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The Atlantic's new horizon

Article - October 15, 2013
Under the banner of Horizon 2020, Equatorial Guinea's government is working hand-in-hand with the private sector to galvanise social development and economic diversification. The billions of petrodollars pouring into the country by a buoyant oil industry are serving to speed things up
Only slightly smaller than Albania, Equatorial Guinea, EG, is the fifth largest oil producer and eighth largest crude oil reserve holder in sub-Saharan Africa. According to the US Energy Information Administration, the country had proven oil reserves of 1.1 billion barrels and 1.3 trillion cubic feet of gas as of January this year. GDP peaked at an estimated $19.6 billion last year, 95 per cent of which stemmed from the hydrocarbon industry.
Economic growth figures like this were probably only possible in the country’s wildest dreams prior to 1995 – the year when the first oil field (the Zafiro Field) was discovered. In those days, GDP stood at just $328 million and GDP per capita was a mere $800. By 2012, per capita had spiked to $26,400. 
The government, headed by President Teodoro Obiang, Africa’s longest-serving head of state, has been tackling what had previously been a crippling shortage of infrastructure and services by putting its newfound petrodollars to good work. The Obiang administration’s Horizon 2020 development programme, launched in 2007, aims to raise the country to emerging economy status, whilst reducing poverty and diversifying the economy. 
Happily, a main component of the programme includes achieving the Millennium Development Goals set out by the UN, and EG is already on track to meeting the benchmarks for universal primary education, reducing child mortality, enhancing maternal health and combating diseases. 
Undoubtedly, this has been made possible by the government’s increased spending on healthcare. According to World Health Organisation statistics, EG leads Africa in per capita investments in healthcare, with more than 7 per cent of the national budget allocated to the sector. 
Huge investments in infrastructure projects over the past decade or so have seen the country’s roads, airports and seaports vastly improve, thus shaping EG’s transport network not only to handle increased traffic but also to move cargo to and from heretofore inaccessible places. 
Moreover, given EG’s geographical situation – coupled with the fact that Bioko Island lies less than 100 miles off the coasts of Nigeria and Cameroon – the government is preparing the country as a transhipment hub by partnering with various private construction companies, such as Moroccan-based Somagec, to bring world-class standards to the country’s ports.
In just eight years, Somagec has overseen the construction of eight ports and four airports. Most mention-worthy are perhaps the ports of Bata and Malabo, which are among the deepest in sub-Saharan Africa, with the continent’s deepest being the Tanger-Med in Morocco, another signature Somagec project.  
Albert Ndong Obiang Lima, General Director of the Ports Administration of Equatorial Guinea, says the Malabo port’s draught is 16 metres and 390 metres long on the south side, and as deep as 17 metres and 406 metres long on its west side. These dimensions would allow Malabo on Bioko Island to accept ships that have difficulty entering other ports. 
“They can drop their goods off here, and later transfer them to other ports,” says Mr Obiang Lima, adding that EG is “the bridge for this great market of the Gulf of Guinea.”  Jean Charles Hayoz, Administrative and Financial Director of Somagec, highlights that the country is fortunate in that it has a small population, vast oil resources and a special kind of hindsight when it comes to developing and managing these.
“This country is very lucky at the moment because it is becoming a rich country a considerable amount of time after the countries surrounding it. So, Guinea can try not to make the same mistakes other countries have made,” he says. EG is opening to the world in other ways, as well. In 2011 it hosted the African Leader’s Summit and the following year, it co-hosted the Africa Cup of Nations with Gabon. In February this year, CEIBA Intercontinental, EG’s publicly owned airline, opened thrice-weekly direct flights to Madrid from Malabo. 
More and more international entrepreneurs are taking notice of this small Atlantic state, and undoubtedly its oil resource wealth is creating a positive snowball effect on investment.  “Many foreigners say that Equatorial Guinea is becoming Central Africa’s Dubai. I believe that this is true. We need only look at the investment and construction that is taking place here,” says ports director Mr Obiang Lima.