May 17 marked the first encounter between Gabonese leader Ali Bongo Ondimba and his British counterpart David Cameron, as part of an action-packed three-day trip to London to seek closer ties for investment opportunities in the sectors of energy, finance and extractive industries.
President Ali Bongo Ondimba met British Prime Minister David Cameron for the first time in May for talks designed to develop Gabon’s relations with the UK on issues of economic co-operation and sustainable development.
Historically, Gabon has been off the radar for Britain, which has focused on former colonies such as Kenya and Tanzania in East Africa. Very few British companies have so far set up shop in Gabon, with most foreign business initiatives revolving around Asian, French and African companies. The two leaders held a short meeting at 10 Downing Street during which they discussed economic co-operation, which they agreed to intensify, as well as sustainable development and a common approach to climate change ahead of the Rio+20 summit, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in June.
Accompanied by his Investment and Tourism Minister Magloire Ngambia and Foreign Affairs Minister Emmanuel Issoze Ngondet, President Bongo also met with Lord Stephen Green, Minister of State for Trade & Investment, to present his Emerging Gabon vision and to outline opportunities for investment in the country, which is rich in natural resources. This was not the first time Ali Bongo has met with British government ministers. During a visit to London in March 2011 to promote investment partnerships with
Gabon, he met British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Foreign Secretary William Hague. The Gabonese leader also took part in the Times CEO Summit Africa in London where he outlined his Emerging Gabon vision.
The two nations, one developed, one emerging, both have green development firmly marked on their agendas but are keen to avoid progress that is environmentally-unfriendly. Britain has committed itself to spending an additional £200 billion ($323b, €249b) this decade to develop its energy sector, shifting towards lower-carbon emissions, investing in renewable energies and introducing measures to counteract
flooding and water shortages, the effects of climate change predicted to impact on energy suppliers.
Gabon, meanwhile, has put in place carbon-mapping systems and a reception centre to receive data from space satellites that track deforestation, and has produced a National Climate Policy with guidelines for sustainable development. Hydroelectric dams are being built as the country forages into renewable energy.
Both countries have been active on the international climate change stage — President Bongo and Prince Charles have together argued for action to fight against climate change and, most recently, the Gabonese leader attended climate talks in the UK in March, the only foreign head of state to do so. Britain has said it will push for green accounting (taking into account the loss of natural resources when calculating GDP) at the summit in Rio de Janeiro.
The two leaders also addressed security issues, with President Bongo praising Britain’s role in the fight against piracy off the coast of Somalia. The British PM also congratulated Gabon on its promotion of peace initiatives during its tenure as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council last year.
With the rise of Africa arousing real curiosity in the academic world, President Bongo was invited to address the London Business School’s annual Africa Day in celebration of the continent’s growth, rising entrepreneurship and increasingly prominent role in world affairs.
Held this year on May 19, the conference at Regent’s Park chose as its theme Africa, Taking Ownership: Successes and Challenges and explored ways of driving reform for Africans to take responsibility for their own success. The theme was an apt one for the President who is keen to promote education and put zeal back into the Gabonese workforce.
The Gabonese delegation also visited Britain’s leading foreign policy think tank Chatham House, whose Africa Programme develops independent, coherent policy-focused research on a range of issues affecting the continent and individual nations.
Last on the working programme was a session with independent policy advisor Simon Anholt, who has advised the government of more than 40 countries including Pakistan, Hungary and Tanzania on questions of national reputation and international diplomacy.
Outside of the bilateral discussions, the President and his wife were treated to a classical music concert and VIP dinner at The Fine Arts Society in the capital’s chic Bond Street with a wealth of high-profile guests. These included Prince Andrew, a former trade envoy, former EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson, the conservationist Damian Aspinall, whose foundation has projects in Gabon and the Republic of Congo, and Zeinab Badawi, the Sudanese-born BBC World News presenter.
Now that the two leaders have been formally introduced, their future relationship is one to watch.