NJ Ayuk: The way of an African legend – a tribute to Benoît de la Fouchardière

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Former CEO Perenca Oil and Gas Company Benoît de la Fouchardière.

On Feb. 6, 2024, the Anglo-French oil and gas company Perenco announced that it had appointed a new CEO to replace the incumbent Benoît de la Fouchardière, who has served in this capacity for the last eight years. In a press release, London-headquartered Perenco noted that de la Fouchardière would be replaced by Armel Simondin, the general manager of the company’s Cameroonian division, effective March 15.

At first glance, this press release reads like an unremarkable notice of corporate personnel turnover. It hails the achievements of de la Fouchardière, who is now slated to take the helm at Dixstone, an affiliate of Perenco. It also includes an upbeat statement from chairman François Perrodo about the company’s prospects under Simondin, a long-time employee of Perenco as well as an industry veteran.

In other words, it reads like a short statement about an ordinary example of change in leadership.

In my perspective, however, it’s an overly modest tribute to an extraordinary person. It doesn’t say enough about the contributions de la Fouchardière has made to Perenco’s operational and socioeconomic successes in Central Africa, which is home to about half of the company’s assets.

And those contributions are substantial.

Operational Successes

On the upstream front, de la Fouchardière has led the company in expanding its portfolio through Central Africa while also lifting production. Between 2017 and 2020, for example, he guided Perenco through the acquisition of most of TotalEnergies’ Gabonese assets. Then in mid-2022, he steered Perenco’s acquisition of Glencore’s upstream portfolio in Chad, thereby adding the large and untapped Badila and Mangara fields to its list of assets.

Later in 2022, de la Fouchardière also oversaw the company’s announcement of a large new oil discovery at the Pointe Noire Grand Fond Sud licence located off the coast of the Republic of Congo. And in 2023, he led Perenco through the signing of a contract for Rio del Rey (RDR), a concession in Cameroon that accounts for about 70% of the country’s total crude production.

De la Fouchardière has also championed Perenco’s efforts to develop its natural gas value chain by moving beyond production. During his term, the company began the process of transforming Gabon into a gas hub. It has, for example, agreed to work with Gabon’s Ministry of Oil and Gas to develop plans for the construction of a thermal power plant (TPP) that will use locally produced gas as feedstock for electricity production. This project is expected to help alleviate energy poverty within Gabon, thereby ensuring that the country gains direct benefits from its own natural resources.

The company has also made a final investment decision (FID) on a plan to build a facility capable of turning out 0.7 million tonnes per year (tpy) of liquefied natural gas (LNG). This facility, located in Cap Lopez, will also be able to manufacture liquid petroleum gas (LPG). As such, it will be able to process gas to produce LNG for export as well as LPG for domestic and regional use.

From the beginning, Perenco has been engaged with the Republic of Cameroon to have a positive impact at local, regional, and national levels

This is important, as LNG exports can generate revenue for Perenco — and also for the government of Gabon, which is entitled to a share of profit production. But the benefits don’t end there. The LNG project also helps supply Gabon and other Central African states with LPG, a clean-burning fuel for cooking, heating, and lighting that can replace traditional biomass-based fuels such as wood and charcoal and dirtier-burning petroleum products such as kerosene.

Environmental and Social Initiatives

That brings me to another point — namely, what Perenco has accomplished on the environmental and social fronts.

De la Fouchardière outlined some of his company’s achievements in an interview with The Africa Report in February. He noted that Perenco had worked to develop new technologies and procedures to minimize environmental risk and asserted that it had gone further in this direction than other international oil companies (IOCs).

“With our subsidiary Petrodec, we are the only ones to have launched a complete dismantling of oil wells that have ceased production and [taken] ad hoc environmental measures. Today Petrodec is working on two rigs in the UK, in the North Sea, but tomorrow its services could be called upon anywhere – for example, in Africa – to ensure the definitive closure of extractive sites,” he explained.

He also pointed out that the company was working with local government bodies to mitigate pollution and environmental damage wherever it occurred. “Despite everything, accidents can still happen and this is true for Perenco as it is for most oil groups,” he told The Africa Report. “In this case, we are doing everything we can to contain and treat the pollution, as we have just done in Gabon, in close collaboration with the relevant authorities.”

Additionally, de la Fouchardière stressed the company’s commitment to cooperation and good relationships with host communities. Perenco has launched multiple social and economic development initiatives to support the residents of the places where it operates and will continue to do so, he said.

“As for relations with local communities, we have a very specific corporate social responsibility (CSR) policy,” he stated. “Unlike other companies, we have not delegated it to external service providers but have internalised it because it is a question of responding to the real needs of the populations we meet on the ground. In Muanda [Democratic Republic of Congo], for example, our teams live among the population, including expatriate engineers. In consultation with local stakeholders, we have launched projects to improve access to electricity, education, and agroforestry as well as search for solutions to better preserve fish to be sold in Kinshasa.”

Virtuous Circles

These statements hardly come as a surprise to me and my colleagues at the African Energy Chamber (AEC). After all, de la Fouchardière spoke to us in April 2023 about similar steps Perenco has taken in Central Africa and beyond.

“From the beginning, Perenco has been engaged with the Republic of Cameroon to have a positive impact at local, regional, and national levels. At the national level, through revenues generated by our activity, employment, and training of young Cameroonians from all regions and all disciplines. Locally, we are working with IECD [Institut Européen de Coopération et de Développement], a non-governmental organization partner, to develop micro-entrepreneurial initiatives, teaching people to learn how to manage funds and reinvest effectively,” he said.

He continued: “[From] a global standpoint, we are engaged in a global initiative to remove plastic waste from the countries where we operate: Plastic Free. We are developing a pyrolysis machine at a small scale and another at an industrial scale (to be installed in Cap Lopez in Gabon). It will clean the plastic from the country and use it to produce diesel in a virtuous circle, also reducing the need for diesel imports.”

What’s more, this isn’t the only virtuous circle Perenco has set in motion. Under de la Fouchardière’s leadership, the company has maintained a policy of hiring a majority-African workforce for all of its operations — and it has increased the number of women working in the oil and gas industry. It has worked to maximize local content across its African portfolio, and it has sponsored football competitions in Cameroon and organized annual marathons in Gabon.

These are just some of the reasons why I believe de la Fouchardière deserves a round of applause. As the managing director of Perenco, he has driven the company’s successful expansion into new territory and has kept it on course to become one of the biggest investors and taxpayers in Central Africa. At the same time, he’s worked to uphold Africans and African interests. We at the African Energy Chamber are fortunate to have worked with him, and we wish him well in his future endeavors.

NJ Ayuk
Executive Chairman at | Website | + posts

NJ Ayuk is the Executive Chairman of the African Energy Chamber and a leading authority in the African energy sector; as well as a strong advocate for African entrepreneurship and the indigenous energy sector. He is also CEO of Centurion Law Group, a pan-African legal and advisory conglomerate with its headquarters in South Africa and offices in Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, Cameroon and Mauritius.