Tony Blair, the man who whispers in the ear of African presidents

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Through his institute, the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change (TBI), the former British Prime Minister has set up expert cells to support heads of state in accelerating their priority projects.

This is the phone number that many African heads of state exchange. Since he is no longer a tenant at 10 Downing Street, Tony Blair (1997-2007) has become a privileged interlocutor for leaders of the continent, where he visits once a quarter.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame was one of the first in 2008 to solicit the former British Prime Minister. He then recommended it in 2017 to his Togolese counterpart, Faure Gnassingbé, who was impressed by the Rwandan “miracle”. There is also the former Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, whom Tony Blair accompanied from 2012 in his promotion of industrial parks with the governors of Chinese provinces and actors of the textile industry, like his successor, Abiy Ahmed, that Tony Blair today provides very confidential advice on opening up the telecommunications sector to the private sector.

And the list is still long: the Senegalese president, Macky Sall, his Gambian counterparts, Liberian Adama Barrow, George Weah, the Ghanaian vice-president ... In October 2019, it was in a forum organized in London by the Financial Times that he met with the South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa, on how he could be useful to him.

Advice, but no transaction arrangement

Tony Blair is involved in major projects, such as the support of the Guinean government in 2018 on the mobilization of funding from China Eximbank for the construction by China International Water & Electric Corporation of the Kaléta dams ($ 446 million) and Souapiti ($ 1,4 billion). But also the financing of the 1 km of electrical interconnection between Senegal, Guinea and Guinea-Bissau, the privatization of companies in Mozambique or the structuring of the Ivorian cashew sector.

If he distills his advice to the presidents, he does not settle the transactions nor raise the funding. He is also not directly remunerated. Because it is rather a concept of governance that imported the former head of government, inspired by what he had undertaken during his mandate: the delivery unit.

Tight cells, made up of fresh graduates and international experts (generally around ten people), which he set up through his organization, the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change (TBI, 45,2 million CA dollars and $ 17,2 million spent on the continent in 2018), in presidencies, ministries or government agencies, such as the Rwanda Development Board, in support of administrations.

“Management by results”

“Many countries have witnessed the rapid growth of Rwanda, Morocco and Mauritius and want to draw inspiration from their transformation models and establish management by results. The delivery unit is part of it, "says the Bissau-Guinean economist Carlos Lopes, who, along with Tony Blair and the former IMF chief, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, is one of the international experts consulted by the Togolese president for his national plan for development. "Because, unlike other consulting firms, we are going to combine technical constraints and political imperatives," says Antoine Huss, director of TBI for French-speaking West Africa.

After having started its missions in Rwanda and Sierra Leone in 2008, it is fourteen African administrations (including ten in West Africa: the most recent being Burkina Faso) to which the TBI has assisted. "A few years ago, many States struggled to find funding to seek advice in large operations," analyzes French lawyer Richard Mugni, of Baker McKenzie, counsel to CWE in Guinea.


"They support the states but do not act for them and offer a refresher in well-targeted areas," said Jean-Paul Kimonyo, Paul Kagame's special advisor. In Senegal, a counselor has been integrated into the Ministry of Energy within the framework of Power Africa plan projects. In Ethiopia, a TBI expert, who had previously worked on the privatization of the telecoms sector in Asian countries, works at the Ministry of Finance.

Culture of urgency

Objective of these task forces attached to the Head of State: refocus government action around a few priority projects, bankable for investors, helping the government to speed up the decision-making, monitoring and enforcement process. This by facilitating inter-ministerial coordination and by seeking daily arbitrations from the president.

“The real challenge is not the lack of strategy of the States but the time to complete the projects, because of the overflow of administrations. States are constantly torn apart by international institutions, which each have their agenda for reform. And when each ministry is called upon, there is a dispersal of action. We help to “pack” projects so that they can be presented to funders, after which donors take over, ”explains Antoine Huss.

“The delivery unit taught us the culture of urgency in the execution of projects. A government does not have the same responsiveness as a consultancy, ”confirms Kanka-Malik Natchaba, coordinator of the presidential cell for the execution and monitoring of priority projects with Faure Gnassingbé.

Appear on the radar screens of international investors

Thus, following a sectoral analysis, the TBI experts identified several areas where Togo could be attractive, such as market gardening, logistics or call centers. The TBI scanned the customer relationship sector, market trends, costs, availability of labor, and invited several players to the operator Togocom.

A profitable method, since prospecting led to the installation, in Lomé, in July 2019, of the call center of the champion of the sector, Majorel (1,2 billion euros in turnover), a joint venture created in 2018 by the German communications giant Bertelsmann and Moroccan insurer Saham. Or the signing with the Kuwaiti juggernaut Agility ($ 5,1 billion in turnover), for the future multi-service logistics park. Pending the arrival of international traders for its agricultural products (mangoes, bananas, pineapples, etc.) in need of outlets.

Lomé was also able to benefit from the voluminous address book of the TBI to enter into very close discussions with PVH (ex-Philip-Van Heusen), one of the world's largest players in clothing ($ 9,7 billion recipes in 2018), owner of the Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger brands, whose production units are located in Asia in particular. Having financed the construction of an industrial park in Ethiopia in 2017, the textile group would be tempted to find other growth poles in West Africa.

After a first roadshow between Lomé, Abidjan and Accra in November 2019, the TBI should organize two other tours in the coming months, still in these three cities, with the American Chamber of Commerce of Hong Kong to promote the textile sector. In another area, TBI also participated in the linking up of Ghana and Renault. Perhaps a sign that the dynamism of the administration, and of these special advisers, makes it possible to place these countries more on the radar screens of international investors.

A foundation funded at 30% by the states that use it

A non-profit organization, the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change (TBI) is funded a third by philanthropic donations, a third by donors such as the World Bank or USaid, and a third by African governments which call on his services. “Their costs are more accessible than other firms, which hire expatriates, because they rely on local expertise. In Togo, their team is 90% made up of Togolese under the age of 30, ”says Kanka-Malik Natchaba, counsel to the president, Faure Gnassingbé. In many countries, young experts even remain in administration after the TBI mission.

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