Gabon’s Plan to Revive Economy

The Gabonese government has announced 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. Recognising the significant benefits for East Asian economies in the 1980s, SEZs and free zones were adopted widely during the 1990s and 2000s on the African continent. Despite the clear economic benefits resulting from them, Africa has not always experienced success stories with SEZs. Often taking China’s Shenzhen SEZ as a role model, which gained international recognition for its transformative impact on the Chinese economy, SEZs across the African continent remained largely underdeveloped and underutilised.


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