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FOCUS ON GABON: The Emerging Eden of Africa

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“Gabon has the potential to pilot real innovation and redefine how governments and the private sector collaborate to create sustainable growth. We want to create the long-term potential for our people to innovate, to allow them to compete, not just with each other or with their neighbours on the African continent, but globally. I firmly believe that these ideas are the bedrock of a development model for the third millennium, a model that the entire world recognises as necessary.” His Excellency President Ali Bongo Ondimba

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Gabon is one of the top ten oil producers in sub-Saharan Africa. With current production rates hovering around 200,000 bpd, the hydrocarbon sector has been a pillar of the country’s economy for over five decades, and remains an unparalleled driver of growth. However, since 2009, Gabon has been diligently focused upon modernising, transforming and diversifying its economy through its implementation of its Strategic Plan for an Emerging Gabon (PSGE), which, powered by significant public and private investments, has seen strategic infrastructure put into place. Recently, a US$350 million debt finance from the Emerging Africa Infrastructure Fund (EAIF) was secured to develop new deep-sea facilities at the Owendo port in the outskirts of Libreville. This will boost the terminal’s general cargo capacity, doubling the port’s current capacity. Furthermore, works are underway for the construction of a new international airport in Libreville, with completion scheduled for 2022 and aims at serving as a major regional hub, connecting Gabon and surrounding countries with the whole continent, as well as UAE, China, India and the Americas.

The PSGE relies upon three major pillars to enhance diversification: Industrial Gabon, Green Gabon, and Services Gabon.“We have embarked on a significant effort to modernise and diversify the economy through the PSGE,” states Prime Minister Julien NkogheBekale. “We intend to put Gabon on a sustainable path with the establishment of these foundations for sustainable development.”

Industrial Gabon

Industrial Gabon strives to diversify through local processing of the country’s resources such as wood, mining and agriculture. Gabon has also established an open investment climate for investors through the Special Economic Zones (SEZ) that have been established in the country, such as the one in Nkok. The zone’s main function is to develop various industries, most notably the wood processing industry, to promote investment. SEZs offer a unique fiscal status providing a stable and competitive economic climate for foreign investors and prospective companies.“We have a one-stop shop here,” says Gabriel Ntougou, CEO of ANPI. “It is the right time, the grounds are there. Gabon is a land of opportunity.” The expansive acreage, modern port and tax breaks are attractive to foreign investors and create favourable circumstances across all sectors.

In terms of mining, Gabon is seeing impressive growth as well. As the country focuses on the plentiful resources of manganese and other minerals, there are opportunities for mining support companies to provide heavy equipment to aid in mining processes. Firms have also obtained exploration licenses for iron ore, copper, gold and even diamonds. Gabon has also invested in the construction of a hydroelectric barrier designed for supplying energy in two transformation factories of manganese which generate 10% of the annual production. Moreover, Gabon has reinforced the governance of its mining sectors, namely by the revision of the Mining Code in order to change the business sector to attract more investors.

The forestry industry especially is seeing huge industrial growth. Minister of Forests, Oceans, Environment and Climate Change, Hon. Prof. Lee White, says, “The fact that we banned the export of raw wood means that all timber has to be transformed. We shifted from an exporting industry to a transformation industry.” As a result, new opportunities are born for timber processing companies.

Green Gabon

With forests covering  87% of Gabon’s area, placing conservation efforts is also at the forefront of the PSGE’s goals. The country is attempting to increase the revenue of the forestry sector while keeping practices environmentally sustainable and avoiding species destruction. The sector creates 17,000 jobs and more than 60% of output–excluding oil. Hon. Prof. Lee White says, “The vision is to increase the contribution of the forestry sector to the Gabonese economy, yet preserving the forests. We have made a commitment with the Paris agreement to reduce our CO2 emissions, and forests play a critical role as an absorber of CO2. To achieve that ambition, we have to give value to the forests.”

Services Gabon

Gabon is building on the digital revolution as it becomes a high value-added services centre. In the realm of the digital financial economy, Gabon utilises technology to maintain one of the best rankings of financial inclusion in the region. Nicholas Achiri Asangwe, Managing Director of Ecobank Gabon, explains, “The widespread use of mobile phones means that Ecobank is empowering the Gabonese to conduct their banking transactions from their mobiles wherever and whenever they want. We are making banking accessible, convenient and affordable to everyone in Gabon.”

The success of the PSGE and the diversification of the economy is a time of exciting transformation and transition for the country. “Few countries match so many favourable assets to investment,” claims Fabrice Bonatti, Director General of SOBRAGA.“We have a stable legal and fiscal framework, an efficient banking system, and a growing population with one of the highest GDP per capita on the continent.” These advantages, coupled with the PSGE initiatives, provide Gabon with the promise and the prospect of a prosperous and paradisiacal future.

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