While Gabon is a resource-rich country practically awash with oil reserves, its economic development has been almost unique. Located in the equatorial region of central Africa, Gabon has managed to avoid the ‘resource curse’ – the instability that has marred many of its mineral-rich neighbours, including the Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic.

Peace has been key in attracting foreign oil majors, such as Shell and Total, and the World Bank reports that the country, benefiting from its petroleum revenues, enjoys a per capita income four times that of most sub-Saharan African countries. Classified by the World Bank as an upper middle-income country, with a GDP of $17.05bn, Gabon is ranked as sub-Saharan Africa’s fifth richest country. Pointing to the country’s growth, Gabon’s minister of oil, energy and hydraulic resources, Etienne Ngoubou, is confident that the country’s outlook remains positive.

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“Our economy is a very dynamic one and we are in a very interesting phase,” says Mr Ngoubou. “[This year] will be a great year because we expect to have major discoveries in the oil [industry] and we are expecting to have some concessions paid from the industry’s [companies]. We also plan to develop a new industrial area in Mayumba and Port Gentil. We had a GDP growth of 4% [in 2012] and we expect it to increase to 8% by 2020.”

High dependency

As the fifth largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa, Gabon remains dependent on its oil sector. Over the past five years, the oil sector has accounted for 81% of exports, 45% of GDP and 60% of the government’s budget revenue, according to the World Bank.

Nevertheless, the country’s reserves are dwindling and Gabon’s oil output could decline by as early as 2016, according to data provider Business Monitor International. Additionally, Gabon’s GDP has been steadily decelerating, according to the African Development Bank (AfDB), with growth slowing from 5.8% in 2011 to 4.4% in 2012 due to the prospect of declining oil reserves.

Reacting to AfDB projections that Gabon’s GDP will slow to 3.3% next year, Mr Ngoubou is defiant, maintaining that the country’s oil sector was still on track to perform above expectations. “I am a bit upset by [these] economists in their comfortable offices, away from the country doing their analysis when they have never been on site,” says Mr Ngoubou. “Have you seen the statistics for oil revenues in Gabon? I disagree when they say our production is declining. We are maintaining our [stable] level of production and the price is above our expectations. Each time the price of Brent goes up... it is beneficial for the Gabonese economy.”

Diversification move

Nevertheless, while Mr Ngoubou sees oil continuing to play a key role in Gabon’s economy, the minister is keen to highlight moves to diversify Gabon’s sectors of growth, which will enable the country to strengthen its competitiveness in the next three years.

“We are setting up new activities in the country and the main [results] will be visible three years from now because we need some time to build facilities and infrastructure,” says Mr Ngoubou. “When you go to [our special economic zone in] Nkok, some industries will be operating. We will be starting a new free zone area in Port Gentil and we expect to do the same in Mayumba. All of these areas will bring a lot of industries and by 2015 you will see a lot of growth.

"Our strategy is one of partnership. All our projects are going to be developed as partnership-type schemes. As [our] president said in the House of Lords [during a visit to the UK], the strategy of coming with a begging bowl, which is a strategy of many African countries, is not the Gabonese way."