Gabon moves to diversify economy

Gabon president Ali Bongo
Image caption President Ali Bongo has vowed to modernise the west African state's economy

Gabon has signed deals to diversify its economy in an attempt to be less reliant on its dwindling oil reserves.

The government has announced contracts with Asian companies worth $4.5bn billion dollars.

President Ali Bongo signed the agreements on the eve of the country's 50th anniversary of its independence from France.

The projects will revamp infrastructure and create about 50,000 jobs.

New partners

Gabon's oil output has been declining for years and the new deals are presented as the first steps towards diversification.

The largest deal is the with OLAM, a Singapore-based company which plans to develop a huge palm oil plantation in the south east.

The government wants to become the leading palm oil producer in Africa.

In terms of infrastructure, the OLAM deal involves the construction of a refinery, and there are plans for a possible port.

Another agreement was signed with the Indian company M3M, to build 5,000 low-cost housing units over the next two years.

Ramky Infrastructure, another Indian construction company, will build 1,000 kilometres of tarred road over the next three years in a $1.5bn project that will be jointly financed by the Gabonese government.

Gabon has already attracted a number of Asian investors, notably Malaysian and Chinese companies, but most of them were interested in the mining and timber sectors.

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