June 21, 2013
Washington, DC —When President Obama travels to Africa next week – visiting Senegal, Tanzania and South Africa – infrastructure and power will be a major focus of his trip. One company, U.S.-based Bechtel, a construction, engineering and project management firm, has more than 70 years of experience working on infrastructure in Africa. The company currently involved in helping to develop major infrastructure in Gabon. AllAfrica spoke to Paul Gibbs, the company’s regional president for Africa, about Bechtel’s work there and what the company hopes to see from President Obama’s trip. Excerpts:
When did Bechtel begin working in Gabon?
The Gabon story started about 20 years ago. We put a master plan together for the government of Gabon, which they asked us to do, and they put it on a shelf. The time was clearly not right for it to be implemented. They called us about three years ago and said, ‘You know that plan that you put together, could you actually help us implement it now?’ And we started putting together a team of several hundred people, about half of whom are Gabonese nationals.
The country has a clear plan for what it wants to do. So many countries in Africa, Gabon included, simply can’t do everything they want to do.
They have to sort out their power, they have to prioritize mining, and perhaps oil and gas investments, and then use the income that they get from those to support the domestic economy. So it’s really about trying to get a coherent plan agreed at a national level. For us it’s turned out to be quite an extraordinary story. Other governments are saying to us, ‘Now can you come help us do those things?’
I think it does several things. One, just having a plan by a company like ours that can then implement it – we’re not consultants, we actually follow through and do the implementation as well – but we’re trying to do it in a way that is sustainable in the long term. We’re actually interested in the big projects that Gabon may want to do in five or 10 years time. So what we really want is a government that has the capacity and the experience to implement projects. We’re helping build that capacity so it’s sustainable in the long term.