Guinea opening up to the outside world, but investors need a long-term mindset

After decades of conflict and military rule, recent years have seen Guinea’s economy opening up considerably, presenting business opportunities in virtually every sector.

Kama Etchoho, country manager of DHL Express in Guinea

Kama Etchoho, country manager of DHL Express in Guinea

“I would say almost every opportunity here is untapped,” says Kama Etchoho, country manager of DHL Express in Guinea. He highlights business potential in industries such as property, infrastructure, energy, telecoms, education, agriculture, hospitality and tourism.

It is of course the West African country’s mining sector that is currently attracting the most attention. Guinea is said to have two-thirds of the world’s bauxite reserves, a mineral used to make aluminium. The Simandou area is one of the world’s largest undeveloped iron ore deposits. In addition the country has significant deposits of gold and diamonds. A number of the world’s largest mining companies have interests in Guinea.

“When these large mining projects start to come through it will kick-start the entire economy and other sectors will also benefit,” notes Etchoho.

“One of the biggest misconceptions in the minds of the people is that Guinea is a closed economy run by the military. The country has opened up and we have gone through presidential and parliamentary elections, and this has put the country on a new development path,” says Etchoho, an Ivorian who has been looking after DHL’s business in Guinea for almost two years.

“Guinea’s government is promoting the economic potential of this country. They recently went to Japan and came back with a lot of promises for investment,” says Etchoho.

Etchoho says the mining sector accounts for most of DHL’s own business in the country, but that telecoms is also an important contributor. “Telecommunications is a growing sector; the country did not have these technologies before. The country also has a big trading sector, where people will go to China or Dubai to buy and import goods. DHL sends out and receives a lot of trading samples.”

While the capital Conakry is Guinea’s undisputed commercial hub, Etchoho says there are other towns that are also important business areas. “Guinea is divided into four main areas. Each of these regions has its own business centre. The city of Labé is a big trading hub; Kankan is in an area known for gold and diamonds; while the city of Nzérékoré is a hub for agricultural activity.”

Long-term investment

Despite the plethora of opportunities, Etchoho cautions that investors shouldn’t expect a quick return and that any investment should be of a long-term nature. He says because of the country’s inadequate infrastructure, overheads can be very high.

“Because the public power supply is lacking, companies often need to be responsible for their own power supply. Even at DHL Guinea we spend a lot of money on fuel and maintenance for our generators. Then the cost of employing expats – food and accommodation – is also high, but if you plan for the long term you will succeed.”

He also warns against getting involved in corrupt activities. “This country is not very big and everybody knows everybody. Bribery can easily damage your business. The government is trying to change the mentality of civil servants and is making a big effort to modernise the economy. They will not accept anything like bribery.”

Skilled human resources can also be a challenge for companies operating in Guinea. “Skilled people are relatively rare here, and those who do have the technical knowledge demand very high salaries. The mining sector is also paying very well, so if you have skilled staff, you need to have retention plans in place because they can easily leave you for another company,” says Etchoho.

However, he advises companies to try and hire local people. “Create an atmosphere of recruiting local people. As I said, you may face a lack of skilled workers in some sectors, but you need to hire local people and give them the training they need to do the jobs that you want them to do.”

Etchoho says the best thing about living in Guinea is the welcoming local population. “The people are very charming and kind. They will welcome anybody. There is no discrimination on whether you are a foreigner or not. You will live your life peacefully here.”