TOGY talks to Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo
Chairman of the African Union and host of the upcoming Africa and South America Conference, Equatorial Guinea is becoming a powerhouse of a new more independent Africa. In 1979 President Obiang deposed Francisco Macias Nguema. Under President Obiang, the country has developed its oil and gas resources and implemented Horizon 2020, a policy to use hydrocarbons revenue to make the country an economic centre for West Africa.
THE OIL & GAS YEAR: How is the national vision Horizon 2020 beginning to change international perceptions of Equatorial Guinea?
TEODORO OBIANG NGUEMA MBASOGO: The negative image that many people have of Equatorial Guinea is due to a lack of publicity. We have not made good use of the media to properly inform the world about our country. Thanks to our new public relations activities, especially the government’s Horizon 2020 programme, many observers are now starting to see credibility in the government’s stated goals for this nation.
TOGY: Is developing hydrocarbons one of the main aims of the country’s Horizon 2020 plan?
TONM: We are thinking more in terms of industrialisation because when we talk about Horizon 2020, it is not only a programme to reach economic growth but also a programme to make the country self-sufficient and not dependent on other countries’ resources. That is why we are planning an industrialisation programme that will make full use of the resources the country possesses but also to train Equatoguinean citizens so that they can achieve their full potential.
It is Equatorial Guinea’s citizens who will be in charge of all these industries. The scheme includes a technology transfer programme to bring the skills we need to Equatorial Guinea to begin our industrial development and to train the future engineers and technicians who will manage that industry. We do not want the Equatoguineans to only be trained for the oil and gas industry.
Soon, perhaps as early as 2012, we will have a national conference on the country’s industrialisation to identifying the industries with the best prospects to be prioritised in Equatorial Guinea.
TOGY: What sources of revenue besides oil and gas is the government trying to develop?
TONM: Our oil and gas reservoirs have given us the revenue we need to develop this country. However this will not last forever. We are focused on funding projects that can generate income and do not depend on oil. So that when there is no more oil we will still have an ongoing income.
So we are putting funding into areas that could generate revenue in the long term in addition to economically profitable projects. For instance, a lot of money has been invested in the Sipopo project because it has the potential to be a popular tourist destination. Tourism will inject money continuously and may one day cover the expenses generated in this area. We are discussing the possibility of doing the same thing in other sectors – for example the government should fund the ports of Malabo and Bata so that will become the most important ports in Central Africa. Then Equatorial Guinea could become a country that receives goods coming from Europe and the rest of the world, and Central African countries could receive their merchandise through Equatorial Guinea. We assume that will guarantee income for the country in the future.
TOGY: What additional things can be done to make Equatorial Guinea an economic driver for the region akin to Singapore’s role in the Far East?
TONM: In the past, most Central African countries depended on Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon or Gabon, and they were not only selling their products to these coastal countries but also buying goods imported by Equatoguinean companies. Our workforce was imported from Nigeria because Equatorial Guinea was not very populated. The Nigerians were happy to come to Equatorial Guinea for employment. Our country has always been a centre of regional economic activities.
Besides the tourism sector we have potential to develop an important regional banking centre. We can create a private bank that will welcome all the big investors in Africa and around the world who want to put their resources in Equatorial Guinea and we enjoy security guarantees provided by the government. As the region grows and develops, Equatorial Guinea can continue to be centre of economic and trade activities in Africa. The country’s geographic size is not a problem. On the contrary, it is easier when the country is small as it gives better guarantees to all the big investors who want to settle here.
TOGY: What effect do current regional tensions have on long-term sustainability for the infrastructure Equatorial Guinea is developing?
TONM: Equatorial Guinea will work with any country, a neighbour anywhere in Central Africa. They are all welcome to take advantage of the opportunities offered by this country. We have worked hard to reform Central Africa’s institutions because there were some regulations, laws and structures that were obsolete and almost colonial in nature. Equatorial Guinea’s government demonstrated that it was necessary to reform these structures and they were this reformed.
Equatorial Guinea bore the responsibility for reforming all Central Africa’s structures. At this time, we are also prepared to reform the economic community of the rest of Central Africa, which is currently doing nothing.
We are rationally using our financial resources to transform the country and the results are being noted across the region. Now, the other countries in Central Africa – neighbouring governments that had done nothing – have started to follow our example. They also want to start to invest in gas transformation. We have proposed to create a partnership with Cameroon and Nigeria, and we are waiting for their answer. There is an opportunity for all of us to benefit from the gas resources that they are currently burning.
TOGY: Does that fact that Equatorial Guinea currently hold the chairmanship of the African Union give the country leverage to achieve its ambitions?
TONM: The chairmanship is a extremely prestigious position and the chairperson wields influence not only in the political aspect but also the economic. For the moment, the African Union has been focussing more on political issues but economic issues must also be taken into account. We want help make plans for Africa’s economic development. By plotting a wise economic development Africa could become a self-sufficient continent that does not depend on others.
Equatorial Guinea is planning to host the Africa and South America Conference in Autumn 2011 at Sipopo near Malabo. At this conference, we intend to present the idea of a south-south partnership with the objective of exchanging our products and our experiences, not only in the economic field but also in the technical field. This will help countries that are at low levels of development to start to co-operate to mutually overcome the deficiencies in our economies.
TOGY: The US secretary of State Hillary Clinton has advised African leaders to beware of economic colonisation. How important is her statement?
TONM: We have had enough experience with colonisation. We do not need Hillary Clinton or any American to give us a lesson on how we have to be careful about colonisation. We are co-operating with the US, but perhaps it will be China that will show us that we ought to be careful about US colonisation. All we want is benefits. Today, China is injecting lots of money into African countries. Without asking for it, China has granted Equatorial Guinea $2 billion of credit. We have not received something like that from the US.
Americans are evidently transferring technology to us because they are the ones who are exploiting our resources. They are receiving our raw materials. But in terms of financial support, we have not received anything from the US. On the contrary, they are the ones who are taking advantage of us. Therefore, this wake-up call does not create any concern in Equatorial Guinea or across the African continent.
We had a China-Africa conference and all the presidents who went to that conference had come with something in his hand. This was because China was willing to give financial support to all African countries whereas when we went to the Africa-France conference France gave a €60-million scholarship contribution to train human resources, for the entire continent. What does that represent for the African continent? It is a misery. Africa’s relationship with China is very positive. In addition, Chinese companies are helping Africa’s development. Chinese companies are low tech, but we are working with them to improve their technology. The will to support Africa’s development is the most important thing.