Confirmed coronavirus cases are still relatively low in Guinea, but the west African nation, which is heavily reliant on mining, has not been immune from the pandemic’s economic effects.
Namory Camara, managing director of Apip, Guinea’s investment promotion agency, describes lessons learnt from dealing with Ebola virus disease and how the crisis has brought new ways of working to him and his team.
Q: What’s life like in Guinea at the moment?
A: We never had a complete lockdown, but we still have some restrictions on movement of people [out of Guinea’s capital Conakry] and curfews from midnight to 4am. People also need to have a [Covid-19] test to travel from Conakry to the countryside.
In April, president Alpha Condé took the decision to make masks and face coverings mandatory. In that sense you could say life is different and people are still trying to adapt to the ‘new normal’.
Q: How have you and the Apip team adjusted to the crisis?
A: For business registration – which all used to be face-to-face – we put in place online meeting systems. We developed e-meetings with staff, many of whom began to work from home.
Working from home is relatively new in Guinea, but it has gone really well. I think it’s probably sped up the way we interact with our clients.
The crisis has also outlined the way we should work together. There has been a spirit of team building, but not in a bureaucratic way. This crisis reminds us that we need to unlock barriers to adapt ourselves to the new world.
Q: Have you changed the way you manage your team?
A: We have tried to have a more open practice of management. The challenge is to keep the motivation alive, especially when people are scared [due to the pandemic].
With people from remote areas we sometimes have challenges here when it comes to electricity, but as a manager you have to keep motivating your team: have regular one-to-one meetings and reporting updates. We [also] didn’t make any redundancies, which helped boost team morale.
Q: How have you refined Guinea’s investment proposition?
A: Although we know that FDI will drop, we will still redefine our strategy in attracting foreign investors and put more emphasis on aftercare. For example, we have a project launching post-Covid events when things ease up, such as the Guinea investment forum.
We have also had lots of inquiries from local businesses. FDI will keep dropping and competition will be tough between countries. Our strategy is to put emphasis on local businesses.
However, the mining sector has shown us there is still some foreign investor confidence. A few weeks ago, the $14bn Simandou [iron ore] project was shown to still be in the pipeline.
Q: What are the major lessons you have learned during the crisis?
A: Personally, valuing the time that you have is extremely important, because life is fragile. But overall, the crisis reminds us that we should not be dogmatic in the way we do business and approach development.
It is extremely important that we move towards digitalisation. We have started it, but need to put more focus on that and embrace it across west Africa. We have seen people embracing new technology during the crisis, such as mobile delivery in Conakry.
We need to focus on the health sector. For FDI attraction, you need a robust and reliable health system. If we have a healthy and educated population, we could easily absorb some of these crises. We had Ebola in 2016, which shows that another epidemic could start tomorrow and taught us a great lesson. [This helped as] we already have a structure in place and the population was used to washing their hands and wearing face masks.
Q: Extractive industries have been hit heavily by the pandemic – have you adjusted your FDI strategies?
A: Since 2010, the government and the president have put emphasis on sectors other than mining. But 90% of our FDI comes from mining – as Guinea has the world’s largest reserves of bauxite – and we need to diversify.
We need to have a focus on digitalisation and new technology. There is huge penetration in mobile banking in Guinea. We need to continue to do that.
Agriculture is really key for us, representing 20% of our gross domestic product. The majority of Guineans are still working in agriculture, so that’s why we have a department in charge of the rural economy and promoting agriculture. We are trying to valorise productivity as farming in Guinea is still very traditional.
Q: What does the future hold for investment promotion in west Africa?
A: The future is challenging and difficult, because of the level of debt around the world and some of the [underlying trends, such as] protectionism, relocations and globalisation. I think there will be a lot of competition between countries, and west Africa will probably suffer.
We have to shift towards new avenues of investment in the country, such as remittances from the diaspora.
We also need to look at strengthening aftercare, keep pushing for reforms in the investment and business climate, and fighting corruption. We need to be more open and business friendly, which is something Apip and the president are keen on.
Namory Camara is the managing director of Apip, Guinea's investment promotion agency.
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