Business / Economy

Libreville, a magnet for both State-owned, small companies

By Joseph Catanzaro and Li Fangchao (China Daily) Updated: 2014-08-04 07:00

More than 1,000 Chinese private companies and small businesses are making an economic impact on Gabon that rivals that of the big State-owned corporations, owners say.

Libreville, a magnet for both State-owned, small companies

Libreville, a magnet for both State-owned, small companies
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Xu Gongde, entrepreneur and former president of the Overseas Chinese Association of Gabon, says the long-term impact of Chinese private businesses of all sizes in Africa often escapes notice, but should not be underestamated.

"There are a bit more than 1,000 Chinese private businesses here," Xu says. Some people say State-owned companies can't build up an economy, but we (private companies and small and medium-sized enterprises) definitely can, because large companies can't tap into what we are good at. Instead of doing big, one-off projects, we are here to stay."

Xu, 60, one of the first Chinese entrepreneurs to start a business in Gabon, arrived 27 years ago and now considers it his second home. He has a food import business that brings in rice from Asian countries and high-end delicacies from Europe. "Ninety-five percent of Gabon's food is imported," he says. "I saw an opportunity there."

He also has four timber processing plants.

His businesses alone provide employment to about 700 people in Gabon, more than double the combined local workforce of State- owned behemoths Sinohydro, China Road and Bridge Corp and China Harbor Engineering Co.

"Private companies provide a lot of employment opportunities for local people here," he says.

Xu says private Chinese businesses and companies in Gabon range from very small restaurants all the way up to large, privately owned ventures in the mining and lumber sectors.

"Most are involved in mining, or timber, or hospitality, or import and export. Our organization has very big and very small members."

In the bustling back streets of the capital, Libreville locals and Chinese workers pack the Weng Chinese Restaurant for dinner.

Manager Li Xiaofeng, 26, has been working at the popular eatery for about three years. Li, from Jiangxi province, who came to Gabon on the advice of relatives who have a small electrical goods business in Libreville, says conditions are good for small businesses.

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