Interview: Richard Attias

What are the most common opportunities and risks connected with foreign direct investments into sub-Saharan economies?

RICHARD ATTIAS: Driven by strong demographic growth and the rise of a middle-income class, Africa is a continent under construction. Thus, businesses flourish abundantly, and many opportunities are to be seized in key sectors like infrastructure development, information and communication technology, agriculture, and services for consumers. Ultimately, there are not only opportunities for foreign investors, but also chances for local economies to experience steady growth. Additionally, on a social level, great potential will be developed in the education segment, especially through comprehensive professional training.

However, the risk for those emerging markets is an overheating of their economies and a slowdown of growth. Also, for some countries, the main risks lie in political instability and conflicts. Fortunately, Africa is a vast continent; one should not forget that every country is different, and most of them have a bright future. As long as good governance is implemented and thorough guidance for investors is given, Africa remains, more than ever, a land of opportunities.

Gabon’s strategy exemplifies how to implement good governance. Through the realisation of the pillars of Emerging Gabon – Green Gabon, Services Gabon and Industrial Gabon – the country aims to diversify its economy and take advantage of all sectors through the production of value-added products and services.

What can be done to strengthen investment in Gabon’s tertiary sector?

ATTIAS: The political and economic stability of the country certainly encourages organisers to choose Gabon as a privileged destination to set up an event. Additionally, the well-known hospitability of the nation’s population also weighs in the balance. The Emerging Gabon strategy synchronises perfectly with international events that have economic development as a main theme. Hence, from an organiser’s point of view, it is not problematic to attract participants from all over the world, including potential investors. In the case of Gabon, such forums are real opportunities to initiate partnerships and interest in the country.

However, a few challenges still need to be overcome so as to fully exploit the potential of the country. For instance, while the current hotels’ standards are decent, the rehabilitation and new opening of five-star hotels in a few months will be more than welcome. Additionally, a new Congress Centre should be completed by 2015. As far as infrastructure is concerned, actions have been taken in order to improve facilities and expand capacities, and results should be seen soon.

Furthermore, one critical need remains in improving the intra-African airspace network. The growth of air traffic urges the need for greater capacity and efficiency, in order to reduce constraints like delays. Moreover, despite some progress, visa issuance is still an obstacle, especially for Gabon. Overall, challenges do not lie in logistical aspects but in an incorrect perception of the region and the amalgam among countries.

How do new media platforms and communication tools influence consumer behaviour?

ATTIAS: The communication industry has a high pace of growth across Africa. Comparatively, the continent is experiencing the same positive development of Western countries 20 years ago. As middle-income earners rise, higher consumption rates are being recorded, resulting in intensive and thorough communication strategies from local and international brands. The challenge is to conduct comprehensive communication campaigns that meet the needs and expectations of the targeted consumers. In Africa, internet remains the most developed media. This is partly due to its young generation – 60% of the population is under 25 years old. Technology and great creativity will make the difference. Today, technology is everywhere; it is part of our daily lives, and there are no boundaries to its growth.