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Fast forward emergence

Article - August 12, 2011
Oil has made the small, sparsely populated state of Gabon one of the wealthiest in Africa, but with production in decline new ways of securing the future must be found
A nation of just 1.5 million people, oil-rich Gabon enjoys a per capita income four times that of most nations of sub-Saharan Africa. One of Africa’s largest producers of petroleum, it pumps out around 250,000 barrels of oil per day.

Gabon Emergent is the strategy initiated by President Ali Bongo Ondimba to create an emerging economy. Resting on three pillars – Green Gabon, Service Gabon and Industrial Gabon – it aims to reduce reliance on oil production, improve standards of governance, eliminate corruption, and modernize the workforce.

“We have deliberately focused on driving reform in key strategic areas to deliver meaningful and lasting change for the country,” the President has said. “One of our principal areas of focus is on reform to encourage and facilitate investment.”

Increased spending by the government is aimed at consolidating growth, with priority being given to agriculture and infrastructure. One of the most significant moves has been the banning of the export of raw timber, which President Bongo wants to see processed locally to add value to forest and wood products before export. At the same time, there is strong emphasis on environmental sustainability.

 Other changes include the introduction of a longer working day and the establishment of a national oil company to consolidate the government’s stakes in the oil fields and manage revenues.

Gabon has been aggressively pursuing private investment from abroad, and getting it not just from France, its former colonial master and leading investor, but also from Asia.

Huge new manganese mines are being built as a result of deals signed last year. One is with the French metals company Eramet, which previously had a monopoly on extracting manganese, but the other is with Huazhou Mining, a subsidiary of China’s CITIC group. Chinese timber and logging companies are also very interested in Gabon’s timber.

Last year, which marked the fiftieth anniversary of Gabon’s independence, saw a series of deals with companies in India and Singapore. Contracts worth US$4.5 billion have been signed for the construction of roads, housing units and a refinery, and to expand timber and palm oil production.

Moves to develop the economy appear to be paying off. The IMF recently revised its growth projections following Gabon’s faster-than-expected recovery from a setback in 2009 caused by the global crisis and low oil prices. Highlighting increased public investment and the rebound in mining, the IMF raised its growth forecast for 2010 from 5.1% to 5.7%, and for 2011 from 4% to 5.6%.

President Bongo says the case for investing in Gabon is strong. “Above all, we want to create an environment where the question is no longer why invest in Gabon, but how will we invest in Gabon? The answer is responsibly, and for the long term. Gabon is open for business and it is open to all.”