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Equatorial Guinea’s Leap Into the Future
By Paul Trustfull
The small nation of Equatorial Guinea often goes unnoticed in the broad media coverage of the African continent. However, foreign business is flocking to Equatorial Guinea in large numbers. Equatorial Guinea is flush with natural resources, expanding industries and ever-growing infrastructure, and offers the world-class amenities of the Sofitel Malabo President Palace to visitors from around the globe. Under the leadership of President Teodoro Obiang, Guinea is quickly transforming into the commerce hub of West Africa.
The discovery of massive oil reserves in 1996 has been a blessing for President Obiang and the people of Equatorial Guinea. Obiang saw an opportunity to enhance the country’s infrastructure and improve the general well-being of Equatoguineans. He looked to development plans established by prosperous countries and was intrigued by the Malaysian long-term development plan, Wawasan 2010. What Equatorial Guinea needed, he surmised, was a sustainable plan for the future.
“There needed to be a vision for the future,” he stated. “We needed to develop Equatorial Guinea and build its infrastructure…the oil will not last forever.”
With this mind-set, the government created the Social Development Fund as a part of its long-term development plan, Horizon 2020. As a sustainable path to reducing poverty and building infrastructure, the plan specifically addresses improving healthcare, education, gender equality and water and sewage systems. The plan involves over $1 billion in future spending and international cooperation to lend expertise.
The aims of the Horizon 2020 plan are already coming to fruition. To help meet the goal of providing world-class healthcare, the governments of Equatorial Guinea and Israel worked in partnership to bring a hospital to the heart of West Africa. La Paz Medical Center has become one of the most sophisticated hospitals on the African continent and boasts 130 beds, multiple operating rooms, an emergency room and an intensive care unit. The growing institution utilizes highly qualified specialists from both Equatorial Guinea and Israel to provide quality care. Local professionals are often sent abroad for further training and specialization.
Dr. Alon Stamler, director of the medical center, speaks enthusiastically of the hospital and Equatorial Guinea’s achievement in improving healthcare.
“With this hospital, we have created a center for the best healthcare available. With the vision of President Obiang and the resources provided by Israel, we have achieved greatness.”
International understanding and trade with Equatorial Guinea is currently at a high point and is one of the greatest achievements of the Obiang administration. After reopening the American embassy in Malabo in 2006, the United States has become the largest bilateral trading partner with Equatorial Guinea, with some 17% of U.S. natural gas being supplied by Equatorial Guinea. The largest foreign companies operating within the country are the American giants ExxonMobil and Marathon Oil. U.S. investments alone in Equatorial Guinea have reached $20 billion, an amount President Obiang wishes to see grow in the near future.
Cooperation with the United States began under the George W. Bush administration and has continued under the Obama administration, with a recent visit by President Obiang to the U.S. for the National Prayer Breakfast, where President Obama spoke.
Equatorial Guinea has also found a great friend and trading partner in Israel. In addition to helping build the health infrastructure of the country, Israel has also provided President Obiang with the means to defend Equatorial Guinea. Earlier this year, two helicopter gunboats were purchased from Israel to protect territorial waters.
According to the President, cooperation with the African continent is one of his greatest goals. In January this year, President Obiang became the Chairman of the African Union, a union consisting of 53 African countries.
His leadership of this organization puts a great deal on his agenda. Some of the challenges the African Union must address are a poverty-stricken continent, food insecurity and health conflicts. The first real test in discussing these issues will come at the African Union Summit in Malabo in June and July.
In preparing for this summit, Equatorial Guinea has shifted into overdrive its efforts to rebuild its infrastructure. Malabo will boast two world-class destinations. In addition to the original Sofitel President Palace, the town will unveil the newly constructed Sofitel Sipopo, featuring luxury residence compounds, a conference center and several tourist attractions. Malabo will also serve as the headquarters of the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations, which Equatorial Guinea will be co-hosting with neighboring Gabon.
Africa Day is a holiday in late May that celebrates the achievements of the continent. It serves as a reminder of what Africa has achieved, and this year it also will celebrate the future. In Equatorial Guinea, foreign businesses such as Société Générale and Sofitel are thriving. Oil revenue is being invested into its infrastructure, creating hospitals, roads and airports, the basic essentials of a growing economy.
Jerónimo Osa Osa Ecoro, minister of Information, Culture and Tourism, has been encouraging the country’s young people to begin taking ownership of Equatorial Guinea’s future. He stresses the importance of taking advantage of a strategic time in history to bring success to the country.
“The economy is growing, technology is improving and we are on the path of success. Our job now is to hone the talents of our country and use it to guide our future success.”
Local ministers joke that all that is left for Equatorial Guinea’s success is investments from members of the Forbes “Billionaires” list to help finance the future.
As President Obiang puts it, “Change is under way for the developing world. There is nothing stopping us. Not only are we changing, in the physical sense, but we are also changing people’s minds. The perception of Africa is changing and we are making sure Equatorial Guinea is leading the way.”
Changing the Face of Equatorial Guinea One Company at a Time
The story of foreign investment in Equatorial Guinea is one of the true success stories of Africa.
Foreign companies investing in various sectors of Equatorial Guinea are helping to promote its infrastructure and image around the world. In recent years, many companies have moved into this commerce hub in West Africa, and the results have been promising. Increasing amounts of foreign direct investment are helping to change the face of Equatorial Guinea.
This change first started with the help of Serbian engineer Zoran Kilibarda, president of the construction company Imotec. Kilibarda first arrived in Equatorial Guinea in 2002 with few expectations. His work in Africa began in the nation of Gabon and continued until he came to learn of Equatorial Guinea’s potential: the lack of roads and infrastructure was an opportunity. Determined to do work that would leave a mark on both Equatorial Guinea and Africa, Imotec began to develop buildings and other infrastructure projects. Kilibarda took on the role of building the structure of a national telecommunications company. Following years of success, Imotec recently embarked on its largest project to date: Malabo City. The site will include hotels, residential property and shopping malls. The $300 million project will employ over 1,000 workers from around the world. Facing competing bids from China and Dubai, Imotec had to show that it would change the face of the city through this project. Kilibarda aims to have the completed city open by 2015.
Like Zoran Kilibarda, Sébastian Lechêne of PricewaterhouseCoopers first came to Equatorial Guinea before the recent improvement in economic conditions. As the head of legal and tax services, Lechêne provides American and other foreign companies legal advice on investing and operating in Equatorial Guinea.
The growth of African economies and their financial systems has allowed international companies to prosper. Houston-based Axia Resources also maintains a large presence in Equatorial Guinea. Country Manager Sam Bhattacharjee notes that the growing economy created a large demand for financial advisory and consulting services. French mega-bank Société Générale is the largest international bank with a presence in Equatorial Guinea. According to Director General of Equatorial Guinea Bruno Sassez, the bank offers diversified financial products for both individual and business clients, tailored to meet the special needs of West Africans.
It’s estimated that Hilton Worldwide, the world-renowned hotel chain, will grow 80% across the Middle East and Africa. In late May, President Obiang inaugurated the newest Hilton property, Hilton Equatorial Guinea. Youssef Ahmad, President of Global Operations and Development for American Investment Business Construction, the operator of the Hilton Equatorial Guinea, states, “This sort of growth is a testament to the strong relationships we have built with hotel owners and our ability to deliver the operating performance they expect.” The inflow of tourists and businesses signaled a demand for luxury hotels that Hilton quickly fulfilled. “A major aim is to educate the country’s youth so they can acquire new skills and abilities to continue Equatorial Guinea’s path of success,” says Ahmad. After building the Hilton Hotel, Ahmad has other major plans within the construction business. He will build the Ministry of Finance building in Malabo and numerous other projects throughout Bata.
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