Since my arrival in Malabo almost 3 years ago, I have reminded the Government, His Excellency the President, and the public that my goals for the country are to help expand the Democratic space, diversify the economy, and ensure that the programs of the U.S. government and U.S. companies benefit the people of Equatorial Guinea. I have a long view on our engagement with the country.
The continent of Africa has a young population that will see the fruits of these efforts. Between now and 2050, the continent of Africa is projected to double its population to over two billion people. (We can see this trend here in Equatorial Guinea, where the population is very young, with half of the population still in school.) Millions of young people in Africa will need jobs. The most crucial role of leaders in Africa is to create jobs for their youth. This means creating a welcoming business climate to promote domestic and foreign companies, as well as a well-educated population that has the skills necessary to take on those jobs.
Last month, the Department of State’s new Assistant Secretary for African affairs was sworn in. In articulating our Africa policy, Tibor Nagy noted that “enlightened African leaders know that U.S. businesses bring with them high quality products and services which create employment opportunities — and not debt.” Looking at the last several decades in Equatorial Guinea, you can see this statement is true. Assistant Secretary Nagy continued his thoughts about our African policy, noting that:
“unlike some other countries, with their State controlled enterprises, the U.S. government cannot simply order American businesses to invest in Africa.
“So it is African governments that must provide the type of environments that attract serious business investments — which will create jobs and not simply extract commodities.
“Building this type of environment means providing a stable and open political space, corruption-free institutions and processes, fair and equal treatment of all investors, and most importantly, developing each nation’s greatest resource – its own people – by providing all of them with the universal rights, freedoms, and opportunities endowed by our Creator.”
Today, we are here to talk about how to create the environment in Equatorial Guinea to increase investments. Well, I believe the first steps have to involve how the government treats businesses. Some questions might be: How easy is it to set up a business, compete, and continue working? How many trained workers are in country, how easy is it to bring in skilled laborers and managers? How transparent is the government in its business practices and economic activities? What is the regulatory environment? These and other questions are addressed through international indices such as the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business index.
Equatorial Guinea improved in the most recent report by simplifying the process to start a business. This change raised the country’s ranking five places, from 178 to 173 out of 190 countries in the world. Equatorial Guinea has to do more to attract investment. It has to honor its contracts, educate its workforce, fairly enforce its labor policies so international companies are not unfairly penalized or fined exorbitant amounts for spurious labor cases, transparently report earnings, establish fair taxation systems, improve its residency process for foreign workers in country, including the process for obtaining permission to travel to the country, improve its security procedures—the list goes on.
If the country is to diversify its economy, then it must take advantage of the true potential of the country and the people. The Republic of Equatorial Guinea is endowed with abundant oil and gas resources and hosts USD 650 million annually in direct U.S. investment according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. But, Equatorial Guinea is competing in a global market to attract investors in its oil and gas sector. Resources alone are not enough to attract outside investment. With the right efforts to improve the business climate and develop its human capacity, Equatorial Guinea could attract the right kinds of investments to diversify and grow its economy.