Paulo Gomes (54) is a business leader and an important political player in Guinea Bissau and he has been dedicated to place his country on the map of international investments and make it become stable and prosperous. He acquired his experience from his participation in organizations like the World Bank and established Paulo Gomes and Partners, a strategic consulting and investment company supplying consultancy and custom-made solutions to clients who are interested in investing on the African continent. Paulo is one of the founders and the president of the Asian-African Chamber of Commerce & Industry who has sought to get in touch with companies on various continents and understand closer business relations with China as being strategic for Africa.
In this interview, made during a trip to Brazil for prospecting business deals, Paulo Gomes speaks to ATLANTICO about the Chinese participation in the African economy and also the leadership role of Brazil in the South-South Cooperation, the future of Brazilian-African relations, the strengthening of African regional commerce and the role of the young leadership.
Also, he seems optimistic regarding the results from the troubled legislative elections that will take place in Guinea Bissau in March 2019 and then he takes advantage to criticize the current president of his Country, regarding what he has been doing in the past few years. It is important to remember that Paulo Gomes was a candidate for the presidential elections in 2014 and, although he has still not announced it, he should run for the Guinea presidential election again in 2019.
ATLANTICO – You strive to place Guinea Bissau on the international investors’ map. Nowadays what are the main challenges during this process?
Paulo Gomes – There are several challenges. The concept of investors about Guinea Bissau is still very negative. Thus, we face an enormous challenge to improve the process for greater confidence in order to attract private foreign investments. Our Gross Domestic Product is around US$ 1.4 billion and for that reason, private foreign investments are extremely important. Our debt prevents us from getting loans for funding new investments. And also, the community granting donations has disengaged a great deal from Guinea Bissau. Thus, we face all these unfavorable factors. So for these reasons, I try to invest my time to participate in diverse events and international forums to gradually create a colligation of, let’s say friends of Guinea Bissau. Of course, there will not be immediate results because that requires interaction from other players, like the United States, Singapore, Hong-Kong, Indonesia, and other regions in Southeast Asia, where I am currently. I believe that for my country to be ready to profit from these opportunities and take advantage of this colligation, it is important to begin to gradually engage with these players. And Brazil is part of that. So, that is why I am approaching the Brazil-Africa Institute. The meeting in Salvador [6º Brazil Africa Forum] was very useful for this purpose. We are very involved in backing the next meeting in São Paulo that will take place in November. I believe by then, after the legislative elections that will have taken place in March, the country will face new circumstances.
ATLANTICO – The international community is closely watching what will happen in the Guinea Bissau legislative elections. And you told me about the negative concept of the investors. How will a new political reorganization add more confidence to those investors?
Paulo Gomes – We have had several very sad occurrences take place in the history of Guinea Bissau that have not been very beneficial to us [related to creation of a good reputation], as several coups d’état, the assassination of a president in office, and the problem of international drug traffic using Guinea Bissau as one of their platforms, although drug use is not a serious problem there. All these things make a bad impression that remains for some time. Some concrete actions are necessary to show we are willing to turn over a new leaf. The role of the president is extremely important for creating that confidence. He must be the person who is going to sell the image of the country and recognize our problems because, in the Information Technology Era, there is not much to hide. We hoped that the president [José Mário Vaz] could have played that role. Unfortunately, he spent almost five years secluded. He is not a president who engaged his cohorts outside of the country, selling a good impression and who could reconcile the Guineans. He has a big responsibility in this process. I think that the Guineans had voted for him expecting there would be an element of reconciliation. He studied in Portugal, held several positions, and represented a new generation. However, his performance was, unfortunately, a big letdown.
ATLANTICO – Brazil plays an important role in South-South Cooperation. In spite of the country going through some political transformations. Sir, what do you expect regarding Brazil-Africa relations?
Paulo Gomes – The Brazilian elections took place in an extremely polarized environment. The speeches made by the current president does not favor Brazil continuing being a global player as it always has been. The countries have never expected money from Brazil. However, Brazil is endowed in important knowledge in several fields developing countries are inspired by. And there has been a concern that Brazil would disappear from the scene. But I believe the new president is going to govern in the “center” (moderate). The speeches have been focused on the extreme right but I believe, now that he is the president of all Brazilians, he will position himself in the center and reconcile the Country. I think Bolsonaro and his staff are going to recognize that. Brazil is extremely important to us in several aspects. Primarily, the part of our diaspora is here in Brazil and that diaspora is very well educated and has a good intellectual level that can be useful to Brazil and us. We are going to pay attention because we assume we are part of Brazil’s assets due to its diaspora, culture, and history. We also consider Brazilian expertise in the agricultural field that is unquestionable. In the next 30 years, there will be a population of about 2 billion people in Africa. We have to feed those people and Brazilian technology if fundamental for that. We do not believe the new president is going to ignore the Brazilian competitive edge as Brazil’s role in feeding the world is extremely important.
In the next 30 years, there will be a population of about 2 billion people in Africa. We have to feed those people and Brazilian technology if fundamental for that.
ATLANTICO – Brazil and Nigeria have announced a multi-billion-dollar agreement for a large-scale agricultural project, including support from Germany. What is the importance of such an agreement for Brazilian-African relations?
Paulo Gomes – This year, the population of Nigeria is going to exceed 200 million people in territory much smaller than Brazil. Even though Germans are connected to this initiative, I believe Brazilian technology will be used in Nigeria; employing Brazilian know-how.
ATLANTICO – You always speak about regional strengthening. How will that strengthening decrease dependency on wealthy nations, including, the dependency of the European countries?
Paulo Gomes – Europe is going through an identity crisis. And that crisis brings about isolationist reactions, similar to what took place in the United States. That made us notice that there is an important potential for African trade at a regional level. There will be 12 million young people entering the job market every year for the next 10 years. That manpower can only be absorbed if there is increased intraregional commerce. Nigeria has a market with 200 million people and a country like Guinea Bissau has 2 million people as consumers. For that reason, Guinea Bissau needs to look at its neighbor as a market for selling cassava, rice, fish, before thinking of selling to Europe and having to overcome logistic challenges of shipment to Europe, as it is necessary to consider the European phytosanitary rules. On a regional level, it is possible to trade with neighboring countries where the market conditions are much easier and although there are still logistic problems, they are less acute.
ATLANTICO – How can multilateral Pan-African organizations, such as NEPAD, African Union and African Development Bank, contribute to this process for fostering intraregional commerce?
Paulo Gomes – People talk a lot and say they are theorical. But, under the leadership of Paul Kagame, the African Union presented the Agenda 2063 introducing a series of important projects. These are key projects that can be implemented and are going to strengthen the regionalization of our commerce and show our exchanges as an element for growth, such as a continental trade agreement, creation of railroads between different countries, development of energy supplied by a barrage in Congo constituting an important element for the unification of electrification of Central and Western Africa. Also, we need strategies to transform our commodities, as we will continue being dependent on the prices of commodities as long as we do not start processing things minimally and learn how to do that.
ATLANTICO – Some people criticize the interest of China on the African continent. Some critics even call it “recolonization”. But, we know that China has funded large-scale projects on the continent and has focused on Africa, unlike any other country. What critiques would you make regarding this?
Paulo Gomes – Unfortunately, this narrative stating that Africa is being colonized is a little condescending. People do not say these things about other continents. When Europe made several investments in Africa, nobody spoke about colonization. I think this is a narrative that Africans must be very watchful of and extremely precise in making this trend disappear from various Media, especially, the Media in Europe. It is not possible to neo-colonize Africa. Whoever would risk paying such an extremely high price? Secondly, China came and offered infrastructure that Europe was not willing to provide. We need a market for our raw materials and China is the main market for raw materials. For this reason, China is an important player and must continue to be engaged in Africa as we need the Chinese market. Guinea-Conakry, for example, has the second largest bauxite reserve in the world and must sell that bauxite to some country. And it is not going to sell it to Brazil or Poland. It sells to China, as it is the largest buyer. But Guinea-Conakry right now is putting pressure on China so that part of the bauxite transformation is performed in their own country, but to do this is necessary to solve a little of the energy deficit. China has already displayed its great potential for research and development. It has already invested 400 billion dollars in research and is going to play an important role in Artificial Intelligence and developing 5G technology. We have to be part of all that.
ATLANTICO – What do you expect Guinea-Bissau from now on? This year is important for the Country, because of the elections…
Paulo Gomes – I expect a new generation to arise in my country. There are many problems in this diaspora. They are not going to vote for any mediocre politician from our country. They know what they want. The politicians are not going to deceive the masses by trying to influence them with money or fake promises in speeches. This coming generation is our greatest hope. I hoped to see an incubator present in Bissau. We went together to Singapore and spent a week there. I was extremely impressed by that young population and their ambition. I am optimistic. I am an optimist for my country. I would like to see things happen more quickly. And for this reason, I am concerned because the world and technology are progressing so quickly so that each wasted year is an extremely expensive price you have to pay for that route to transform the country. But regarding that the renovation of young people is taking place, I think the elections this year are going to allow them to be the protagonists in society.
But regarding that the renovation of young people is taking place, I think the elections this year are going to allow them to recover the role they must play in society.
ATLANTICO – So, is the decision making power in the hands of the young people?
Paulo Gomes – I think it is. I think this is the last election that the classic politician players are going to run the show. I believe that by the next election process all those politicians will have disappeared.
At the sidelines of the 6th Brazil Africa Forum, the Chairman of the Advisory Board of the South East Asia-Africa Chamber of Commerce, Paulo Gomes, analyzes the current relations on trade between Brazil and Africa in a chat with RTP Africa’s journalist João Rosário.
Paulo Gomes studied at the Paris School of International Affairs (PSIA), where he graduated in Economy and Foreign Trade in 1988. He returned to his native Country and then joined the Committee for Economic Affairs. After that, he worked as the Director of Strategic Planning and as an advisor for the Ministry of Finances.
In 1995, Paulo went to Harvard University, where he got his Master’s Degree in Public Administration and in Economic Policy and Administration. Two years later, he returned to Guinea-Bissau, where he worked again as the head advisor for the Ministry of Finances. In that period, he was nominated the assistant executive director and afterwards, the executive director of the World Bank. Paulo Gomes is also a member of the Board of Directors of the African Development Bank, Ecobank, Asky Airlines, and the AFIG Investment Fund, as well as the founder and president of the Constelor Investment Holdings Company. He is a member of the “Fundo Verde para o Clima” fand co-founder of the Africa Southeast Asia Chamber of Commerce. Its headquarters is in Singapore.
The personal life of Paulo Gomes is intimately connected to the recent history of Guinea-Bissau. His parents were involved in the fight for the independence of Guinea-Bissau, in 1973. His paternal grandfather was put in prison several times by the Portuguese police during that colonial period.