 25 percent decline in energy demand each week. And for 2020 overall, the IEA predicts global energy demand contracting by six percent, the largest retreat in 70 years, and more than seven times greater than the 2008 financial crisis.
Maximilian Jarrett, you work at the International Energy Agency as its first program manager for Africa. What is it about energy economics in Africa that's so important to you?
Max Jarrett: Great question, Jeff. I've long been a student and someone who's been fascinated and interested in power. I say that because power and politics and economic history and those things have been things that I studied them at university. I've always wanted to know what makes people tick, what makes systems tick. But as the years have gone by, I spent the first, say, 11 years in broadcasting at the BBC, interviewing revolutionaries, presidents, politicians, business people. Then I transitioned into the United Nations working on economic policy.
Max Jarrett: As things went on and I realized that energy, the power actually to drive systems, is what's really key. And I spent four of the last five years working with the late Kofi Annan, the former UN Secretary General, on something called the Africa Progress Panel. With other members such as Graca Machel was part of that, Bob Geldof, and others. And the one issue on which we spent three years, did two reports, was on energy, power, because we realized that it was a travesty that in the 21st century, over 650 million Africans did not have access to modern energy.
Max Jarrett: I could have spent all these years looking at power and looking at Africa's role in the world and so forth, but until we in Africa can get the majority of Africans getting low price, accessible, sustainable modern energy, we're not going to transform that continent. And I want to see that continent, my continent, transformed, so that it can take its true place on a global stage. Until we have modern energy for everyone, we're not getting anywhere.
Max Jarrett: And that's what attracted me to this role where I'm the first Africa Programme Manager, because in this position I can use the expertise I have from my background with the United Nations, my background as a current affairs broadcaster, working with Kofi Annan, pushing this agenda, to now try and work at the IEA to make this case for Africa and to see what we can to bring the expertise of the IEA and other players to bear, to move this agenda forward in Africa.
Max Jarrett: That's what's been driving me and what is still driving me now. I'm doing it because I'm passionate about it. And I want to see as soon as possible this transformation to the lives of the majority of Africans, so they can have this access to modern energy. It's key.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Energy economics is what we'll be exploring in today's conversation. Welcome to the Knowledge Institute podcast, where we talk with experts on business trends, deconstruct main ideas, and share their insights. I'm Jeff Kavanaugh, head of the Infosys Knowledge Institute. Today we're here with Max Jarrett. Max is the International Energy Agency's first Africa Programme Manager, with 30 years experience in international economic affairs, media production, and strategic communications.
Jeff Kavanaugh: He most recently served as the Director-in-Charge of the Geneva-based Africa Progress Panel, which was chaired by the late Kofi Annan, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former UN Secretary General. Prior to his role in the Africa Progress Panel, Max spent over a decade working with the UN in Africa, started his career in 1990 at the BBC, producing and presenting Focus on Africa and Network Africa, the BBCs daily current affairs programs and award-winning programs for his African audience.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Holds bachelor's degree in economics from the London School of Economics, and a Master's from London University's School of Oriental and African Studies. Max, thanks so much for joining us.
Max Jarrett: Thank you for having me, Jeff.
Jeff Kavanaugh: You've mentioned about some early ideas on power. What really inspired you to join the IEA?
Max Jarrett: I was inspired to apply for this job and then to compete for the position, it was quite a rigorous process I went through, because I've longed admired the IEA from a distance. When I was working on the Africa Progress Panel, we put out two reports, Power People Planet, in advance of the COP 21 conference in Paris. And then we did another report called Lights Power Action in 2017. We referenced a lot of the good work the IEA have been doing in terms of global energy analysis and data, and so forth.
Max Jarrett: I've always liked to work of the institution. When I saw that they were looking for someone who could help them advance their agenda in terms of working more closely with African states and working with Africa, I thought, well, I'm interested in it. It's an organization that I respect and I think I can add some value. And so that's essentially what's inspired me to join the IEA, and I'm loving it.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Go back early, especially back in college or early in your career, was there anything that you noticed about energy? What has changed maybe today about how energy affects power and politics, compared to when you were younger?
Max Jarrett: I want to make it really personal for a few moments. I was born in Monrovia, Liberia, in 1969, stone's throw away from the Atlantic Ocean. At the time, I was privileged enough to come from a family that had access to modern energy. My father was medical director of a German mining company. We had free electricity, free running water. We had power in the house.
Max Jarrett: There was a bloody civil war that started in Liberia in 1989 that ran for 14 years. A lot of family was still in Liberia during that process. And as the war went on, we started hearing people complain about power. If you imagine, as a young person, power, electricity was taken as a given. To have my country destroyed to such an extent that the people who were used to have power to have no power, I realized first the importance of energy. You can't do anything without energy really, and how important politics and policy and good governance is to ensuring you have infrastructure in place, to have the system running and to have the kind of power that you need to do what you have to do.
Max Jarrett: For me, I've always been fascinated by why is it that systems either don't get built up to the degree that we want them, or why is that they fail? And that interplay between the power of politics and the politics of power is something that's really driven me, I would say, in the last five years, since I started working on this report I mentioned earlier with the Africa Progress Panel, Power People Planet, because then we really realized that it's not rocket science, but of course you need politics. You need policy. You need good, strong leadership. You need financing, and you need narratives that align everything to ensure that the money does flow where it needs flow, to ensure that you have the systems that are built not just for today, but for tomorrow, and for what comes after tomorrow.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Not only is that in a nutshell, it also gives us several things to, as they say, “unpack,” as we go along here. When you look at the International Energy Agency, and I share that whole fascination with powers as fundamental energies, as fundamental component of life, maybe we'll start there. We live in a high tech world. Many people are fascinated by technology and digital and the future. And yet, these are building blocks. You mentioned energy, water, food. Can you talk about maybe, almost like a Maslow's ladder, how these structural foundational things affect those more aspirational or more sophisticated components, and how maybe it's important for Africa?
Max Jarrett: I think we really need to take it back to first principles. I've been using the phrase “modern energy,” but let's talk about energy per se. Let's bring it down to one of the most complex systems that we all know and we all deal with every day, the human body, which is a complex organism. It's a complex system. For you and I to get up in the day and do certain things, we need energy. That energy comes from the food intake we take, the water we drink, and so forth. And once that energy comes into us, we can decide how we want to use that energy. It's the same thing in a family. It's the same thing in an economy.
Max Jarrett: Now, if you look at Africa today, and I’m an economic historian, if you look at, say, the United States, we know that over a period of say 400 years, at a time before we had large scale, modern energy anywhere, where it was mainly coal or steam, the human body was the key life force energy in the economy. As a result, you had millions of Africans, their energy taken, transported to the New World, Latin America, the Caribbean, and the United States to work. That was a life force, a force of energy to get things done, to get the United States economy to a certain stage before say steam and whatever, then you get into Industrial Revolution, and then things change. You have your civil war and so forth. Energy and the force of things to get things moving in a society is key.
Max Jarrett: I come into modern energy. Africa today, basically due to the fact that of course it has the primary resources. It has the fossil fuels. It has the minerals. It is not at that stage where it has rolled out modern energy systems to a scale, so that those resources that we have as Africans can be used to transform our entire social economy to get us to the position where we are like the United States or Europe, or whatever.
Max Jarrett: Energy is key. Energy is the key driving force. We talk now also, of course, about the United Nations has their Sustainable Development Goals. And remember, Ban Ki-moon, another former Secretary General, said, "The energy SDG is the so-called golden thread that runs through all of them." And that's how I see it also. Unless you have energy, just like a human being, unless you eat or drink water, you can't do anything. Unless we get to a scale where the majority of Africans have the access to energy that they need, that first principle, you can't be talking about a truly transformed African continent.
Max Jarrett: Without a truly transformed African continent, you can't be talking about a positively transformed globe in the 21st century, because we all know if you look at the trends, demographic trends, the fastest urbanizing continent on this planet is Africa. The continent with the youngest demographic “bulge,” so to speak, is Africa. How do we make sure that those people are gainfully employed, not just working for others, creating their own businesses, being as creative as possible? We should do that.
Max Jarrett: You mentioned digital. Digital is nothing without energy, without modern energy. I mean, you can't go out and just start peddling and running around and thinking that you're going to do bits and whatever, and jetting across the globe, but you need energy. So in that sense, energy is everything, the first principle. Go back even to say a typical village where in many parts of the continent today, young women, older women, and girls are going out to cut firewood to come back and get that biomass to cook. Three or four hours a day are lost on that. If we look at examples, I'm sure you've probably got more data on this than me.
Max Jarrett: Look in America, what happened from 1930s and 40s, when the refrigerator came into the home or the stove. It freed up women to do other things. Again, women, 50% of our population, if they're spending three or four hours a day just literally going to get firewood, what could we do when we had modern energy that freed up those women and girls to be the next coders or the next whatever they want to do, to help us create this modern economy that is good for Africa and good for the world?
Max Jarrett: Again, energy is key. The thing that people take for granted in the United States or the UK are things that so many Africans take for granted for not having. And, I want to make sure how do we change that so that we're on an equal footing. We have opportunity of access to modern energy, so that really we can make a better world.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Obviously the passion's there. As you look to the past few years, what are the green shoots or the hopeful signs of progress that you've seen? For example, The Economist recently came out with the “Africa as the next continent…” a very upbeat article.
Max Jarrett: I used to write for The Economist's Intelligence Unit maybe 20 years ago. And I had a good friend and colleague who was the Africa editor of The Economist for many years. I remember way back when they came out with a title, "Africa, the Hopeless Continent." And then, everyone was like, "The Economist is saying that..." Then it came out another one saying, "Africa Rising." McKinsey has "Lions on the Move," and other people are saying different things. No matter what the title of the article has been, in my view, it has either been too much one way or too much the other way. The real African story has always been a lot more nuanced than that.
Max Jarrett: For me to answer the question, I'd say, this is how I see it. Africa today is not where I'd expected it to be when I left the London School of Economics in July 1990. I thought we would have gone further. However, it is not where we were in July or August 1990. There've been so many positive changes on the continent. We have made many steps forward. For example, in 1990, there was a range of wars on the continent, not civil wars. As a result of the cold war, there were a lot of proxy wars going on. You have the war in Angola and Namibia. Then we had a few civil wars, like the war in my country, Liberia. We had many, one-party or quasi one-party states at the time. If you look at Africa now, the majority of African countries are functional multi-party democracies.
Max Jarrett: Elections are held. We may not always agree on who wins elections, but elections are held and opposition leaders, we see Ghana and Nigeria today, the people in power now, they were people who ran for election and lost a few times before winning. We have functional transition of power and multi-party systems on the continent. Again, nothing is perfect, even democracy. We know what Churchill said about democracy. It's not the best system, but it's the least of many bads. Again, in that sense, we've moved forward. Yes, there's still violence on the continent, but those great player wars that we had before Cold War, shadow theaters in Africa, have all gone. That's also positive.
Max Jarrett: If you look at the African economies, we have been able to make progress in terms of getting out of that rut of post-1970s, mid-80s debt crisis with the HIPAA debt relief in many countries got run 2000. Off the back of that, we started seeing more and more consistent growth rates in African countries with macroeconomic stability in more countries. You don't have the same exchange rate swings that we had for many years, but again, I'm not being a Pollyanna here. Nothing is perfect. Many countries are still getting themselves back out of debt. There's issues around the debt and the type of debt that is now owed to China.
Max Jarrett: But that said, most African countries, and African economy, until now this COVID moment, has been on an upward growth trend, not as fast as we need. I remember when I first joined the United Nations in 2001, we were saying that to see the true transformation of the African economies that we want in the way that, say, the Chinese had done after Deng Xiaoping, and they made their progress. We need to see year on year seven percent growth for that transformation.
Max Jarrett: We're now in 2020. We've still not reached, as far as I'm concerned, that consistent level of growth. And now at the COVID moment, we're being knocked back. We also have to remember that when things were going well in those few economies where, off the back of the last commodity super cycle, which ran for about three or four years just after the last financial crisis, where we had a huge amount of revenues that African countries like Nigeria, Angola, Congo were getting for sending that commodity principally to new demand from China. But what did we do with that? And at the time, when I worked with Mr. Annan at the Africa Progress Panel, we put out a report in 2013 called Equity in Extractives. And we were saying, "We have to make sure that when the sun is shining, you take that revenue you get from what's under the ground, and you turn it into wealth."
Max Jarrett: How do you do that? You build human capital, make some investments that are longer term, build the road infrastructure, build the power infrastructure you need, so that at some stage when those prices drop for the commodities, you at least have an endogenous generating economy that is able to thrive. And we see that the countries that at the time did not have as much mineral wealth or extractive wealth as some of the other countries, Rwanda and so forth, they are the countries that actually were doing this. If you look at what's happened since the end of that commodity super cycle, if you look at say the data, the trends, that have been quoted since the economic growth, you will see that it's actually countries that have not been the ones that have been so resource rich that have done better.
Max Jarrett: To answer your question, Africa has been on the move. I debunk the narratives of many the Western voices about Africa, who one day will tell you all as well and the next day will tell you all is horrible. I say every day, the sun shines, that every day we do see some clouds. We have to keep looking to the light, keep looking to the sun because things are getting better. And if we all put our hands to the wheel and we all have a positive outlook, we can change Africa for the better. And by changing Africa for the better, we would change this planet and this globe, this Gaia that we all live on for the better.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Well said. Max, you mentioned a couple of things here. One is the emergence of China as a major partner. What are some implications and opportunities as that's happened? And has that played out or do you still see that as being important for the future?
Max Jarrett: I think China is a key player on the planet. We can't take that away. It's a fact. And China over the last 20 years has become more of a significant partner for Africa, but that's nothing new. China has for long been a partner of Africa. If you look at the African liberation movements, several of them were in some way supported by China in their struggle against Western colonial rule and colonial oppression. Many countries have had long relationships with China. The more economic relationship is a new one, but again, I want to caution on us making it an either/or situation because many people will turn to Africa to say, "Well, what's Africa doing for China? Well, what's Africa doing with China?" And other Africans say, "Oh, we're moving away from the West and we just go into China."
Max Jarrett: Again, I say we have to, as Africans, not let anyone decide who our friends are, but also not let anyone decide who our enemies are. We should look pragmatically and see what is it that we can gain from a relationship with anyone on this planet who is trying to do something positive, who can bring some investment to our continent? In that sense, I think that the situation in terms of Africa's trade relations with China, if you actually break it down into the aggregated, in some areas, we have a net surplus in terms of what we send to them. But in others, when we buy back, we have a net deficit because we are importing all this processed manufactured material. Often people will complain that it's just material being dumped on the African market.
Max Jarrett: But again, I would say that that's for African policymakers in terms of their trade to decide. Again, I'm not a trade expert, so I don't want you to quote me on this, but I think that these kind of things can be fixed so that we can arrive at a situation where it is a win-win. I'd like to see a win-win in Africa's relationship with the West, with the United States, with Europe, with China, with India, so that things are done and we have a relationship where whatever the key drivers of that relationship are, and the key outcomes of the relationships are, are things that actually trickle down in the best interest of African people, of Indian people, of Chinese people, because that's what it's really about at the end of the day.
Max Jarrett: If we want to transform the planet, we've got to make sure that the millions and the so-called bottom of the pyramid, they benefit from that. I'm not an expert on China, you may want to speak to someone else about that, but I think that there’s work needs to be done to improve what Africa over the long term is most likely to get out of that relationship. But I don't think that as Africans, we should rely on what others tell us in terms of how we negotiate and navigate improving that relationship for the long term, with China.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Looking at your Africa energy outlook, I'm not sure if you had a hand in that or if that was prior to you joining.
Max Jarrett: That was before I came.
Jeff Kavanaugh: One of the things it points out is the demand for energy in Africa is projected to be at least twice as fast, as far as the growth. What do you see is the mix of sources of that energy, from traditional, to solar, hydro, or even some of the newer types?
Max Jarrett: What I can say is that Africa has an abundant fossil fuel resource across the continent. So, that's oil. We've got to also split oil from gas. Traditionally it's been oil exporters that have had the greatest share in terms of the energy mix coming out of Africa. Now we all know, based on the agreements signed at Paris and so forth, that we as human beings have to be burning less oil and using less of that. But at the same time, the African states have made the case that although we have agreed to transition as fast as possible to low carbon economy and low carbon model energy systems, we've got to be allowed to make our decisions in terms of the judicious mix of how we transition oil as a reducing input into our energy systems, and also in terms of what we sell to the world.
Max Jarrett: At the same time, many African states also only now just discovered these vast gas reserves. And in order to get to where they want to go, I'm talking about say Tanzania and Mozambique and others. They realize they have to, at some stage, have a window in which they "exploit" and harness that abundant resource, both by selling it overseas, but also by using it in a different way within their own energy system, to be able to structurally transform their economies to get to the level where they want to be, so that we can then have a greatest share of the renewables, the hydro, the solar, and so forth in the system.
Max Jarrett: Because don't forget that the cost of renewables has been coming down. I'd like your listeners to check the latest IEA data on that because by the time this goes out, probably there's been new data out regarding the price of renewables, solar, hydro, and so forth. But until we get to a stage where it really is truly affordable for African countries to make their own playing lists, they're going to need investment. They're going to need investments from the outside, or they're going to need to be able to sell what they have that's relatively cheap, which is what's already been discovered with oil and gas and so forth, to be able to then take the revenues from that to transform their energy system.
Max Jarrett: In terms of the changing mix, I don't have at hand now the figures. I haven't got my data in front of me, but I think we expect to see increasingly greater share of renewables in the energy mix in Africa over the next, say, 20 years or so.
Jeff Kavanaugh: You mentioned human capital. As you think about energy in your program, what are you thinking about for education and for people to gain skills, and to be able to maybe transfer more and more of that wealth into the African society of the different countries? Learning is important. How do you use your role or your platform to help learning and build this for the future?
Max Jarrett: Jeff, just to be clear, although I work in the IEA, I'm speaking in my personal capacity. I'm new at the IEA. I've got 30 years behind me. I've been looking at these issues from different angles. I shouldn't be expected to be the IEA voice on this per se right now because there's certain things where I'm not part of. I only joined on the 17th of February, went into confinement, and I'm just learning.
Max Jarrett: To answer your question though, which is a very good question, the nexus between energy and education, and we're going back to first principles, it's actually quite a simple one really, in terms of schools need power. And if we're talking about the 21st century digital economy, you need power, first and foremost for the light in the school. You need power to run the monitors, to run the computer systems because the knowledge is out there, but you need to be able to have power to power the computers so children can see the digital libraries, and so forth, especially if you're talking about distance learning and so forth in some countries.
Max Jarrett: The only way you can get from the capital to a rural area is to be able to have them hooked up to some network. So you need energy to power that. That's what's in the school setting. But then we also know that a lot of young people have not been able to maximize their ability to study because they go home. Maybe there's power at school, but when they get home at night, they don't have any power at home. With no power at home, how are you going to do your homework? If you do do your homework with candlelight, you're straining your eyes. You're getting more tired.
Max Jarrett: There's issues around that in terms of off-grid. I keep saying. On platforms I've spoken on before I joined the IEA, my catchphrase was off-grid in Africa is not the “other.”
Max Jarrett: I'm saying in an African setting, off-grid should really be part of the holistic national energy program. Because if you think of it in terms of say children, for example, in Cote d’Ivoire, where someone developed some solar backpacks. The young people walk to school and they're charging a backpack. They spend their day in school. When they get home, they've got a backpack which is a lantern, which means they can study at home. That's a classic case of the solar backpack being an off grid kind of decentralized energy little system. The light there, they're able to study.
Max Jarrett: In terms of rural areas, mini-grids which power pumps to wash hands and water and so forth. In terms of the education and human capital, the first issue is one around the ability to function and to be able to absorb the knowledge that is being shared of you by your teachers, and then be able to then go home and study it. In terms of the human capital more broadly, for me human capital is not, and I'm sure for you also Jeff, it's not just access to the knowledge that's out there, but it's how you, yourself, as a human being are able to absorb that information, turn it into knowledge and then use it in your own way.
Max Jarrett: Because then it's capital. It's like when someone tells you, "One plus one is two." Okay. One plus one is two, but that doesn't mean much until you get to the supermarket and someone is selling you something, you give them the money and you want to get change and make sure you haven't been cheated. The capital comes when you realize, "Oh, how do I use that?" It's applicability of what you've absorbed. Coming back to what I said earlier about the human organism, human capital again, if you're sleeping in rooms which have no fan or no air conditioning and mosquitoes are fighting you all night, and you have an increased morbidity in your local community from malaria, your human capital is not going to get developed to the way that it needs to be. You're going to school lethargic. You've had malaria maybe two times in the last three years again. Again, so, the link between energy and health systems is another component for human capital.
Max Jarrett: Third component, nutrition. Energy systems are needed to maximize the productivity of the African agricultural system. At the moment, we're still really treading water in Africa. We have not modernized our agriculture systems. And by that, I'm not just thinking in terms of, say, the great plains of America where you have tractors. Even the small holder farmers, with the majority of African farmers, many people are still just using a hoe. I'm sure you probably have a garden in America and you can recharge the battery. And then you go out and you trim your hedges. If we had those kind of systems for the African woman as a farmer, that makes her hoeing or whatever she's doing much faster because she's been energized.
Max Jarrett: And then, the agroprocessing part of it, which means that food doesn't waste. If food's not wasted, you have ways of storing it. Again, energy comes in to store the food. So therefore, now you move to a stage where you are maximizing the productivity of the agricultural harvest, and then also, you're being able to maximize the amount of nutrition the individual is getting. So again, that also builds human capital.
Max Jarrett: You've got the books you learn at school. You've got the clean water which has been pumped up through some kind of energy system, and you've got food and that kind of nexus. You've got, of course, with healthcare you've got aerated rooms. The key aspect, as far as I'm concerned, by human capital to make stronger, more robust, Taleb would say "antifragile" humans who can actually be the humans we need to transform the African continent. As I keep saying, we transform the African continent, we transform planet Earth.
Jeff Kavanaugh: For the business leader, the executive, what can they do working with opportunities in Africa going forward, whether it's the consumer, whether it's productive capacity or trading relationships?
Max Jarrett: I've been privileged over the last X number of years, to not only engage with as an interviewer of the BBC with some very successful people, but also in my work at the United Nations where I've worked in something called the Coalition for Dialogue in Africa, and then later with Kofi Annan, to have engaged with and supported the work in this of some very wealthy people, some billionaires in fact, such as the founder of Celtel and the founder of Econet, who are very well known Africans. And what I took from them, which also I like to repeat to non-African business leaders out there, is, "Look to the opportunities." There's a persistent narrative going on right now about Africa, which is going on for a long time that looks at the so-called perceived risks and the risky operating environment.
Max Jarrett: And again, I want to say, I'm not a Pollyanna. Things are risky, but things are risky everywhere. You have to go in there to look for the opportunities, and then of course, do your due diligence and see how you can mitigate those risks. But the opportunities out there. The second thing I would say is, look for win-wins. Look for investments that don't only seek to make money for you and your business, but to improve the conditions and the lives and the employment of the people in Africa in that sector you're going into.
Max Jarrett: If you go in with that intent, I can promise you that, if you're mitigating your risks, you will get good outcomes. Africa is a continent of opportunity. And that reminds me of a joke I want to share with you that shows you that, in terms of the riskiness of the situation and how much money people have made in Africa and continue to make. One of my father's first cousins was a high commissioner of an African country to the in the 1960s. He had a very good friend who was an Englishman who basically spent most of his years in Africa. And he'd come back every summer, and at his apartment in Mayfair, he would hold court. All of his English friends would come around.
Max Jarrett: They'd always be asking, "What's it like in Africa?" Do you know what he would say? "Oh, Africa, Afrrica, you don't want to go there. Oooh, you don't want to go there. They've got flies. They've got snakes. They've got crocodiles as big as that couch." What was he doing? He knew the opportunity. This gentleman had been in Africa 20, 30 years. He was making millions at Africa. He didn't want anyone else at the table eating the cake in Africa.
Max Jarrett: As I'm saying, sometimes these narratives of Africa, the negatives, there are reasons why people are saying that because when the opportunity costs are so high, those that do go in have that premium. I say to the business leader, look to the opportunities. Do your due diligence. Mitigate your risks and look for win-win with Africans. If you do that, I promise you, you'll make money, and you'll change lives in Africa and you'll change your own life.
Jeff Kavanaugh: It's a good one to end on. Are there any books or people that have made a big influence on you, whether it's related to Africa or otherwise?
Max Jarrett: Yes, several books. Early in my life, one of the most transformative books I read was the autobiography of Malcolm X. And then recently, just last week I read Malcolm X by Marable, which was a great book into that because we know that the book was Malcolm X, the story as told to Alex Haley. It wasn't really his complete story. And then this new biography I read was much more nuanced. Every hero has his flaws. That's what makes him a hero. In the Marable one, you get a lot more of that. That was very influential to me. In terms of my early 20s, there's the classic books, such as Barry Unsworth's Sacred Hunger, which talked about the triangular slave trade, which was written through the voice of an Englishman who's involved in this trade. It's a very powerful book that influenced me.
Max Jarrett: On the African side, there's the Anthills of the Savannah by Chinua Achebe, who's one of my favorite writers. Then of course, in terms of pure fiction, well, people say it's not necessarily true fiction. There's a book I read when I was 21 by Norman Mailer called Harlot's Ghost, which has always stuck with me. It gave me an interesting perspective on things and also how you should always look for the narratives below the narratives. I like Mailer's style. That book, it's about the history of a company at the transition from OSS onwards. And it's during the Cold War. It's a very good book, very interesting book. And only something that Mailer could have pulled off because he mixes fictional type characters with real life characters. Once I read that, I thought, so that's how one could be looking at things. There's three for you right there. Forth from the BSA, Manufacturing Consent by Noam Chomsky. So there’s a few.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Harlot's Ghost and Manufacturing Consent, got it. Very vivid titles. Awesome. Awesome. Well, what are some online resources people can find you and follow you?
Max Jarrett: I don't watch television. I get my news from my friends who are former journalists or still active journalists. They give me stuff through my WhatsApp feed. And then, I listen to BBC at least twice a day, World Service, Newshour. That's my go-to news resort. If I've listened to that, I know I've got the news I need for the day. And then of course I follow several people on YouTube, but that's just to see what's being said and go and watch a specific clip.
Max Jarrett: I just literally don't have time to be watching television. I do watch documentaries and films. I have Netflix, but because of this, I was able to in 2018 read 83 books that year. You imagine the amount of time you have. You're not looking at the TV screen and someone else is telling you. Don't forget, I used to create news. I was an editor. I know how running orders are done. I know why you're doing it. And so, I don't have time to listen to someone else's feed. I'd rather create my own feed, and I do that every day. That's it.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Well put. You can find details on all of these at Infosys.com/iki in our podcast section. Max, thank you so much for your time, and a very stimulating, distinct discussion. You've been listening to the Knowledge Institute where we talk with experts on business trends, deconstruct main ideas, and share their insights. Thanks to our producer, Catherine Burdette, Dode Bigly, and the entire Knowledge Institute team. Until next time, keep learning and keep sharing.
About Max Jarrett
Max is the International Energy Agency's first Africa Programme Manager, with 30 years experience in international economic affairs, media production, and strategic communications. He most recently served as the Director-in-Charge of the Geneva-based Africa Progress Panel, which was chaired by the late Kofi Annan, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former UN Secretary General. Prior to his role in the Africa Progress Panel, Max spent over a decade working with the UN in Africa, started his career in 1990 at the BBC, producing and presenting Focus on Africa and Network Africa, the BBCs daily current affairs programs and award-winning programs for his African audience.
Max Holds a bachelor's degree in economics from the London School of Economics, and a master's from London University's School of Oriental and African Studies.
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- International Energy Agency
- Global Energy Review 2020
- Africa Progress Panel
- POWER PEOPLE PLANET report
- LIGHTS POWER ACTION report
- Equity in Extractives report
- Kofi Annan
- Bob Geldof
- Graça Macel
- Ban Ki-moon
- Deng Xiaoping
- Africa’s “youth bulge”
- United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
- The Economist
- Winston Churchill on democracy
- Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s “Antifragilism”
- BBC World Service Newshour
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