Conversation with Heidi Powell-Prera
In addition to the Consulate General in Houston, Equatorial Guinea also has an Embassy in Washington, D.C. The Equatorial Guinea Consulate General in Houston is one of 48 Equatorial Guinea diplomatic and consular representations abroad. The Equatorial Guinea capital Malabo hosts 26 embassies, and in addition there are 17 consulates. The United States maintains an embassy in Malabo. The main cities in Equatorial Guinea are Bata and Malabo. Its neighboring countries are Cameroon, Gabon, Nigeria, Sao Tome, and Principe. With a relatively small population and only 50 years of Independence from Spain, Equatorial Guinea has grown into an International contender in the Energy Sector and they plan to do a lot more in the years ahead.
IF Magazine Heidi PP: What is the role of the Consul General in Houston?
Tomas Dickens: The Consulate’s role mainly is based on consular and commercial affairs. Anything that has to do with promoting business with our country, especially working with the energy sector, the oil companies. We do not actually have a lot of people here on their own. They are either students or working with the oil companies. We have many students here, close to 200 currently. They are not only in Houston but also Dallas, Arkansas, and Atlanta. Most are studying business. Those that are working for the oil companies are sent here for training through the companies.
IF Magazine Heidi PP: What would you like for US investors to know about investing in Equatorial Guinea?
Tomas Dickens: I would start by saying, the President of Equatorial Guinea has traveled to Houston a couple of times during which he invited investors from all sectors including the non energy investors to go to Equatorial Guinea and see for themselves what we have to offer. Now we are working toward diversifying our investments with other industries besides oil. Cocoa and coffee have historically been products from Equatorial Guinea. We also have fishing and timber, also tourism. We are rich in natural resources and wildlife. There is some mining even though the mining sector is not well developed yet.
Our Minister of Mines and Hydrocarbons is working on that to make it more productive and attractive to investors in that industry. Our government is investing a lot on infrastructure and housing for middle and lower income families.
As a matter of fact, in the past 10 years, I would say there have been a lot of improvements in construction and technology. There are new roads and electricity through most of the area which facilitates communication and commerce among the people. It has been quite an achievement. Education and health has been the priorities of our government. We have reached a 93% percent literacy rate from elementary to University level. Our population is quite small and young.
IF Magazine Heidi PP: Tell us a little about your background, your experience, and what led to you serving as the Consul in Houston.
Tomas Dickens: My background is international relations. I served as a Protocol Officer at the Foreign Ministry but then I moved to work in the oil industry some few years later. I spent 21 years in the oil & gas industry. Right from day one when the oil industry became fully operational in Equatorial Guinea in 1990 is when I went to work for a Texas-based company, Walter International. These companies eventually sold their assets to CMS, Central Michigan Supply, another US Company and CMS eventually sold to Marathon Oil. I worked for Marathon Oil from 2002-2011. In 2011 as I was getting ready to retire from the industry, I was appointed Deputy Consul General in Houston, later on promoted years after to Consul General. So that took me back to the foreign ministry where I originally belonged. It was interesting because I got to learn a lot about the oil & gas industry in those years, and that is perfect for me here in Houston serving as Consul General. I work closely with the oil companies here because I am used to that industry. We have a good relationship with the major energy players, Exxon, Mobile, Marathon Oil, Noble Energy. Hess sold its holdings to Cosmos Energy which is based in Dallas, but has a representative here in Houston.
IF Magazine Heidi PP: What is coming up for Equatorial Guinea?
Tomas Dickens: Equatorial Guinea received independence from Spain in 1968, and we will be celebrating our 50th Anniversary, the Golden Jubilee, on October 24th at Houston’s City Hall. You are welcome to join us. There are documentary videos, which can be found online, that will show all that has been achieved in that 50 years. The fact that we have been able to reach this standard in the global economy is something we are very proud of.
Another major goal of the government has been to get Equatorial Guinea recognized in the International Community. I am not sure if you are aware, Equatorial Guinea has now become a non-permanent member of the Security Council of the United Nations for two years, 2018-2019. That is a major achievement and one that is based on the trust built with the countries that supported our candidacy to become a member. It represents many years of building relationships.