Equatorial Guinea: Oil and Gas Rich … and a Tropical Paradise

H. E. Gabriel Mbaga Obiang Lima, Minister of Mines and Hydrocarbons

By: Heidi Powell-Prera,
Photographer/Journalist

Today we are talking with H. E. Gabriel Mbaga Obiang Lima, the Minister of Mines and Hydrocarbons for Equatorial Guinea. This gracious and charming gentleman represents a small tropical paradise on the central west coast of Africa. Part of the country is on the mainland near the Rio Muni. An important advantage to Equatorial Guinea are the 5 volcanic islands off the coast. Malabo, the capital and largest city, is on the island of Bioko. Equatorial Guinea has a lot to offer a visitor from the Pico Basile at 3000 feet above sea level, to the Monte Alen National Park, to the 4 beaches, there is opportunity to relax or explore. The Tropical Rain Forest is home to gorillas, chimpanzees, and elephants. However, the Minister’s visit has more to do with the principle resource for the economy of Equatorial Guinea, Oil and Gas.

iF: I saw a couple of videos where you spoke about what you are doing. I heard about the Alba Plant. Today I wanted to start our interview out kind of soft, so people will know more about Equatorial Guinea. How long has Equatorial Guinea been an independent entity?

Mbaga:  49 years. October will be the 50th anniversary, so we have been independent for 49 years. We are working to celebrate with all our friends.  Our country has gone through a process to be come fully developed. We are heavily invested in the oil and gas price reduction has affected us, but we remain strong.

iF: Okay. Bravo! So how did you become interested in what you do? Was it personal? Was it energy? Or was it just politics?

Mbaga:  Well, you know, I went to school in the States.

iF: You did. Where?

Mbaga:  Michigan. I went to a private college, and I was to go back and do my Masters. The representative told me, I will call you tomorrow. So that night, they signed a decree making me a Presidential Advisor, so I could not return to do my Masters, and that was 18 years ago. Since then, I have been Secretary of State, Deputy. Vice Minister, Delegate and now Minister of Mines and Hydrocarbons.

iF: Wow! What a gamut of career!

Mbaga:  Well, I know my business very well.

iF: You know, it is not part of the interview, but I think it is fabulous that people will study and go back to their homeland and give that knowledge to their home. I think it is very admirable and awesome.

Mbaga:  That is what I have been doing.

iF: What I wanted to ask is related to that. In one speech I looked at, you were talking about the Alba Plant and drilling. As Minister of Mines, do you feel that drilling off shore is more beneficial economically than developing land resources? Are you working both?

Mbaga:  What I do believe is the reality is that the Alba Plant has been an important project for the development of the country. It was really the project that opened Equatorial Guinea for business. And from that reservoir on that field, Alba, we were able to build a gas generated plant. We were able to build a metal plant. We were able to build an energy plant. And what we like to call today the “Punta Europa” gas. So that was really the project that put Equatorial Guinea on the map. And we do believe that the project still has a lot of life. So that is why we insisted that the drilling must continue so that production can continue. Now we are conscious of the revolution of shale gas in the States. So that is why a lot of those U. S. Companies have invested more here than in the U.S. We are in that fight between there and here. We do believe that a new generation is coming that will continue with this exploration. If it is with the same company, that is good. If it is someone else, that is good too.

iF: That kind of leads to my next question. We are a business-oriented magazine. A lot of investors and people involved in business read us. They are going to be interested. What opportunities are there for outsiders to work with Equatorial Guinea?

Mbaga:  I think there are still a lot of great opportunities for everybody. I will tell you my feeling on this industry is that, and this affects a lot of Houston and Texas. A lot of the Houstonians have been trained at work, and all of them have been trained in conventional oil. . . and not in the shale oil.

iF: Okay. Right.

Mbaga:  So, all these people are coming back to companies who have gone into shale oil. So, you are having these companies laying off and retiring men with decades of experience in conventional oil, and some of them do not want to retire. So, what they are doing is creating new companies, a new generation that is going back into conventional oil.  People who know that you drill oil for a few years, then comes the production, and then you end. The shale oil is different, you know. First you pump all the liquids. You put them in a railroad. It is a completely different industry. So, I think that a state like Texas and a city like Houston really need to evaluate what is happening. Before everyone knew that Houston was the Capital of Conventional Oil and Gas. Right now, not so much.

iF: Not so much, huh? Not so much.

Mbaga:  Right! There is Oklahoma. Oklahoma is talking about it; others are talking about it.  Houston is still the Capital of Conventional Oil and Gas of the World.

iF: Of Conventional Oil and Gas. So, you are saying we need to be thinking more forward?

Mbaga:  Yes. Like that. Houston shall continue being the Capital of Conventional Oil and Gas. If you want Conventional Oil and Gas, you come to Houston. If you want shale oil, go talk to Oklahoma. I know 2 things Americans are very good at; exploiting any thing they do; and making baubles. I have to say that sooner or later we buy the baubles.

iF: That is great That answers the question of invention. Now this is for the other people, the ones not so interested in oil and gas. What other investments are there? Have you taken steps to protect your environment while you do this drilling?

Mbaga:  I don’t  know whether you have actually looked into what is Equatorial Guinea. Have you seen some of the marketing videos?

iF: Yes, I have seen some videos. I know what I saw.

Mbaga:  So, what is the market? This is the best time. Probably, by now everyone in the U.S. has seen the “Black Panther” already.

iF: So, everyone wants to go the Africa!

Mbaga:  Wakanda! So, what is Wakanda is Malabo! It is green. You have the beaches. You have the people with the developments. So clearly, we are one of the, I would say, Seychelles. It is a tourist market, a specialized market. I would say we are historically, an important island to African history. Equatorial Guinea, and this is more history than sociology. Equatorial Guinea, the island Bioko, was the first base created by the British to defend Africans and stop the slave trade. The first base was St. Clarence, which later became Malabo. The British created the base to capture any slave ship in the area. And when they captured the ship, they brought it to Malabo. Why do I tell you this? Because next year is going to be the energy year of Africa for Equatorial Guinea. We are heavily invested in what we consider, the Afro-Latino Link.

iF: Yes (softly)

Mbaga:  Now this is very important.

iF: This is a specialty in the study of Art!

Mbaga:  Let me explain to you what it is. The African Americans have done something very important. They have documented their history very well. There are all these movies, books, all these things you have.

iF: Right. Yes.

Mbaga:  The Afro-Latino, almost zero. You must remember that the shipping was never directly to the U.S. It went to Cuba. It went to Argentina. One of the reasons it was not documented was that they did not speak English. The Afro-Americans had the British, the colonists, Europe and more. The Spanish, they were not interested, because they were a principle step in this business. So, what was the only African country that spoke Spanish?

iF: Equatorial Guinea?

Mbaga:  Equatorial Guinea.

iF: That was the unique part.

Mbaga:  That was the unique part. Any Afro-Latino that wanted to know his history did not go to Nigeria, did not go to Ghana.  He went to Equatorial Guinea. That is the link. There have been organizations in the U.S. that were initially started in Latin American countries; i.e. Cuba, Haiti, the Caribbean, The Afro Latinos have always been here, but they have been misplaced. They must deal with English. You must remember that when you need to explain your history, something very emotional to you, it is better to do it in your mother tongue.

iF: Yes. Right.

Mbaga:  One of the things we are doing now – this is very interesting, and I am keen that you know this is – I am going to Argentina, Cuba, Venezuela, the Caribbean, Colombia, all of these.

iF: Guatemala.

Mbaga:  Guatemala. These countries have done something very good. They have been with the Socialists and all of that – they have considered the importance of their minorities.

iF: I see.

Mbaga:  One of the things we are going to be proposing is the Afro-Latino Route. This is what happens like – you could have the Jews.  The Jews when in Europe have to take the tour – and Israel. It is very important for them and for the children to understand how they lived and how they became separated from their home. But the Afro-Latino, what route can they take? Now the idea is you can have one place – Malabo. You do not have to take a tour. You can come by boat or by plane. You can fly commercial. Then you go on the Afro-Latino Route.

iF: Right!

Mbaga:  So, what is the catch here? You have this unique market. And guess what – Equatorial Guinea has a lot of money. What we are telling these countries is, we don’t want you to come and tell us that you can do this hospitality. We want you to invest in 1 single event or 1 single organization. And this is the Afro-Latino organizations. All these things I am discussing is to create the fund to be filled by Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea and the rest in providing the resources to create that fund to be able to create the Afro-Latino holdings. Now something that is very interesting I have seen, and we Afro-Americans really like is, especially, even the people who watch the “Black Panther”, is the history of the Afro-Latino is more interesting than the history of Afro-Americans.

iF: Right. That is true.

Mbaga:  They were more successful.  If you hear the story, they made it. The problem is they have been so integrated, they disappeared. In some places, they were not so affected, like Haiti.

iF: Right now. Yes, true.

Mbaga:  In other places, they made it. Let’s talk about the Africans. They say we did not know about the Africans. Because the Africans, they call it, “the more intelligent people.” The Spaniards went to Bolivia to the original Indians. They didn’t speak the language. They wouldn’t do it. So, what we did is we brought men trained to do that. We called them the Capitaces.

iF: Like the chief or foreman?

Mbaga:  Foremen, who were trained Africans. Some of them used to live in Spain. Some of them were from North Africa, but who spoke English. Some even had lived in Chicago. The City of Chicago was built by Haitians and Cubans. But they did what they were told. All that history has been told. Enough of the History.

iF: No. Very cool. It was very interesting for me. There is something we can do with that right now. We are connected to the Latin American Community. I am the Latino connection for the magazine. We need to talk more about this.

Mbaga:  (To the group) They will like her. They will love it! And that is the new trend. What is happening in a lot of Latin American Countries is that they are enriching their culture with their minorities. They do not want to be just one single nationality. So, you see in Colombia and other Latino Countries, they say we have been Afro-Latinos. And they commemorate anything they have. But the problem is they will be extinct. Why? No money.

iF: Right.

Mbaga:  If you do a comparison, a Jewish association, and that is the best example, there is one in every country in the world. Everywhere, there is a convent. You have the Italian association any where there is an Italian family. The poor Afro-Latino family does not have the group or a book.

iF: They do not have it.

Mbaga:  If you have that group, you have small communities, small families. You send the children to school in the country. If they finish high school, you send them to college or universities, like Chicago. Usually they go back and enrich that community. They have that peculiarity. They are Afro-Latinos.

iF: Very cool. I want to visit your country.

Mbaga:  You are welcome. We want to be styled by the “Black Panther.”

iF: (Laughing) I haven’t seen it yet. I am waiting for the perfect friend to see it with. My boss will have to speak with your consul.

Mbaga:  He knows more about this matter, and he explains it. He is involved with the community that has a lot of history. His community is 4 more African-American curatomba communities. So, you have the African link – also the American link. So, from there, we have not been able to feel it. When you feel it, you can create a very strong community.

iF: My boss has visited several West African countries all along the coast, Senegal, Sierra Leon, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Liberia, and Nigeria. He missed Equatorial Guinea.

Mbaga:  When you come to Malabo, and you can record this, you will say “It is the best of all of them” If it is not true, then you can say, “ The Minister lied.”

iF: Geographically, it looks very beautiful. It has a lot. You said it was small, but it is not that small. It covers a lot.

Mbaga:  Spain was one of the world’s colonizers. The Spaniards do not have a good relationship with any of their former colonies, like England has with her former colonies. They were not very good managers. The Spanish spent too much and drank too much. The French were more intelligent. The British were the best, and they have never left.

iF: I think you are right about my people. When the rum comes out, you can do whatever.

Mbaga:  Actually, that is good. What it does is it allows you to be independent.

iF: Because they were not paying attention.

Mbaga:  Spain did not have the time. They have Catalonia, the Basques – the French are near to make sure that the History of Haiti is never told.

iF: Except as they want it told.

Mbaga:  Exactly. All the Latin American countries were independent. Thanks to Haiti, the South of the U.S. was developed. Thanks to Haiti, all South America was done, but nobody talks about it. Thanks to Haiti, France and Paris are what they are. They talk about Champagne and the French life. It is Haiti that did it.

iF: That was Haitian?

Mbaga:  Yes!

iF: This is being recorded and we are going to Haiti in July.

Mbaga:  When you talk about your history, you talk about the good part. Books, Movies, they focus on the good. But, Haiti, the problem is money.

iF: My boss said the same thing about Liberia.

Mbaga:  Amazing what Liberia had. Liberia was one of the first developed African countries. We are a bad example.

iF: You are a bad example?

Mbaga:  Yes. What you do with  your money. You do not allow someone to tell you what to do with your money. You have money. You go to buy a car, and some people in your country have $1.00. So, someone criticizes. We have poor people.  You have poor people. There are poor people in France. You do not look at what we have done.

iF: What have you done for the country with the money?

Mbaga:  We invested in infrastructure. For instance, 90%  of the country is electrified. We have invested in roads. You will not find one back-hoe in the entire country. We have highways. We have hospitals. We did the port and the airport.

iF: What you did was give the people the means to do business. That is major!

Mbaga:  Did you see the pictures? We have organized the city of Sipopo. Now Sipopo is the African Union City. So, when Africans want to meet, they have a place. Sipopo Conference Center is next to Malabo. It has everything, 64 villages, recreation, meeting space, everything. In Africa there are only 2 African Union Conference Cities that can get a major conference together in 24 hours, Isabella and Malabo. We built a new capital. Everyone says we are crazy. We should concentrate on Malabo. I say you do not put all your investment in one place. We built Oyala. Now the wealth can go through the entire country.

iF: My boss has said that Nigeria did that as well.

Mbaga:  If all the African Countries were like us, you would be coming to Malabo. We would not be going to Houston. We have both Nigeria and Somalia asking how we did this.

iF: They say they have a larger population.

Mbaga:  It has nothing to do with the population. It is the will of the people that matters.

iF: How large is your population?

Mbaga:  1.2 million. So, in a way it is something special. Leadership is the key word, you must have a leader who is really with you, really understands the importance of the projects, and I believe the President we have now does. And I will tell you one more thing that happened recently. When an African country needed funding, or they had a problem, they came to our President. They did not go to the IMF or to Washington. We even funded one of the Sullivan events.

iF: Sullivan? Oh, yes! He did a lot of work.

Mbaga:  One of the last events he did was in the country of Equatorial Guinea. It was unfortunate that he did not get to follow up on his vision.

iF: There is one more question about the oil industry.

Mbaga:  First let me express my deepest gratitude to Texas and Houston. Houstonians were the first Americans to help develop my country because it was oil and gas. All the technology, all the materials, and all the knowledge came from Houston and Galveston. I must say that the Americans who really started going to Equatorial Guinea were from Houston and they portrayed a very positive image of the Americans — very hard workers and very fair. They did not go there for us to work for them, but for us to work together. They brought a different image of the Americans, not political, not economical, but typical for the oil and gas industry.

iF: With their boots on. We call them our Rough Necks.

Mbaga:  They finished their work. They went with the locals. They had their beer. Then they went back to work. They were the best image of Americans for your country.

iF: I have heard that about us Texans. (Group laughs) That’s beautiful! What are your plans for global expansion of LNG and LPG?

Mbaga:  There is a rumor that the Americans will leave the shale oil in the States and come back to West Africa for conventional oil. I do believe the future is to look for partners who are willing to continue the investment the Americans have done, especially the Texans.

iF: In the way they have?

Mbaga:  We have always felt comfortable with the Americans. We know they will come back because conventional oil and gas is much different from the shale. We can do petro-chemicals. But 99% of Equatorial Guinea’s economy is based on oil and gas. If I diversify, I will diversify oil and gas.

iF: Beautiful. It has been a pleasure meeting with you. You are a wonderful spokesman for your country.

Mbaga:  That is what they pay me for.

iF: I would also like to say in closing that it is admirable what your country is doing by strategically investing in the country and promoting an international market for your people. Your ambitious plan to provide a place to preserve the Afro-Latino history is admirable, and I hope that we may be able to assist Equatorial Guinea in getting the word out and helping some of the organizations here and abroad.

Editor’s Note:

The date March 14th for the Equatorial Guinea dinner in our April issue is incorrect; the correct date is March 8th. We do apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.

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