By Tawey Zakka
Central African Republic is a landlocked country, depending on neighbouring nations, like Cameroon, with seaports to bring in imports and take out exports. Depending on someone’s goodwill can be frustrating, at best and very risky at worst. President Faustin Archange Touadera, a professor of Mathematics, intends to change all that for the better.
Leader of a landlocked nation he may be, but Touadera does have a vision of his potentially rich country that he does not want also locked up in his head. No, he not only wants to share it with the outside world but also is desperately seeking out genuine investors to help make the vision come true. That was what brought him to the Lake Chad Basin Commission conference that held on February 26-28 in Abuja, Nigeria. Touadera flew in late afternoon of Feb. 27 and left the next day after attending two sessions of the Summit of Heads of state and government of the Commission. Having set the tone, he left matters in the hands CAR’s ambassador to Nigeria and his team of technocrats to deal with. One of them is Mr. Tochil Nwaneri, Deputy Head of Mission in Nigeria.
Nwaneri told journalists the night of the last day of the conference, the CAR president was “invited” to the conference, his country having joined the Lake Chad Basin Commission in 1996. He also was in Nigeria to “show appreciation for the support” CAR received from Nigeria in the heady years of that country’s civil war. Incidentally, Nigeria’ President Muhammadu Buhari and his CAR counterpart came into office about the same; Buhari was elected in March 2015 and Touadera, a former prime minister, won a presidential election on February 14, 2016.
However, principally, professor Touadera was in Nigeria to woo international investors. “Mr. President really spoke on this while addressing the conferees. He spoke about the enormous investment opportunities that exist in Central African Republic and urged Nigerians to invest in the country”, Nwaneri explained. Besides, Nigeria is “very organised and packages things better.” According to him, CAR embassy officials led by the Ambassador, met with many top Nigerian industrialists on the sidelines of the conference. According to him, their response was enthusiastic.
He said though CAR is a former colony of France, the country is keen to diversify its sources of foreign direct investment to include Anglophone countries. But why Nigeria in particular? Nwaneri answered: “Nigeria is a beautiful country with beautiful people and great potentials. We will like to replicate everything from their agricultural practice, road and rail projects, ICT, hospitals and other things of interest which are too numerous to mention”.
Directing this search for international investors is a firm, Centrafrique Investment Group. It is a private/public sector platform that has the mandate of the government to “woo investors that have the capacity to carry on developmental projects in the country, “Nwaneri said. A Memorandum of Understanding has been signed to that effect. CIG has gone into an agreement with the government to develop an industrial zone. It is about 1000 hectares of land and we are looking for investors to develop it. This industrial zone comprises a warehouse, a hotel, schools, hospitals and many other social amenities. It is an export-oriented industrial zone that will contribute significantly to the improvement of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and strengthen the credibility of the CAR at the international level. A skilled workforce with a direct impact on beneficiary families should also be developed.”
For the development of this industrial zone, the government has received a grant-in-aid worth 2.95 billion Euros from the European Union. “It is a grant, not a loan”, Nwaneri emphasized. The government is keen to award contracts for construction projects in several sectors of the CAR economy. For these, the CIG has signed memoranda of understanding with the relevant government ministries.
The MoU with the Ministry of Equipment, Transport and Civil Aviation, for example, is about building two additional international airports at Berberati and Bambari. At present, the country has only one international airport.
On the railway sub-sector, the focus is on building “three major rail lines” to transport goods and people. They are the Bangui-M’baïki-Belabo, covering 898 Km; Bangui-Pissa-Congo (193Km); and Bangui-Amdafoc-Nyala (1153 Km). The road component comprises the Bangui-Bambari artery which is 200Km long, Baoro-Carnot-Berberati (200Km) and Mongoumba-Bossangoa (700Km). The industrial plan also covers CAR’s deep water port at Kribi in Cameroon, the port at Douala also in Cameroon and the platform river ports of Mongoumba and Zinga (Lobaye).The plan also has room for the “dredging, desensitization, maintenance of the Bangui /Brazzaville corridor to optimize the transit of goods and passengers”.
No doubt, getting security conscious international investors to put their hard earned money in CAR that is just coming out of decades of sectarian violence will be an uphill task. The government recognizes this is a high hurdle. To be able to jump over it, according to Nwaneri, the government, through CIG, has prepared a package of incentives that are mouth watering. These include free slots of land, tax waivers, flexible profit repatriation conditions, adequate security cover etc. On the political front, Nwaneri said the government in Bangui today is stable. “It is an all inclusive government. All sections of the population and all interests are accommodated as much as possible”,
This assurance should spur international confidence in the CAR economy, shouldn’t it? If the positive response President Touadera got from his discussions with Nigerian industrialists is anything to go by, it can be said that things are finally looking up his country. Nwaneri himself asked this rhetorical question: “Can we live in a rich country and have a poor population? ‘’