French oil giant, Total Group, the largest oil exploration and processing company in Africa and fourth in the world, has been in Ethiopia for over sixty years. South African Jonathan Molapo, the chairman and VP for African and Middle Eastern Operations at Total, has been working there for 15 years. Capital’s Pawlos Belete spoke with him about exploring for Oil in East Africa and the company’s efforts to protect the environment from being polluted. Pawlos met Jonathan in Dire Dawa during the inauguration of Total’s 189th service station.
Capital: Tell us about your role at Total.
Jonathan: I am a South African who has been working for Total Group for the past 15 years. I started in South Africa looking after a retail network. I also looked after commercial business. I spent a lot of time in the head office. In 2001, I worked on projects again in South Africa. There, I was a commercial director for a small joint venture commercial business. And then I became director for logistics and supply for South Africa. After that I became managing director for Total in Ghana. From August 2011, I have been serving as Vice President for Africa and Middle East.
Capital: How would you describe Total’s progress over the fifteen years you have served there?
Jonathan: Total has been very consistent, especially in Africa. We have continued investing in the continent. We work in different environments. Basically, we are committed to the work we perform here in Africa or elsewhere around the world. Our level of investment in the continent is quite high. We have retail networks which are the largest in Africa. We have aviation, lubricant, and mining business. For me, I think, Total for the past 15 years has gone from strength to strength in terms of our commitment to Africa.
Capital: For more than 60 years, Total has been engaged in the retail oil market of Ethiopia. There is a new development in Eastern Africa regarding oil exploration. Is there any plan to explore for oil in Eastern Africa or Ethiopia?
Jonathan: Total Ethiopia is really looking at the marketing aspect of the company as I said before like expanding retail stations, aviation fuel and lubricants. So, that is really what we are concentrating on now. But the future is the future. You never know what is going to happen.
Capital: Total is known for their exploration activity globally. Why not in East Africa this time around?
Jonathan: Total is one of the largest companies doing exploration and oil production. We are quite big in Angola, Nigeria, and obviously now in East Africa. We are looking at doing something in Uganda. So, as more and more discoveries come, I am sure that the group will look at every opportunity.
Capital: Recently there were many reports that portray East Africa as the next spot for oil and gas energy. As a man in the gas and oil business for one and half decade, what is your view regarding this remark?
Jonathan: I think it is great. For a number of years, East Africa had no oil. But in the past three years, we have witnessed some major discoveries there. In East Africa we have been looking at Uganda and in Central Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo. There are also news reports about oil and gas exploration down Africa’s eastern coastline as far as Mozambique. I think this is something great for Africa as a whole and East Africa in particular. I think this once again shows the potential Africa has to push economic development further forward.
Capital: Do you think that oil will be discovered in Ethiopia?
Jonathan: I don’t know. I am not an oil exploration expert. But I think countries in East Africa including Ethiopia are looking at all the possible avenues of their resource potential. I can give you an example, people used to think that Ghana would not discover oil. However, Ghana discovered oil in the past decade. So, you never know.
Capital: In the past six decades of Total’s operation in Ethiopia, the company has opened only 189 retail stations. What is its way forward?
Jonathan: We are looking at investing in the retail network, making our retail stations more modern. We are using the latest technology. We have bigger shops which offer our consumers the privilege they deserve to have. In terms of lubricants, we will continue to provide our customers with new products that ensure high performance. It is also in our interest to look at other areas. We would like to look into the mining sector of Ethiopia because there is big potential there. We want to position ourselves in that area to get ready for any new opportunity. The bottom line is we will continue investing in Ethiopia’s growth. We want to foster the strong partnership we have built in Ethiopia over the years with different partners.
Capital: Can you tell us your market share in Ethiopia?
Jonathan: In Ethiopia we share about 32 percent of the market. We are number one or two depending on the type of product you might consider. We are market leaders in Ethiopia. We want to continue with that. We actually want to grow even more and that is why we want to invest more in Ethiopia and are looking at other opportunities.
Capital: Who is responsible for covering the cost of opening a retail station?
Jonathan: Total invested 100 percent of the cost associated with developing its stations. With regard to this station, Total bought the land from the Dire Dawa City Administration. It has used its standard and norms for the service station design. We have worked with our local partners for the engineering part. This Mariam Sefer Service Station is a 100 percent investment by Total.
Capital: Can you say something about the new tanker used at this service station that is designed to protect the environment from pollution and leaking?
Jonathan: One the thing that is very important is environmental safety wherever we operate. We don’t look at cutting costs when it comes to health, safety and environmental quality issues. We used to make use of a single wall tank earlier. We have introduced a double wall tanker recently. In the single tank system, if there is a leak, it sinks to the ground. The double walled tank will prevent such a leak. Thought it is expensive from cost side, it is very safe from environmental perspective. As a socially responsible company, we make sure that our activities do not pollute the environment. We internalize the extra cost of using a double tanker because we believe that is the right thing to do.
Capital: The other thing your company introduced in relation to environmental protection is the solar lamp. Isn’t it too expensive for an Ethiopian to pay more than USD 35 for a single solar lamp?
Jonathan: I think it is more important to see what we get from a solar lamp. As an energy company, it is very important for Total to provide Ethiopian households with alternative means of energy. One of the things we have looked at is the number of people who do not have electricity. Solar is a relatively cheap way to make sure that such a people will get electricity. If you look at what happens in a rural area, once the day gets darker activities of households will stop. For such a rural house hold, I think, it is not difficult to incur the initial cost and enjoy more their life more. Using the solar energy, you will have light in your house every night. You can charge your mobile phones with it. You can listen to your radio. It has a lot of advantages. That means we have provided people with have light despite protecting the environment. Once you incurred the initial cost, you don’t need to incur another cost. You will have free energy after that initial payment. But if you buy fuel, you have to pay again once it is consumed. This is not only what we have provided here in Ethiopia alone, it is all over the world.