Gabon, a small west African oil-producer seeking to emerge from decades of dictatorship, is planning $4.5bn of agriculture and infrastructure ventures in what would rank among the biggest investment packages by Asian powers in Africa.
In an announcement timed to coincide with the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of Gabon’s independence from France, the government said Indian and Singaporean groups would invest in timber, palm oil, housing and road-building projects as well as constructing a special economic zone.
Gabon was ruled for 41 years by Omar Bongo – Africa’s longest-serving ruler at his death last year. While most of the country languished in penury, Gabon’s thirsty elite made the country the world’s highest per capita consumer of champagne.
None could match Mr Bongo’s personal fortune, among the largest anywhere. He became a prime mover in the politics of France, the former colonial power.
Since succeeding his late father, Ali Ben Bongo Ondimba, previously defence minister, has sought to project a different image.
The investment plans would create tens of thousands of jobs in the nation of 1.5m people, Mr Bongo said.
The plans “demonstrate the recognition of Gabon, its stability, the credibility of its head of state … at a moment when the African continent is positioning itself as a significant pole of international growth,” the government said.
Asian groups have dramatically increased their investments in Africa over the past decade, led by Chinese state-owned companies seeking to secure resources and infrastructure contracts.
The Gabonese plan, however, falls outside the sectors that have garnered the most attention: oil, minerals, telecoms and banking.
The government said Olam, a Singapore-based agriculture multinational, would lead the development of a special economic zone designed to spur the timber industry.
Olam would also be the main investor in a venture designed to make Gabon one of the continent’s leading producers of palm oil, a commodity produced across west Africa and used in food-processing.
M3M of India would build 5,000 low-cost houses while its compatriot Ramky Infrastructure would lay 1,000km of roads, the government said.
Olam, M3M and Ramky could not immediately be reached for comment.
The plans were designed with an eye to Gabon’s “after-oil” economy, the government said.
Gabon’s oil output, which has given it a gross domestic product per head far above the regional average, has dwindled to about 240,000 barrels a day last year and will run out as soon as 2025, according to some estimates.