Equatorial Guinea’s Secretary Of State Cesar Mbah Abogo On The Country’s ‘Horizon 2020’ Initiative

By Mfonobong Nsehe – Contributor at Forbes.com

Cesar Mbah Abogo

It’s been argued that Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad’s challenge to the people of his country in 1991, to work together to further industrialize and self-sustain the nation by seeking improvements in all aspects of citizenry life, such as economic prosperity, social well-being, achieving a high scholastic level and enhancing political stability, a plan he called ‘Wawasan 2020’ or ‘Vision 2020’, inspired leaders from several places around the world to place a similar impetus upon themselves and their nations. The Republic of Equatorial Guinea is no different, however, the only Spanish speaking population on the African continent serves as one unique example of a nation that is sticking to its Agenda; a nation that has effectively managed to both adhere to and continue to accomplish its long term National Plan for Social and Economic Development, aptly named ‘Horizonte 2020’ or ‘Horizon 2020’.

This plan comes to a head at the Economic and Trade Investment Summit of 2019 (ETIS 2019) to take place in the nation’s capital of Malabo, where each initiative designed to accelerate the development of the country in to a new era of prosperity will be reflected upon and debated, with the application, of course, to emanate an Equatorial Guinea rife with opportunity.

From wisely investing oil and gas earnings in to state-of-the-art infrastructures, including ports, airports, hospitals, universities and a solid road network interconnecting cities, towns and States such as between Cameroon and Gabon, to diversifying the economy in to sectors such as agribusiness and travel and tourism, both the government and the multinational community have worked together to ween the west Central African nation off hydrocarbon dependency and concurrently, substantially diversify and enhance Equatorial Guinea’s economy.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Secretary of State of Equatorial Guinea’s National Development Plan ‘Horizon 2020’, the Honorable Cesar Mbah Abogo on the milestone of ‘ETIS 2019’ and how his nation will continue to partner with the public and private sectors alike globally to meet the ambitious ‘Horizon’ challenge laid before the nation.

What are some of the longstanding challenges hindering the modern opportunities rife within Equatorial Guinea?

The average rate of economic growth of Equatorial Guinea during the first decade of the 21st century was barely in the two-digit increment. From 2008 to 2013, coinciding with the implementation of the first phase of our current development strategy, the ‘Equatorial Guinea (EG) Horizon 2020 Plan’, global organizations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), gave credit and certified the fact that Equatorial Guinea is the country that has allocated the most of its resources proportionally to capital expenditures within the General State Budget.

This accelerated economic growth at the beginning of the 21st century, along with the public investment policies that have endowed Equatorial Guinea with remarkable infrastructure in the regional context (including steady electricity, water and sanitation improvements, roads, fiber-optics, ports, airports, social housing and more) are explained by and proof positive of the shrewd development of the oil sector and its application. The oil sector has truly been the lever of transformation within Equatorial Guinea, which has gone from being one of the poorest economies in Africa to hosting one of the highest per capita incomes across the continent.

Our ‘Horizon 2020’ Plan, a development strategy to promote social welfare and lasting prosperity, is the compass that the Government of Equatorial Guinea has been guided by during the past 10 years. In Equatorial Guinea today, thanks to the bedrock foundation that the Horizon 2020 Plan has created, there is potential to consolidate social equity and promote lasting prosperity through indeed the diversification of our sources of economic growth and our greater integration in to the global and continental value chains.

As your readers can imagine and as has happened throughout history all over the world, the process of transformation that Equatorial Guinea has undertaken brings with it what I refer to as “lights and shadows”. After the collapse of oil prices at the end of 2014, which eventually had a very negative impact on our economy, we saw an opportunity. We endeavored to accelerate the development and strengthening of our production capacities along with the accountable publication of our statistics systems; to align expenditure policies with our continued development strategy.

I’m pleased to report that we have accelerated the development of ‘e-Government’, we are adopting radical measures to reform public finances and the business climate in the country and we are addressing issues relating to youth and gender which remain among the top of priorities within our national political debate.

We are also tackling with the utmost diligence the longstanding challenges that we believe hinder us from achieving inclusive and sustainable development, and we are doing so along with important partners such as the World Bank, UNDP, UNFPA, the International Monetary Fund, the African Development Bank and partnering countries which have so too affirmed their commitment to knowledge-transfer and capacity building.

What would your response be to past skepticism from abroad regarding business as usual in country?

One of the historical obstacles against the development of Equatorial Guinean potential has to do with a concept that is very fashionable at the moment – “post-truth”. In fact, it seems that we have fully entered into a new and frightening era of the post-truth. For Equatorial Guinea and for many African countries, the post-truth is not something new; with hardly any influence in global media, even before the Berlin Conference of 1885, the idea of Africa was being built from the outside and by non-Africans.

In recent decades, misinformation and the distortion of facts in the global press have contributed significantly to the overshadowing of the efforts of many African countries to move forward and of the potential we each have for our own development and for the global community at large. Equatorial Guinea, without considering itself as an idyllic society, has been a special victim of post-truth, but as change is historically the only constant, paraphrasing Hans Rosling (author of ‘Factfulness’), I am more than an optimist, I am a “possibilist”. If one pays attention to the trend-line and not the headline, the conclusion is obvious: we will overcome the obstacles before us.

With regard to national development, precisely how is the Government of Equatorial Guinea planning to encourage newfound, multinational investment in-country, in-step with or complimentary to the Horizon 2020 Agenda?

2019 is a crucial year for the mobilization of resources to finance the ongoing development of Equatorial Guinea. Last year, we announced that this would be a ‘Year of Energy’ for our country and we are standing behind this mantra with pride and with proof. Our oil sector is being aggressively promoted, there are bidding rounds for blocks in progress and important events are being planned in the country, such as the 5th Summit of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum and the Economic and Trade Investment Summit of 2019.

Importantly, in order to mobilize resources for the financing of our economy, we must not focus on, nor rely on, the oil and gas sector alone. As our President, H.E. Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has stated, “…oil will not last forever”. Its benefits can be applied to create a solid foundation for a sustainable African State.

Encouraging multinational investment is a multifaceted process. In the field of public finances, we are carrying out reforms with the support of the IMF that will allow us to collect more taxes with better efficacy. As can be seen in the national accounts that we publish (with the support of the World Bank), in Equatorial Guinea there is an impetus to improve tax collection, as without this necessity there will be an ever-increasing tax burden. The aim here is to reduce tax evasion, fight corruption, broaden our tax base and, of course, stimulate private-sector initiatives within this conducive environment, especially multinational investments in to the country, taking advantage of the potential of barely-explored sectors such as maritime and tourism, while of course, also taking advantage of the potential and human capital of the African continent.

16 of the 26 most rapidly-growing economies in the world are African. Our workforces are young and do not stop growing; smartphone consumption has broken out with rapidity (in fact, Africa is the digital market that grows the most in the world). In a very delicate moment for economic globalization due to the rebound of protectionisms, the continental free trade zone (African Continental Free Trade Area) will further turn the African continent into the largest free trade area known in the world.

The Horizon 2020 Plan has endowed Equatorial Guinea with modern infrastructures that, along with political stability and privileged geographical positioning, makes our country the perfect ‘landing strip’ for multinationals breaking in to the African continent. We are at the right time, in the right place and hosting the best conditions.

As I said before, the adoption of our very aggressive reform package over many areas has been noticed immediately and showcased in our contemporary business climate. We closed last year with a National Dialogue on Business Climate in which the Government and the private sector discussed openly and extensively, with the technical support of the World Bank and the Government of Singapore, how to urgently strengthen our economic competitiveness. This close degree participation from the private sector has been crucial to the mobilization of resources for development and in realizing ‘Horizon 2020’ to its fullest.

What is the status of Horizon 2020 realization?

Following the National Dialogue on Business Climate that we celebrated at the end of last year, we embraced the roadmap of which I spoke, one that is already showcasing results. We see the fruits of our labor and Horizon 2020 realization all around us, such as in the opening of a ‘One-Stop Shop’ or ‘Single Business Window’ (today, companies are created in less than a week but our ambition is to reduce this process down to a few hours’ time); or, through the beginning of the second phase of the computerization of the Government; or by way of the ongoing restructuring of public companies that manage our main utilities (for example, water, electricity and internet provision). We will further look to proceed with the privatization of some of these public enterprises.

In short, we will organize a National Consultation on the Horizon 2020 Plan, wherein we intend to come out with a new development strategy to consolidate social equity and further diversify our sources of economic growth. Before the end of the year, we will hold the Economic, Trade and Investment Conference (ETIS 2019) to attract the attention of multinational, intrepid investors about the opportunities that exist in Equatorial Guinea, in particular, and throughout the sub-region, in general.

Conversely and historically, this sub region (encapsulating Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Cameroon, Congo Brazzaville, Chad, Central Africa, Sao Tome, Congo DRC) has been associated with the exploitation and en masse export of raw materials, but in Equatorial Guinea we are convinced that this paradigm is obsolete; that the potential of Central Africa, beyond our raw materials, is already undeniable. That Equatorial Guinea, with its political stability and good infrastructures, stands ‘right in front of’ Nigeria, opens an important range of opportunities for our country.

In order for multinationals to do business with ease in our country, in order to settle, to live and work in Equatorial Guinea, we have provided the necessary infrastructures, those serving the welfare of the people and the activities of their companies. We are transforming our legal and institutional architectures as well as offering a package of incentives to make it more attractive to do business in the country, with the aim of leveraging Horizon 2020 and the enormous potential of the African continent.

How will the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) play a role in revitalizing economic opportunity in Equatorial Guinea?

We are actively embracing what World Economic Forum (WEF) Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab has referred to as the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR)’.  We are taking an active interest in adopting its breakthroughs, such as clean energy technologies, ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT)-driven vocational and academic training, and digital and portable manufacturing made possible through 4IR-centric high-skills. Further, we look forward to collaborating with fellow nations so too matching the challenges and opportunities laid before us, open to dialoguing on our shared preparedness for 4IR.

As I have read in your publication, the merits behind manufacturing and technological ‘center of excellence’ and investment in 4IR education and empowerment will quell the lingering brain drain hindering African development. Long-term, such ‘centers’ in Equatorial Guinea can focus on providing education and cross-sectoral inclusion opportunity to ensure we retain and enhance the lives of our brightest and best.

Where do you envision Equatorial Guinea, geopolitically, geo-commercially and with regard to the strategic impetus of economic diversification in ten years’ time?

Effective investment in our Horizon 2020 Agenda, including sector diversification to deter commodity dependency, strict accountability in governance and the leveraging of the Fourth Industrial Revolution coupled with the continued urbanization patterns which we see flourish unabated will enhance our GDP, improve the quality of life for our citizenry and buttress our geo-commercial positioning for years to come.

We believe that in ten years’ time, ours will be model for prosperity made possible by investing in ourselves, our present-day resources and capabilities and those of our next generation. This is our ambition – To make Equatorial Guinea an instrument and a symbol for the development of the Africa that we all want and certainly deserve.

We look forward to keeping your readers well appraised of continued developments with regard to the Horizon 2020 agenda and no doubt in the lead up to the exciting Economic, Trade and Investment Summit of 2019.

If there is anything else I can leave your readers with, it’s that we in Equatorial Guinea are proof positive of the fact that it is only in our hands to create the lasting change we wish to see our country emanate.

Contact me via email at mfon.nsehe @ gmail.com or on Twitter @MfonobongNsehe