Executive Focus: Hamidou Okaba, Director General of Economy, Ministry of Finance, Gabon
How would you describe the economic performance of Gabon over the last 2-3 years?
OKABA: The economic performance of Gabon is very promising. After the late President El Hadj Omar Bongo Ondimba passed away, our new leader, Ali Bongo Ondimba has established a new vision for our country. That vision is for Gabon to be declared an emerging country by 2025. In order to achieve this status, we are promoting industry and added-value services by taking into account all the environmental preoccupations. In the past three years, the country's economic growth has been 5% per year in real terms. Keep in mind that Gabon is an oil-producing country, but we are also promoting the non-oil sectors, such as mining, housing, infrastructure, telecommunications and agriculture in order to diversify our economy.What are the main infrastructure projects that are in need in Gabon?
OKABA: Gabon is putting efforts to expand its energy supply capabilities by building three new energy producing dams in three regions: in the North, in the Central of our country, and in the South-East. Given the fact that we have the required resources to produce steel, iron, and manganese, we are taking the opportunity to advance industrial production. If we want to be declared an emerging country, we have to produce steel; to produce electronic devices and also to promote telecommunications.Who are Gabon's current major trading partners? How are you working to diversify trade relationships?
OKABA: Due to our colonial past, our traditional partner remains France. However, we are currently diversifying our partnering countries. For example, our main new partner in infrastructure projects is China. The Chinese are building our roads, our bridges and our dams for producing energy. When it comes to telecommunications, South Korea is our designated partner. In addition, South Korea intends to help us build a new refinery to promote us as an oil-producing country. We believe that by having several partners, we can diversify our economy in the most time-efficient manner. Therefore, Gabon is looking to establish new alliances with countries from all geographic regions.What sorts of opportunities exist in the energy and natural resources sectors in Gabon?
OKABA: There are a lot of opportunities for production of oil and other natural resources. We have oil in the seaside, manganese in the hinterland, gold and also diamonds; and we are looking for foreign investors to process them. Our aim is to invite investors to come to Gabon because we have a lot of natural resources to process, but we need their technology and know-how. Gabon is not only a country of opportunities for raw material processing; it is also a country of opportunities to develop services like telecommunications and financial services. Our next initiative is to promote mobile banking in the region: from Gabon to Chad, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo, Nigeria, and Rwanda.How well are developed the transportation links between those markets?
OKABA: The sub-region of CEMAC (The Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa) is improving its transpiration infrastructure. You can move freely from Libreville to Yaoundé and from Yaoundé to N'Djamena in Chad; and from Libreville to Brazzaville. We do need to improve the quality of our roads, but the connections are available. In addition, the sea provides alternative transportation corridors to Lagos in Nigeria. What we are missing is financing. Thus, we are taking the opportunity to mobilize resources and attract more foreign direct investment. We have improved our fiscal policy, which will improve yield on investment in the country. We have set a transparent judiciary system to protect all contracts between foreign investors and the government. Moreover, we have been fighting corruption for over a decade to make Gabon the safe place to do business, which it is today. In terms of human resources, we do offer fully skilled personnel. However, as an investor, you are allowed to import the resources you need to process raw materials. We have set such policies in order to promote our country as a global work shop.How could investors take advantage of Gabon's location to access the surrounding markets?
OKABA: Our geographic situation presents great opportunities for investors. We have 800km of seaside and various ports to ease exports. In addition to our location, our fiscal policy is modified to facilitate foreign investments. We guarantee security and safety for all aspects of the operations: the business, the people and the goods. We have improved our rank in the Ease of Doing Business Ranking by The Work Bank and recently Standard & Poor's has improved our notation in terms of public debt and our ability to repay our debt.What is your general outlook for Gabon?
OKABA: The potential of Gabon will play a very important role for the development of this part of Africa. Our main asset is peace and democracy, and as you know in Africa, it is not very easy to maintain peace and security. Our country, by the culture of peace and good governance, provides a very safe environment for investments. In addition, our geographic situation makes it very easy to reach any market in the world.