Oil, manganese, food: France's Gabon business interests
French companies have wide-ranging economic interests in Gabon which are already being affected by Wednesday’s military coup in the former French colony in west Africa.
Some 80 French companies are registered in Gabon, said Etienne Giros, president of the French Council of Investors in Africa (CIAN), a body whose members account for four-fifths of French business activity on the continent.
Smaller businesses, tradespeople, restaurants, lawyers, insurers and financial services companies add dozens more to the total, he told AFP.
Gabon in 2022 became the biggest destination for French exports among the six member countries of the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC) which also includes Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, the Republic of the Congo and Equatorial Guinea.
French companies sold 536 million euros ($585 million) worth of goods in Gabon, according to finance ministry figures, mostly farm produce and food, capital goods, electrical and electronic goods, IT equipment, intermediate goods and pharma products.
Mining group Eramet, one of the biggest French companies in Gabon, said Wednesday that it had stopped its activities there “for the safety of staff and the security of operations”.
It employs 8,000 people in the oil- and mineral-rich West African country and its local subsidiary extracts manganese ore — a mineral used in steel-making and batteries — from the Moanda mines, the world’s largest manganese mines.
Gabon is the world’s second-biggest manganese producer after South Africa, and Comilog extracts 90 percent of Gabon’s manganese, with the remainder handled by Chinese company CICMHZ.
Eramet’s Setrag unit, meanwhile, operates the Trans-Gabon Railway, the country’s only railway.
Energy giant TotalEnergies has been present since 1928 in Gabon, which is sub-Saharan Africa’s fourth-biggest oil producer and a member of the OPEC cartel.
TotalEnergies told AFP that the company was “mobilised to ensure the security of its staff and its operations which is its top priority” after the coup.
TotalEnergies runs seven oil extraction sites in Gabon as well as a network of a few dozen petrol stations, and last year invested in Gabon’s forestry sector.
Maurel and Prom, another hydrocarbon exploration and production company, said Wednesday the situation in Gabon had not affected its sites, and business was running normally.
Oil company Perenco, also active in Gabon, did not respond when contacted by AFP.
Giros said it was too early to quantify the ultimate impact of the coup on French companies, but he said he did not expect a “sudden exodus”.