'By the way...' A Conversation with Algy Cluff
Algy Cluff has been at the heart of the extractives industry for close to 50 years and shows no sign of slowing down. Despite retiring earlier this year, he is in the process of launching a new African venture, Cluff Energy Africa Ltd. This comes in addition to writing three books, producing his own sparkling wine and heading up his charity, The Remembrance Trust. In the wake of the publication of his third volume, ‘By The Way…,’ Invest Africa sat down to speak to him about the history of Cluff Resources, the evolution the oil and mineral industries in Africa and what the future holds.
A lot has changed since Cluff Resources first launched commercial activities in Zimbabwe in 1980. At the time, Algy Cluff had already built a successful oil company in the UK, Cluff Oil, on the back of the North Sea Oil boom of the 1970s. A chance encounter with Tony Barber, a former Chancellor of the Exchequer and later Chairman of Standard Chartered Bank, spurred Cluff’s move to Zimbabwe. The country’s particular path to independence meant that, when the end of minority rule eventually came in 1980, settler-run businesses were abandoned and many people were left redundant by mining companies. Amongst this ‘commercial left luggage’ Algy spotted a gap in the market.
Far from traditional images of gold prospectors and exploration, Cluff Resources discovered Zimbabwe’s largest goldmine, the Freda Rebecca mine, by trawling through old geological records. The company soon made several other important discoveries including the largest gold discovery in Africa since the Second World War, the Geita Mine in Tanzania, and the Ayanfuri Mine in Ghana. As first-movers, Cluff Resources benefited from a clear field in Zimbabwe, but competition was not long in coming. On Cluff Resources’ eventual takeover by Ashanti in 1996, Algy remarks wryly ‘that’s capitalism for you’.
Since Algy Cluff first started doing business in Africa, improvements in financial and institutional frameworks have facilitated investment in new ventures, but there is still a long way to go. A champion of stock exchanges as instruments of accountability and free-flowing capital, Cluff Resources was one of the first companies to list on the local Zimbabwe Stock Exchange as well as in London. Frustrated at the continued underdevelopment of stock markets on the continent as tools of financial inclusion, Algy Cluff strongly believes that ‘stock markets are the key’ to corporate governance, the free flow of money and investor confidence.
In addition to navigating government relations, financial institutions and the underlying risk of the industry, mining and oil companies globally now face new challenges. Turning to the environmental impact of his industry Algy highlights that ‘you can’t be a cowboy anymore’. Funding and licenses are now dependent on having an environmental, social and corporate governance plan in place. As more of the major oil companies move from Europe to West Africa where, as Algy points out, the geology is excellent and largely untested, the extractives space could change significantly. In this environment, making renewables profitable will be a key challenge in the coming decades.
Before he was the man behind Cluff Oil, Cluff Natural Resources, Cluff Minerals and now Cluff Energy Africa Ltd., Algy Cluff served in the army for six years in West Africa. He now gives up his free time to serve as the chairman of The Remembrance Trust, a charitable organisation that restores the graves of British soldiers killed before 1914 and therefore not covered by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
Algy Cluff’s latest book, ‘By the Way…’, is available to purchase here now.