Francisco Pascual Obama Asue, Equatorial Guinea Prime Minister, discusses the progress made in the country as it celebrates 50 years of independence, and how the country serves as a role model for other oil rich nations on channelling oil revenues to support true socio-economic development.
First of all, I would like to contextualize our interview, beginning with the historical moment that is being lived in Equatorial Guinea on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of National Independence. How has Equatorial Guinea lived these 50 years of Independence?
When we celebrate these 50 years of independence, we do so aware of the path travelled to the present. Equatorial Guinean can say it, live it and tell it. The dreams that were drawn by those who fought for independence, many, did not see their dreams fulfilled in the first eleven years. They had to wait until 1979. Therefore, we have celebrated these 50 years with that recovered moral peace, with the intention of being part of a universal society that walks firmly towards the future in the context of cooperation and collaboration with other peoples and nations.
With the discovery of oil in 1992, the material construction of Equatorial Guinea Nation began. In 1997, the Government, with the intention of finding a way out for the development of the country, convened the first National Economic Conference. In short, this did not work, since he did not have an economic support.
An economic conference was convened in 2006/2007 to design what was going to be the true economic development plan of Equatorial Guinea. That plan would be backed by economic resources from oil. From there, a development plan was conceived that we happily call Horizon 2020, since it was our goal to place Equatorial Guinea as an emerging country by 2020.
Of the 15 programs that were established in the great Horizon 2020 Program, the first was to start with the basic infrastructures. This is what gave us the courage to embark on the road towards an emerging Equatorial Guinea. An Equatorial Guinea equipped with good roads, good airports, ports, houses, etc.
And just to show some achievements in the education sector: we have gone from 37,000 students enrolled in 90s to exceed 100,000 students enrolled in Primary Education in the current term. In terms of university education, we have the National University of Equatorial Guinea (UNGE) and we are building the new African American University in the city of Djibloho.
In the health sector, maternal and child mortality has decreased enormously in Equatorial Guinea, due to, among other things, the construction of the road network and the establishment of health centres throughout the national territory. In terms of women's rights, the Government has been working to ensure that women are increasingly incorporated into the labour market and into public life.
In the economic sector and with the help of the United States, the economic fabric of Equatorial Guinea grew invariably; due, undoubtedly, to the main player in the exploitation of oil: the American companies. Equatorial Guinea has been criticized on the matter of human rights. But I affirm that, if human rights in this country were not respected, the United States of America would not have allowed their companies to work actively in Equatorial Guinea.
Therefore, I want to say that this economic "boom" supported by American companies led the Government and the President's consideration to sign a visa waiver agreement for businessmen from the United States who wanted to come to Equatorial Guinea. We maintain a close relationship with the United States.
The economy of Equatorial Guinea reached peak growth at the end of 2013, by which time we saw great progress, especially related to the Horizon 2020 National Development Plan. However, external conditions such as the fall in the price of a barrel of oil from 2014 to 2016 put a brake on this growth. This led the Guinean government to rethink objectives especially in relation to the national budget. It is worth adding that, thanks to the joint work that was carried out with the IMF, economic readjustment has been very positive, as has been the recovery of the price of a barrel of oil. What are the opportunities that arise from the development of Equatorial Guinea considering the upward projections for the oil price?
After having approved the 2018 budget, the crisis situation and a deficit of almost 600 million dollars forced us to rectify our budget. For this reason, we are going to maintain the 2019 budget with the corrections proposed up to now, although the projections in the price of a barrel are encouraging. In this way, if the price of the barrel really goes up, we will have higher reserves. In case the price does not rise, the country will be prepared.
Our crude production has led to the classification of Equatorial Guinea as a high-income country. In this respect, I must say that we should not justify and classify countries according to their income figures, but we should classify them according to the needs they present. We are a country that comes from a very difficult situation, with gaps registered in all areas and sectors. In just 15 years we have gone back to the place where we are today. But thanks to planning, we managed, for example, to provide electricity supply to the whole country. Therefore, it is possible to reach any area of Equatorial Guinea and see signs of development and civilization.
We had set targets by 2020, however, today those goals are almost impossible to achieve. So we decided to reprogram the approaches and the strategy. For this reason, instead of thinking about the year 2020, we will extend our objectives to the year 2030, 2035, 2040.
On the other hand, the Government makes the population see that we cannot remain bothered or happy only with oil, since this is a perishable good, but we must consider all the possibilities to find other sources of revenue generation.
Therefore, the Government introduced the concept of economic diversification, applied especially to the sectors of tourism, agriculture and industry. Our advantage lies in the fertility of our land. We can produce high-quality agriculture. However, agriculture has been at a subsistent level up to now. It is time to think about projecting these sectors to an industrial level, to supply internal consumption first. We want to reach a level of national self-sufficiency that at some point allows us to export.
Everything mentioned above led us to open ourselves up to the world. Today we have 44 diplomatic representations around the world. This means that we were growing in prestige – in respect to human rights and in respect to our cultural identity. Today we are a non-permanent member of the Security Council of the United Nations. We have achieved this with 185 votes out of 197. This speaks volumes of the successful policies carried out by the President of Equatorial Guinea: respect for freedom and respect for human rights.
Speaking precisely of the openness to the world that you mention, especially in regard to the role that Equatorial Guinea is fulfilling on the African continent: Equatorial Guinea will celebrate the "Energy Year 2019" with a summit of Heads of State to be held in Malabo. In this sense, how would you define the role that Equatorial Guinea plays in the energy sector, especially for the African continent?
Indeed, Equatorial Guinea is a model country in particular in terms of oil and gas exploitation. Due to the know-how that Equatorial Guinea has shown, today, our country is an example to imitate, especially for having known how to use the resources coming from oil. The concept of some countries regarding oil is that this resource is a curse. There was an oil boom in other states but its development has not materialized manifestly.
However, when they see the achievements made in our country, and the difference between the old Equatorial Guinea and the one that is today, they ask themselves: how is that possible? Well there was a hand that was not only God's, but also the master hand of our President.
We have held conferences at continental, CEMAC and ECCAS levels. These actions at the continental and sub-regional level have allowed us to organize intercontinental summits, which has given us an opening that was previously unimaginable, allowing Equatorial Guinea to position itself as an energy adviser.
We talk about development in the country, but we understand that there can be no development if there is no investment; there can be no investment if there is no confidence; there can be no confidence if there is no political stability; there can be no political stability if there is no feeling of national reconciliation. There is national reconciliation in our country. Equatorial Guinea has no minority problems. There can be no national reconciliation if there is no superior principle that instils equality, political ethics and nationalism. That superior principle is precisely President Obiang Nguema Mbasogo.
As you well said, there can be no foreign investment if there is no political stability. For that reason, and coinciding with his words, it is worth saying that the Government of Equatorial Guinea confirmed foreign investments of 2.400 billion dollars for the year 2019, mostly from the United States.
Equatorial Guinea has political stability. The government decreed freedom of transit, that is, exemption from visas for businessmen in the United States. There are other countries that are jealous of this privilege. That is why we invite American investors not only to remain in the hydrocarbon sector, but to find attractiveness in other sectors.
At one point we are like orphans, because we are the only country that speaks Spanish on the African continent. This helped us to position ourselves with courage to achieve integration into the globalized world. We adopted French as an official language, we also adopted Portuguese; English is a working language. Therefore, we are in the position of receiving what they want to bring us and giving what little we can give, which is nothing more than our confidence in ourselves. For that reason I want to extend a kind and warm invitation from the beautiful capital of Malabo, to all the American investors and tell them that there is freedom in Equatorial Guinea; that they should come to invest, that there is peace in Equatorial Guinea.