Gabon has launched the construction of a new special economic zone (SEZ), the Mpassa-Lebombi, in the south-eastern province of Haut-Ogooué.
The new zone aims at attracting investment in the agricultural and forestry sectors, which respectively represented $61m and $537m of export value in 2020. The new SEZ will, like the country’s two existing zones, be a joint venture between the Gabonese government and the Singaporean commodity trading firm Olam International, which acts as the principal shareholder (40.5%).
The Mpassa-Lebombi SEZ will be developed and modelled after Gabon’s first SEZ, Nkok, created in 2011, which now employs 4000 people, of which 80% are Gabonese. Nkok accounts for nearly 40% of the country’s exports. As a condition of setting up in its special economic zones, the government makes firm commit to exporting at least three-quarters of their production. In return, the zones provide tax exemptions, efficient infrastructure and access to the country’s resources.
“In Western African economies, such as Benin, Togo, Ivory Coast or Mauritania, SEZs are designed solely for exportation. Foreign investments are here for the local processing of raw materials, which are then easily exported as most SEZs are built aside a major port hub,” says the Gabonese economist consultant Mays Mouissi.
Also read: What is the future of work in Africa?
Despite the ability of SEZs to improve the industrial sector, Mouissi says that optimal conditions have yet be found for local companies to benefit from SEZ policies and that local manufacturers are at risk of being excluded.