Focus on Gabon as an investment destination
Gabon’s special economic zone plays home to about 45 different companies and is projected to have over 180 factories by 2021, CNBC Africa’s Onyi Sunday caught up with, Liban Soleman; Chairman of Gabon’s Investment Promotion Agency and discussed how Gabon intends to attract more investors. She began by asking him what he made of the achievement of completing the new Owendo Port.
I believe that it is a very important achievement for the Gabonese economy and the presidential vision. As you know Gabon is a country that has been historically known to export raw products like timber, oil, manganese or other mining derivatives. Today this port is a moment of transition in the Gabonese economy because it is designed to not only lower the cost of importation for a country that imports literally all of its consumables but more important for exportation. This day is an important day historically too because as you know Africa in the last years has announced 40 new port projects, 5 of them have been delivered and two of those 5 are in Gabon, because this is not only a container port, it’s a multipurpose port and now we have a mineral port that will double our capacity of exporting products like manganese. So it’s a very important and memorable moment it’s a record that shows that Africa can win. It is an all inclusive African project even though you can consider that Olam is a company that has been on the continent for over 100 years. GSEZ is a partnership between GSEZ, Olam and the Republic of Gabon so from all perspectives this is a good moment.
I saw a recording of the president 30 years ago talking about this particular project. Talk us through how committed the government was into making this project a reality.
The government obviously has a major commitment because behind this port is a complete vision for industrialisation. The President made a speech in 2010 where he stated that Gabon in its vision would like to transform by 2025 that is 30 per cent of its natural resources in Gabon to renewable natural resources. Today we have a huge potential in the agro-allied industry with Olam and you have the special economic zone which is probably the most successful economic zone in Central Africa and also potentially in Sub Saharan Africa. You also have more than $2 billion of foreign direct investment. It’s a complete vision that gives us the capacity to export made in Gabon products. It goes beyond Gabon. As you know we are in a regional economic community where we have free trade that is about to be activated so it’s repositioning Gabon from the natural resource rich, oil producing country to a diversified multi sectoral economy.
Talk us through the plans to see that Agriculture contributes more to the country’s GDP. At the moment Gabon is heavily reliant on oil proceeds.
Absolutely. This is the whole concept and importance of the launch of the Owendo port today. Today we have about 54 greenfield projects that have been announced in agriculture. They are major industrial projects on the continent. And in Gabon you have about 50 per cent of the plans in this regard that have been made in Africa over the last ten years. This is a major transformation in the economic potential of Gabon. With these types of projects we have a pure vision on agriculture that will be the basis of our first diversification. The second level will be our mining. As you know behind this project, you have the port and the Special Economic Zone which is about 27 km from the port and through the Special Economic Zone and the Port you have the railway that crosses the country, and goes straight from the Special Economic Zone into the port. This shows you that the whole concept of the countries development is miniaturised and exemplified by the launch of the Owendo port today. We believe that by 2020 we will have double digit growth from non-oil based GDP.
Tell me more about vision 2025.
Vision 2025 is the master strategic plan on which the president was elected and that he announced in his campaign in 2009. It is basically the narrative that we’ve been talking about from the beginning of this conversation. The diversification of the Gabonese economy for inclusive growth where we create employment because people talk about fighting against poverty, but you cannot fight against poverty if you do not provide jobs for the youth.
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