Opportunities and Investors in Equatorial GuineaJuly 20, 2016
Nathalie Lum, a senior partner at M&L Consulting, speaks to TOGY about investment opportunities and hindrances in Equatorial Guinea. M&L Consulting is a consulting and marketing company with services in information and technology infrastructure as well as energy. Clients have included state-owned gas company Sonagas.
What are your current projects?
We are working with a Portuguese company that has created search and rescue technology to help monitor search, rescue, safety, security and emergency-response activities in the Gulf of Guinea. The project is needed because of security in the region. This monitoring solution gives the government tools and technology to predict the location of ships, boats, life rafts and persons lost at sea. This way, they can secure the whole area if they need to.
The project, however, is currently on hold. The scope is quite big, but the economic recession has delayed the project. We also offer basic marketing and logistics services for oil and gas companies to diversify our services.
What obstacles are you facing right now in light of the low oil and gas prices?
It has been an uphill task since the decline in oil prices. We have had to scale down our activities accordingly. We currently have only five people working right now as opposed to 10 to 15 people working on a daily basis before the downturn. Not too long ago, when we engaged larger projects or events, we had to hire up to 45 or 50 people.
What challenges, overall, do you see for Equatorial Guinea in attracting investors, especially when you compare it to other countries in the region such as Cameroon or Gabon?
Equatorial Guinea is a good country to come into because it is stable. The challenge that many investors have in Africa generally, and Equatorial Guinea specifically, is guarantees. They need a guarantee that they will have a return on their investment, but sometimes this is hard to see here because they do not know what the government is putting in place, and regulations can be sometimes unique and inexplicable.
I see a potential in this country to put more money into tourism. Compared to other countries in the region, Equatorial Guinea is naturally positioned to be at the top in this area. You cannot have just one part of the economy working for you, which in Equatorial Guinea’s case is oil and gas.
You must be able to diversify. In doing this, you need to look at the things you already have and expand on these things. The government also has to give good guarantees to make it easier for investors to come in and settle. For the country to be more open to such investors, the mentality needs to change as well.
How could the government make it easier to invest in Equatorial Guinea?
Visas are a huge obstacle for foreign investors because they are so difficult to get if you are not an American. Even consultants have a difficult time coming in. I understand that with what is going in the world, it is not that simple to make these processes easier. You do not want just anyone to be able to come in, and you want to be sure they’re the right people.
However, in Dubai, they have companies that take responsibility for people coming into the country. We can make Equatorial Guinea the next Dubai. I would suggest that EG’s government make the visa process easier so that if someone has the capacity and means to come in, they should be let in to help us grow.
What is your vision for your company in the next five years, in Equatorial Guinea and the region?
Equatorial Guinea has a lot of potential, and I have the belief and conviction that things will get better. We are diversifying to try to withstand the economic recession. Because we are a consulting firm, we need to stay on top of the needs of the country.
Things have not been looking very great for us. There are times I have thought about suspending operations here because of the difficulties, but I still see promise. As an African working in Africa, I want to be able to give my best here first before going somewhere else. My company is registered in Houston. I could go back there, but I want to be in Africa and help create the required changes necessary to take Africa to the next level.
What telecommunication infrastructure needs do you see in Equatorial Guinea and what opportunities do you see for investors?
Most countries have 4G, but we still only have 3G here. The cost of calling, text messaging and data is very high, creating the need for increased capacity and competition. Competition is a necessary pre-requisite in our environment to both service quality improvement and cost amelioration. If the end user has the opportunity to choose whom he wants to get his communication services from, the supplier will pay attention to the quality of service and costs, as the end user will choose the best service with the most economic value.
I tell investors that they need to bring the best product to suit this market. The infrastructure is there, but it is not working very well. There needs to be something set up where companies can get their licences easily in order to get the right product to customers.