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Eye on Equatorial Guinea: Small Country, Big Potential Atlantan sees opportunities during the ninth Sullivan Summit

posted by – September 4th, 2012

When the Leon H. Sullivan Foundation decided to hold a summit on African leadership in MalaboEquatorial Guinea, some were left scratching their heads.

For those familiar with the oil-rich country of about 700,000 people, the mystery was why the foundation – which honors strong leaders on the continent and boasts deep connections to Atlanta – would select a country with a reported history of nepotism and corruption at the highest levels of government.

On the other end of the spectrum, many people would be hard pressed to find Africa’s only Spanish-speaking country on a world map.

But after spending a week in the country as a guest of the foundation, conversations with up-and-coming leaders have persuaded me that this is a country on the move.

Equatorial Guinea is located on Africa’s Atlantic coast, south of Cameroon. It is a net exporter of oil and gas, the resource that drives the economy. A prime customer, the United States bought more than $2.1 billion in oil from Equatorial Guinea in 2011, accounting for the bulk of the $2.5 billion in trade between our countries.

Despite criticisms, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has used oil revenues to improve road infrastructure, increase access to education and position the country as an economic cornerstone on the African continent. The real fuel that will drive the country into the future, as in other parts of Africa, is its cadre of young, energetic entrepreneurs. 

At the Sullivan Summit, I met a few prime examples. Bienve Riema Luba is growing Servicios Borilu, a building-maintenance operation, and is raising capital for equipment purchases that he hopes will help him secure higher-value contracts. Despite his difficulty in securing government deals, he is confident that he will be able to grow his business. 

N.J. Ayuk, Managing Partner of Centurion LLP, the largest law firm in the country, wants to see Equatorial Guinea develop its legal structures and financial sector to the level of a Seychelles or Mauritius – competing with those countries as a financial gateway to the African continent. He also wants to improve education of the country’s citizens, a key step toward reaching the country’s goals. 

Tadeo Antonio Ela-nguema, a banker with Ecobank, envisions liberalized economic relations with the other members of the Economic Community of Central African States, increasing the country’s ability to diversify its economy.

All these conversations, coupled with my experience on the ground, excite me about the future in Equatorial Guinea. I have been able to meet several young professionals who have considerable influence now and others who are fighting to build their work. I definitely plan to witness how the vim of its citizens elevates the country toward its lofty potential.

Kwame Som-Pimpong is co-founder of Afara Global LLC, a

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