Despite its relatively high GDP per capita, Gabon’s dispersed rural population, difficult terrain and institutional incapacity have all contributed to a glaring infrastructure deficit. Over the past two years, however, the government has poured massive public investment into infrastructure. The results have been encouraging, as evidenced by the completion of projects in preparation for the African Cup of Nations (Coupe d’Afrique des Nations, CAN 2012) football tournament, hosted in early 2012 with Equatorial Guinea.

However, the government’s main goal is economic diversification, increasing the share of manufacturing and value-added activities for natural resources. To support this, the National Agency for Public Works (Agence Nationale des Grands Travaux, ANGT) plans and coordinates infrastructure projects in partnership with the American firm Bechtel. Infrastructure to underwrite medium- and long-term growth, especially in the secondary and tertiary sectors, is a priority, as is housing. “There is a deficit of around 160,000 housing units in Libreville and 400,000 units in Gabon,” Bruno Otah Ondounda, the director-general of Banque de l’Habitat du Gabon, told OBG.

MAKING PROGRESS: Not all of the investment so far has been related to the CAN 2012 event. In September 2011 the African Development Bank (AfDB) approved the second phase of a €330m investment to pave segments of the road linking Gabon with its neighbours to the south. The project includes the rehabilitation of docks and navigation infrastructure along the Ogooué river, a vital link for both people and goods between Port-Gentil, the centre of the oil industry, and the rest of the country. The government has also been moving ahead with energy investments. In 2011, $152m was invested in the energy sector to supply the special economic zones, under construction in Libreville and Port-Gentil, with electricity. Two gas-powered thermal generators have been commissioned, and the first 52-MW phase of the Libreville station has already been completed by Israeli firm Telemenia. Construction has also begun on the first 72-MW phase of the Port-Gentil plant. Three hydroelectric dams are also scheduled to come on-line in 2013, and Sinohydro is working on a CFA65bn (€98m) project to expand Libreville’s electricity grid, while the French firm ETDE has completed phase one of connecting the FE 2 hydroelectric dam to the regional grid.

PLANNED PROJECTS: The scale of planned projects dwarfs that of those under way. “The work must continue after the success of CAN. The ANGT plans to undertake 114 projects worth $24bn from now until 2020, with $2bn to $4bn planned to be invested per year. The ANGT board met on February 6, 2012 and approved these projects,” Henri Ohayon, the director general of ANGT, told OBG. ANGT’s ambitious slate of projects represents many opportunities for foreign investors. Indeed, the organisation is forging partnerships to help finance and build many of the projects. “We are looking for partners and are open to many ways of working together, from concessions to public-private partnerships,” Ohayon said.

About half of the $24bn in investment is earmarked for transportation. AGNT plans to spend $5.5bn to upgrade the Transgabonais railroad and build new lines to Belinga, in the north, and Port-Gentil. Meanwhile, $6bn is earmarked for 33,320 km of new roads. Plans are under way to build a new international airport at Andème, about 65 km from Libreville, and the airport at Port-Gentil is slated for renovation to enable wide-body airplanes to land. ANGT is also planning to upgrade the ports at Ownedo and Port-Gentil, and construct a new deepwater port in Mayumba to develop the agricultural and resource potential of Nyanga. Over the course of the next eight years, the ANGT estimates their projects will generate 120,000 new jobs. The World Bank is supporting the government’s plans to connect Libreville and Port-Gentil to the ACE cable by fibre-optic lines and build out the internet backbone to enable nationwide access. It will also finance as-yet undefined energy and education initiatives.