Business & Economy

Gabon to dedicate funding for new transport infrastructure projects

PLANS to link Gabon’s second-largest city, Port-Gentil, with the rest of the country by road are making steady progress, with the new 93-km Port-Gentil-Omboué motorway reaching 20 percent completion in late September.
The project highlights the government’s commitment to improving internal transport infrastructure. Currently, Port-Gentil, which is also the centre of the country’s oil and gas sector, is only reachable by air, separated from the rest of the country by ocean, swamps, rivers and heavily forested areas.
Port-Gentil is the epicentre of Gabon’s hydrocarbons sector and also hosts several major industrial facilities, as well as the nation’s sole oil refinery, operated by the Société Gabonaise de Raffinage.
The new road connection comes at a key time, with the government’s development roadmap targeting the establishment of a special economic zone in Port-Gentil, with plans for a new port and fertiliser plant.
With the base structure and metal bridgework currently underway, the project – funded primarily by the Export-Import Bank of China, in collaboration with the Gabonese government and the China Road & Bridge Corporation – is set to be finished in 2017. Upon completion, the CFA102bn (€155.5m) roadway will include two 5-km bridges traversing Gabon’s complex patchwork of inlets, swamps and rivers.
In addition to the road project, the government is also strengthening existing transport routes to ease the flow of goods and people, and build momentum for sustained economic growth.
The government is implementing a CFA30bn (€45.7 million) renovation project at the airport in Port-Gentil, rehabilitating and extending the runway from 1900 to 2600 metres in order to accommodate long-haul Boeing 737-800 aircraft.
In August Gabonese president Ali Bongo Ondimba announced the arrival of budget airline in Gabon, expanding the carrier’s African network to include Libreville and Port-Gentil. The airline’s Gabonese arm is a joint venture between the Gabonese government and South African defence manufacturer Paramount Group.
Established in mid-2014, with successful test launches in Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe, the airline’s second phase includes plans to expand into West and Central Africa. According to local media reports, the carrier has proven successful in South Africa, offering 50-70 percent reduced fares on its Johannesburg-Harare leg.
‘One of the biggest obstacles to Africa’s growth and development is the cost of doing business in Africa,’ Bongo Ondimba said when announcing the project in August. ‘Moving goods and people between African states is still too complicated and expensive, and remains a major obstacle to the prosperity of the continent. One of the biggest contributions that we as Africans can make to Africa’s development is to open the skies for direct, affordable travel between African states.’
The government is looking to emulate the low-cost model established in Europe and Asia, where the emergence of carriers like EasyJet and AirAsia popularised previously underdeveloped routes, resulting in significant investment in local transport infrastructure, tourism and job creation. Previous attempts to develop low-cost carriers in Africa have had limited success, largely due to high fees and a lack of sector liberalisation.
‘Aviation is the next infrastructure growth frontier for Africa,’ Bongo Ondimba said. ‘Enhancing air connectivity can help raise productivity and create jobs by encouraging investment and innovation, improving business operations and efficiency.’
He added that tourists would also be attracted to convenient and affordable travel alternatives, echoing government hopes that improved transport options could help attract overseas visitors.
With many energy-reliant countries rationalising spending in the face of lower prices for hydrocarbons – which make up about half of Gabon’s budget revenue and roughly 85 percent of its export earnings – the country has signalled a commitment to major infrastructure projects in its 2016 budget, approved in mid-October.
Set at CFA2.6trn (€4bn), the new budget reflects only a modest (1 percent) reduction in spending from the revised 2015 budget, which was trimmed by more than 12 percent on falling energy revenues. Under the new budget, the government plans to allocate CFA562.8bn (€858 million) for investments, of which CFA382.1bn (€582.5 million) has been earmarked for projects set to benefit from external financing.
According to the Council of Ministers, the new budget reflects ‘the strong will of the government to continue major projects that have a strong impact on growth, development and the well-being’ of the Gabonese people.
In addition to transport initiatives aimed at boosting connectivity in Port-Gentil and Libreville, the country plans to move ahead with several projects related to the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations, which will be hosted by Gabon. The 2016 budget provides funding for the development of a national fibre-optic network, as well as two new stadiums in Port-Gentil and Oyem, to the north of the country.

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