1- Rui Gomes da Silva, can we start with a short summary about you? Are you an established man in the business world?
A: I’m a lawyer! By vocation, by choice, but also because I have never ceased to be—even when life demanded a lot from me in other situations. What follows is how I held political office after being elected between 1987 and 2009.
Member in all legislatures: V (1987/1991), VI (1991/1995), VII (1998), VIII (1999/2002), IX (2002/2004), and X (2005/2009); between these dates: Member of the OTAN Parliamentary Assembly (1991/1995, 1999/2002, 2002/2004 and 2005/2009) and President (2002/2004) and Vice-President (2005/2009) of the respective Portuguese Delegation, elected by the Assembly of the Republic; Member of the Superior Council of the Public Prosecution Service (1994/1999), a position that was also elected by the Assembly of the Republic.
I was also a lawyer when I was Vice President of the PPD / PSD – Social Democratic Party (2007-2008). The exceptions to this rule, only due to legal incompatibility, was when I served as Minister of Parliamentary Affairs (XVI Constitutional Government – 2004) and as Deputy Minister of the Prime Minister (XVI Constitutional Government – 2004/2005).
This was not due to any single problem (because I take deontological rules and incompatibilities very seriously).
And the same goes for the years—and there were many, too—when I was Vice President of Benfica.
Never blink the eye at those who are famous in football for coming from politics, or those who made a career in politics after coming from football.
So, a lawyer who holds political and sports positions, in time, yes.
Businessman, but only if we take seriously the (etymologically-correct) idea that business is the opposite of idleness. If that’s the definition of the term, I can follow with you.
Recently, and because it has to do with Africa, I was appointed as Special Adviser to His Excellency, the Prime Minister and Head of Government of Sao Tome and Principe. To the invitation and honor granted by Dr. Jorge Bom Jesus, I hope to be able to respond with all my willingness to assist in any request.
2- What are the main challenges and advantages of Portugal, as a country and economy, compared to European countries?
A: I would almost dare to invoke a very Portuguese and recently forgotten feature of vertigo and almost exclusively European direction.
I no longer talk about the reasons many authors give for our existence as a country or for the reasons for maintaining our independence.
The Atlantic Ocean made Portugal a nation with almost nine centuries of history. To deny and omit this view is reductive to what we want as Portugal.
Quoting another reality, we are part of the European countries, of course, but we cannot exhaust our visions, our paths, our vectors of development solely and exclusively in Europe. We have a history we cannot forget. And, with the potential that these paths contain, it would be reductive for Portugal to find no way to reconcile them with this extreme Europeanism.
We are—for good or evil—a west-facing country. Let us make this peripheral situation a potentiality of our development.
And let’s take on Africa’s fate—without any hints of neo-colonialism—the other segment of our development. We have always been a sea power or allied with the dominant sea power.
And geopolitical books teach us something. One of them is the “imperative geopolitics” in the medium- or long-term. And, and we cannot combat this fate that geography has determined us, let us be able to enjoy it if we add to this our importance as a fully-fledged European country.
3- Internationalization was one of the factors that most companies saved in the last crisis of 2008. Do you think that even outside the crisis companies should consider internationalization as a priority step, and for which markets mainly?
A: Of course. Internationalization is the first step toward a structured economy and less dependent on stronger economies. The other line of strength will be to diversify. Diversify exports, diversify destinations, diversify sectors.
If we can achieve a more open economy in the world, then we may have greater sensitivity to read the indicators that may come to us, but also alternative means of reacting to possible crisis scenarios.
We have always been an open economy, but the cycles are almost always dependent on some destinations or products. We are correcting these factors, which is good to see.
And with that, we stop being so permeable to crises of certain countries, certain products, or certain sectors. Good!
4- Do you consider Africa and African countries to be particularly important markets for those who want to ‘make the leap’ from Portugal to ‘other’ worlds?
A: No one escapes their fate, and, therefore, it would not be possible for Portugal to escape from one of its historical destinations.
45 years after the revolution of April 25th—almost too many years after the end of the liberation wars—outdated by the traumas of the generations who fought, it’s time for us to be better off each other.
African countries that speak Portuguese welcome those from Portugal. No paternalism or “youth revolts.”
With the respect that their own power deserves, and with the certainty that they know better what they want, what they need, and what they can give. Without trying to make you see the advantages of the A or B paths because you know—as well as we do—what you want as people. And if we match the goal,s all the better.
If we fail to do so, we will only have to respect who in democracy expresses the will of the voters they represent. Total respect!
Only in this way will we be able to help the Portuguese and foreigners who are looking for us, as entrepreneurs, to make the leap (as you mention in the question) from Portugal. And if—in our mission, we can engage intergovernmental or civil society organizations that are pursuing those same goals—all the better.
Based on serious entrepreneurship and the youth who are interested in running the world, because Portugal is not enough!
5- What advice would you give someone who wants to enter the African market through a Portuguese ‘bridge’? More specifically, what is your opinion regarding lobbying? In Portugal, we already know the state of the art, with the recent veto of a proposal in the Republic Assembly, but in Africa, do you consider it important?
A: It does not penalize me the use of the expression.
There is, as with everything, a good and a bad side of expression, of designation, or rather—of the activity itself. But, answering as I answered you when you asked me about my life, as long as we know how to respect the codes of conduct and the ethical and deontological rules of lobbying, nothing will be out of the ordinary.
Portugal and Portuguese companies resort to lobbying the US power centers in Washington to defend the country’s interests. Portugal and Portuguese companies (or their representative associations) lobby in Brussels power centers to defend the interests of the country.
It’s infuriating that those who diabolize this activity are the first to resort to it when it interests them. Let us be relentless in its regulation, but we do not want to change the world.
Accepting, perhaps, a bad connotation of designation (and possibly even more so of activity in Portugal). But we can’t ignore it.
6- In your opinion, does the future lie in African countries? And what role will the African continent and Africans in the world play in your opinion?
A: We have always heard that Africa was the continent of the future, however postponed.
What we cannot have, as Portuguese, is a vision of “dry and wet,” of mere “trading,” of mere intrusion into a trade circuit and expect big bucks. However, we have nothing against anyone who has earned a living like this!
But it will be by creating bonds of true productive investment, obviously taking advantage of the potential of these countries, that we will create the bonds of the future. One day, we will see again that trade, done in the old days, being legitimate, enriches many.
But to have entrepreneurs, there is another type of investment, which coexists with trade. And if so, the role of development, in terms of a business relationship, will be fruitful for both sides.
Africa does not need anyone to take away its wealth. It needs those who help her to empower it to develop all the wealth there is!
7- For a wrap: What political role should Europe play in the development of Africa? A renewed role? Or is the path taken so far the correct one?
A: The one of a partner. At work, at investment, at growth, at development. Engaging and avenging—as I mentioned above—like true partners! And by partnerships, we all have to understand that they do not overlap one side to the other. If we can do this (and we have an obligation to do so because we know Africa well), we will deserve the praise and thanks of future generations.
Because, if we are not able to do so, another generation will. And then, not only won’t you thank us, because we didn’t, but you won’t look at us very kindly, because we weren’t able to. As they say in Africa “we are together”. We really have to be!