Equatorial Guinea is the only Spanish-speaking country in Africa, and is Spain's first contact with the continent. For the President, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, Equatorial Guinea is “the Spanish-speaking ambassador in Africa”. And for the business world, a growing reality, with many Spanish companies operating successfully in a country whose main desire is to further increase the number of businesses there.
What do you consider to be the decisive factors shaping this very promising time for some African countries, and in particular for Equatorial Guinea?
A significant percentage of the world's natural resources are in Africa, which is a great advantage. Moreover, Africa is one of the continents where the youth population will grow significantly. The continent has faced difficulties in terms of economic growth and development, mainly because almost all African countries have been colonised and exploited. As a result, they have always been economically dependent. However, over time and with the achievement of independence, Africa leaders have realised the importance of improving living conditions for their people. After independence, countries like Angola, Namibia, Mozambique, Nigeria, Ghana, Botswana, Senegal, Benin, Equatorial Guinea, etc. have worked tirelessly to transform themselves. They are making Africa begin to emerge and they are the reason why it is advancing towards prosperity today.
Now, almost all leaders from the different African countries are becoming aware and creating stable political conditions and a favourable environment for businesses to help improve their populations' living conditions.
In our case, as the country's leader, when we started to produce oil around 1995, I recommended to the government, to all decision-making institutions of the state, and to all government officials the need to organise an economic conference to identify a rational way of using the proceeds from contracts with oil companies. It was the first conference we organised. That event was evaluated, and then a second conference was held, which was also analysed, until the Equatorial Guinea Horizon 2020 Plan was eventually adopted. We are very determined to help SMEs and large companies establish themselves, achieve economic self-sufficiency, and reduce imports.
Looking back on three turning points in Equatorial Guinea's history—independence in 1968, the coup d'état in 1979 and the start of oil production in 1995—how has the country changed, both externally and internally, since those historic events?
Equatorial Guinea has changed notably since 1968, 1979 and 1995. The facts are there, you just have to look at them. The infrastructure, investments in the social and productive sectors, the presence of hundreds of industrial, construction and services companies, etc.
Can you believe that when I came to power there weren't even five professionals with university degrees? Now we have more than 1,000 professionals. This is a reflection of how much we have worked, and that's why most professionals and intellectuals are very proud of what our country has become today.
If we look at other countries in the area, oil producers, we have surpassed them in many areas in less than 20 years, when they have been producing crude for almost five decades. However, not all countries have used the oil resources as prudently as they should have, and as Equatorial Guinea is doing. Here, what little we have we are investing to transform the country. That is our goal.
The goal of transforming the country is not to obtain economic returns but, rather, to produce social benefits for the population. For example, we are building roads in the most remote corners of the country. Projects have been implemented on the islands of Annobón and Corisco, the road to Ureca, Bolondo Bridge, etc. In Annobón, we built a deep-water port and an airport, a large portion of which practically extends on top of the sea. I want to emphasise how we have invested and worked to connect various parts of the country.
Some of Africa's difficulties at the moment are a lack of human resources—competent people who can work to improve the country's economic and social conditions.
In the case of Equatorial Guinea, we have been recruiting native professionals trained abroad while also working with foreign engineers. We also have a lot of plans to train students that are currently obtaining technical degrees in the United States, China, Cuba, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Spain, France, England, Argentina, Malaysia, Russia, etc.
Mr President, do you mean to say that the government has planned for the rational and sustainable use of oil resources?
Exactly. When Equatorial Guinea started to produce oil, the government's first decision was to organise an economic conference to identify the sectors in which to invest the proceeds. Various programmes were designed, which we successfully implemented and, naturally, the entire process gave rise to a new programme which today we call Horizon 2020, which will make us an emerging country by that year.
What role do foreign investors play and what are the priority sectors for development during this new era for Equatorial Guinea?
I can assure you that the entire transformation you see today in the country is due to the activities of foreign companies operating in Equatorial Guinea and with tenders by, and the participation of, the government. Oil, construction, services companies...
Equatorial Guinea's prosperity today is attributable to the many foreign companies currently operating here. This is in line with the objective of Horizon 2020, and was the main focus of the debates at the Economic Diversification Symposium held in early 2014. The symposium was organised precisely to invite businessmen and investors to the country. We even created a 500 billion CFA franc co-investment fund (1 billion USD) so that if an investor wanted to do business in the country, the government could also participate in the project. That fund is a guarantee. The government backs the investor and offers all of the necessary guarantees for recovering the capital invested.
Industrialising our country and reducing dependence on imports are priorities for me. Along these lines, our new Horizon 2020 programme aims to transform Equatorial Guinea into a self-sufficient country because as long as it's an importer, there is a risk we won't have sufficient currency reserves, which could end up weakening our local currency.
We see that trade with Spain has increased. How is strengthening relations mutually beneficial for both countries, and why is it so important for the Equatorial Guinean government to reinforce them?
Equatorial Guinea's government has always liked Spain. We have always had good intentions with Spain, but the feeling hasn't always been mutual.
An increase in commercial relations and exports between both countries is a natural fact. For the locals, trade with Spain is a priority and they want all products to be Spanish. That's why a large part of our capital ends up in Spain, and if there's a trade surplus, it's because Equatorial Guinea is determined to strengthen economic ties with the Kingdom of Spain.