Magazine article New African

Laying New Foundations: To Mark the 40th Anniversary of the Death of the Country's Founding Leader, Amilcar Cabral, on 20 January, a Newly Formed Think-Tank-The Benten Institute-Organised the Inaugural Guinea Bissau Economic Forum, under the Theme "What Would Cabral Do?"

Magazine article New African

Laying New Foundations: To Mark the 40th Anniversary of the Death of the Country's Founding Leader, Amilcar Cabral, on 20 January, a Newly Formed Think-Tank-The Benten Institute-Organised the Inaugural Guinea Bissau Economic Forum, under the Theme "What Would Cabral Do?"

Article excerpt

GUINEA BISSAU HAS HAD A CHEQUered history, which has been widely documented. Fortunately, this tarnished reputation does not match up to the reality on the ground. A visit to its capital city, Bissau, does not give the impression of a failed state, nor a fragile one, although there are signs of political and economic stagnation, resulting from the past decade of political instability.

If some of the media potrayals of the country are to be believed, the first-time visitor to Bissau would probably expect to see a city run amok by South American drug lords, arms traders and smugglers. Yet, to the contrary, the city is relatively peaceful and comparatively safer than most other African capitals.

Guinea Bissau was the first African country to attain independence from the Portuguese, under the leadership of national hero and renown strategist and intellectual Amilcar Cabral. But it has lagged behind other Portuguese-speaking African countries, which have been attracting investment and plaudits from academics, economists and businessmen alike.

It was with such a backdrop that the newly formed Instituto Benten organised the first Guinea Bissau Economic Forum to help lay new foundations for the country's economic transformation. This think tank is the brainchild of Paulo Gomes (inset below), a well connected businessman who once served as one of the World Bank's youngest executive director.

Gomes has developed a strong network, evidenced by the calibre of those gathered at the Forum, who included influential businessmen, politicians, academics and officials from major financial multilaterals such as the World Bank, the IMF and IFC, as well as UN officials. There was also a strong participation from local Guineans and encouragingly, these included many young participants from local universities and schools.

But why exactly did Gomes set up the Economic Forum?

"In Guinea, what is clearly lacking is an operational strategy that enables us to identify a portfolio of structural projects to transform the country, and this is what I wanted the Forum to focus on," he explained, also expressing his satisfaction at the outcome of the Forum's first outing: "I'm pleased with the level of engagement. The Teylium group [which has the biggest hotel and shopping mall development in neighbouring Senegal] has agreed to build a hotel in Bissau. South African investors are looking at an eco-lodge. A Chinese businessman is looking at connecting Guinea Bissau to an undersea cable. …

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