Manuel Mbela Bama Ndong, Ambassador of the tiny West African nation of Equatorial Guinea with less than 12 lakh citizens, is promising India an equally vast investment opportunity in the country where President Ram Nath Kovind visited earlier this year. He tells Subhayan Chakraborty that concerns over human rights violations are unfounded and global investments have risen as the nation offers setting up a business within just 4 days. Edited extracts:
Foreign investors have pointed to the country's high rate of humans’ rights violations to justify not moving into the economy. What are your comments?
Equatorial Guinea is already a destination for many stakeholders but is becoming more and more a well-known investment hub among a diversified group of investors in the world whilst it preserves its place as one of the Sub-Saharan African oil & gas sector main players. However, as it typically happens those who has not been to the country rely only on stories passed one to another.
Not many countries enjoy a sense of political stability as Equatorial Guinea does. Headed by President Obiang, Africa’s longest-serving president, Equatorial Guinea undergone impressive transformation, offering a secure and well-equipped environment welcoming diversified foreign entrepreneurship.
I wish for higher social exchange between the Indian and African communities to help dispel stereotypes and apprehensions, which unfortunately we all sometimes follow.
What policy steps have been taken to secure greater FDI inflows?
The driving force behind the economic growth was the discovery and exploitation of oil fields, along with political, economic and infrastructure development, paving the way for economic diversification and continuous growth, the main objective of the National Economic and Social Development Plan - Horizon 2020. As a part of the initiative, the Government created the Social Development Fund that budgeted $1 billion for investment in equality, transport, water, education, social welfare and housing infrastructure. Moreover, we also established a single window for the registration of a company, which allow completing all formalities just within 4 days.
The first phase of Horizon 2020 focused on infrastructure development was concluded in 2012. This includes developing 1000 km of roadways, 5 ports, 5 airports, electricity, and water access. Not to mention about growing hotel infrastructure to ensure a comfortable stay.
The second phase is focused on economic diversification, targeting strategic new sectors such as fisheries, agriculture, tourism and finance. With the decreasing oil prices, resulting in a restricted budget, second phase of the plan is aimed to be completed in 2030.
Which nation currently has the largest investment footprint in the country and what are some of the major focus areas for economic opportunity?
The highest number of investors are seen from USA, Spain, France, Malaysia, Brazil, China and Middle East countries. However, it is my commitment, serving as the 1st Ambassador of Equatorial Guinea to India to flourish trade and investment with India and countries of accreditation.
Domestic robust infrastructure and its ports and airports have placed the country as a geo-economical gateway to the Central African Monetary and Economic Union (CEMAC) sub-region, which is home to over 140 million people. The zone has a central bank and a common currency – the CFA franc. It enables the free movement of goods and services from Equatorial Guinea to other countries. The privileged geographical location of Equatorial Guinea also allows for a potential linkage to other major African markets. Well-developed deep-water port of Bata alone has the capacity for 6 million tons and over 250,000 containers per year and can also act as a hub for the transportation of goods to Europe, South America, USA and Canada.
Considering that nearly the entirety of bilateral trade remains in the mineral fuels, what are some of the other areas where you see trade growth to come, in both directions?
Apart from the strong partnership in the oil and gas sector, food products, cereals, meat, pharmaceuticals, machinery, apparel are the main items of India’s exports to Equatorial Guinea, so far.
Equatorial Guinea has a high potential for the development of agricultural production, a favourable climate for all tropical and subtropical crops, fertile soil, rainfall and abundant water reserves. Cocoa, coffee, coconut, sugar cane, palm trees, natural rubber and other agricultural products are nowadays regarded as one of the country’s opportunities to turn what certainly showed great promise once, positioning agricultural products from Equatorial Guinea as organic and of high quality.
Equatorial Guinea has an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 314,000 km2, that has untapped or marginally rudimentary exploited fish resources. Opportunities in Fisheries sector include establishment of the industrial fishery base, shrimp farming, processing of tuna and other fishes, infrastructure projects and fishing fleet.
Opportunities in Telecommunication, Hospitality, Transport, Textile, Machinery, Pharmaceuticals, Petrochemistry and other sectors are there to be explored by skilled Indian entrepreneurs and industrialists, benefiting from what Equatorial Guinea – the Gateway to Africa has to offer.
What is the state of people to people relations? There are reports of Indian nationals living in Malabo and working in the retail sector.
India and African nations share similar culture, which helps to build a cultural bridge, despite geographical distance. Equatoguineans are friendly and helpful to each other. Since crimes and even petty theft is rare compared to rates in other African nations, trust between people is high. Peace within communities and regions is highly important to local people. People of various nationalities are seen in Equatorial Guinea, mainly from Spain, Portugal, Latin and Central American countries.
There are approximately 250 Indian nationals are working in the capital city of Malabo, mainly in services. Occasionally, the oil companies bring in Indians on short-term assignments in offshore oil installations. Equatorial Guinea awaits more Indians to share its culture and discover the beauty of the tropical land.