Appointed in late 2015, Guinea’s young, technocrat prime minister Mamady Youla aims to deliver a positive message to Guineans and international investors alike amid the country’s efforts to recover economically from the dual problems of the Ebola epidemic and low global commodity prices. A mining specialist and former managing director of Guinea Alumina Corporation, Mr Youla is Guinea's first prime minister to be appointed directly from the private sector.

The country is gearing back up toward growth, the prime minister told fDi Magazine at a Guinea-UK Investment Forum hosted by Developing Markets Associates. “After two years of economic slowdown, Guinea’s short- and medium-term prospects are good, with a focus on expected growth in 2016 compared with an almost negative one the previous year [0.1%],” says Mr Youla. This correlates with the IMF outlook, which projects a GDP growth rebound to 3.7% in 2016. “The government’s ambition is to boost the growth to double-digit figures by 2020,” adds Mr Youla.

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Taking a hit

Guinea’s economy has suffered a double hit from both the Ebola crisis, which took roughly 2500 Guinean lives and drove away many investors, and the dip in commodities, which constitute the bulk of Guinea’s revenue – particularly bauxite, an aluminium ore. The west African country of 12 million people is home to the world’s largest bauxite reserves as well as significant amounts of gold, iron and diamonds.

In 2015, the World Bank put Guinea’s forfeited output losses at $535m and its cumulative real output loss at 13% of GDP. “Most of the companies operating in the regions affected by Ebola left the country during that period, which had a very, very significant impact on the economy,” says Mr Youla.

In response, the government introduced its Post-Ebola Priority Action Plan for 2015 to 2017, a $2.9bn programme funded in collaboration with external partners. This, says Mr Youla, will address four major priorities: “The response to the vulnerabilities that allowed the epidemic to spread rapidly, notably regarding the development of water and sanitation infrastructure; restoring the livelihoods of the affected communities; maintaining macroeconomic stability to foster investment; and strengthening our human and institutional capabilities.” 

One of the poorest countries in the world despite having tremendous natural resources, Guinea has yet to fulfil its potential due to a dire combination of corruption, poor infrastructure and political instability. Mr Youla and his administration aim to tackle this by targeting improvements in the business climate. “The government has worked to develop a new mining code and investment code – strengthening legal certainty for investors, carrying out fiscal consolidation, implementing a vast range of reforms, and modernising government agencies,” he says.

Meaning business

Alexander Breining, senior analyst at strategy consultancy Africa Practice, says Mr Youla’s government appears dedicated to attracting foreign investors, noting its investment promotion roadshows abroad and welcoming of foreign investor delegations in the capital Conakry. “Domestically, the government has stated its intention to prioritise the energy and agriculture sectors, which may have a more immediate and positive economic impact than mining,” says Mr Breining.

Mr Youla also emphasises his commitment to developing Guinean private enterprise. “Before being named prime minister, I was president of the private business coordination platform in Guinea. I remain in contact with these operators and we will work together to better organise the private sector,” he says.  

Mr Youla does not stray far from his core message: that foreign investment and input are paramount. “We know full well that for certain projects, it is not possible to find locally the actors capable of supporting capital-intensive investments – particularly in the mining sector – and also the technical competence and know-how to develop these extremely specialised projects,” he says.

Since its first democratic elections in 2010, Guinea has made gradual headway in building a stable and business-friendly climate for foreign investors. “To play a role in the restart, you have to realise the country’s entire development strategy must be built around energising the private sector to achieve a win-win partnership,” says Mr Youla. “Thus, the work continues.”