Knowledge@Wharton: What role do you think south-south cooperation (the exchange of resources and expertise between developing countries) will play in not just Gabon, but all of Africa?
Soleman: I think that the future of the world is based on the new concepts of partnerships and the complexity of public-private or country-to-country partnership. In Gabon, we have had a very positive experience that happened in the past two years with our aggressive foreign direct investment (FDI) strategy. When you have a government-to-government relationship, it's based on economic interests beyond political interests. We strongly believe that south-south partnership is the future. It is a relationship where there's no teacher and student. It's a peer-to-peer relationship where nobody is schooling anybody because the circumstances are different.
Knowledge@Wharton: Give me an example of such partnerships and how they might differ from other kinds of partnerships.
Soleman: Look at what we did in Gabon. We have a very strong partnership with Singapore where our president met the prime minister and President of Singapore S.R. Nathan. The whole concept was to transfer know-how and how to make a business environment that will attract FDI. We had a strategic partnership with a company called Olam. There were government-to-government bilateral relationships that then got down to a lower level between the government of Gabon and Olam International. We looked for an economically viable model that would work. It concluded in two huge contracts, a total of US$5.2 billion in FDI, which is more than what Gabon has received in FDI outside the oil sector in the past 42 years.
We've beaten the record in Sub-Saharan Africa due to that strategy of south-south partnership. And the whole concept, beyond the fact that it's south-south, is that you look at where growth is. Emerging countries that have emerged now that are looking for ways to use their skills and synergies to deploy in new grounds like Africa.