Africa’s Arabian “Knights”

Via The Wall Street Journal, an interesting article on the continued investment into Africa by Persian Gulf states, despite the commodities slow down at present.  As the report notes:

“…Through the worst of the global financial crisis in recent months, Gulf investors have committed to pouring billions of dollars into sub-Saharan Africa. The timing comes just as recessions in much of the developed world, and sharply slowing growth almost everywhere else, threaten most other cross-border investment flows. Indeed, sub-Saharan Africa’s ability to grow — the International Monetary Fund still projects the region’s economy will expand 3.5% this year and 5% in 2010 — depends on the Middle Eastern investors carrying through on their commitments.

Apart from aid money, rich industrialized countries have spent little on Africa. In each of the past two years, the continent, which has 12% of the world’s population, has attracted only 3% of global foreign-direct investment, which includes buying assets or setting up businesses. Today’s downturn threatens even that outlay.

The Arab world’s petrostates are also suffering. Oil prices have tumbled, and real-estate markets in places like Dubai are in the dumps. (Sunday, the city-state said the federal government of the United Arab Emirates would provide it with $10 billion in funding, allowing Dubai to service its heavy debt load.) If things get worse, these investors may have to rein in their Africa bets.

Many African leaders, frustrated by the mercurial attention paid by outside investors, especially their former European colonizers, have embraced white knights from the Persian Gulf. Arab investors are interested in ports, agriculture and telecommunications, as well as the minerals and oil patches that have attracted Western and Asian investors.

“What the Arabs are doing for us is what colonialists should have done for Africa,” said Djibouti President Ismail Guelleh, whose sliver of a nation on the Horn of Africa is enjoying an economic turnaround thanks primarily to Gulf money.

The stream of Gulf investment could boost Arab states’ economic and political clout in Africa. U.S. officials involved in Africa view money flows from the Arab world as a positive trend. And some in Africa view Middle Eastern money as a counterweight to dependence on China. The Arabs “aren’t just interested in taking things,” Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki said last year, alluding to the natural-resource deals that Chinese firms favor.

From 2007 until mid-2008, Gulf states and their government-backed corporate entities spent $15 billion in foreign direct investment in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the Dubai-based Gulf Research Center.

By contrast, Beijing has poured as much as $40 billion into the region over the past decade. But most of that has come in the form of bilateral aid and project financing aimed at maximizing trade relations. China contributed just $6 billion of the $43 billion in foreign direct investment in sub-Saharan Africa for all of 2007, the latest figures available from the United Nations Agency for Trade and Development.

Among the many deals put together by Middle Eastern investors, Dubai World, the Gulf emirate’s state-owned conglomerate, last month announced it was negotiating a multibillion-dollar energy-sector deal in Nigeria. In December, Qatar offered a $3.5 billion loan to Kenya to build a deepwater port and rebuild coastal roads.

Zain Group, a cellphone company owned by Kuwait’s Mobile Telecommunications Co., unveiled plans last week for a mobile-phone-based banking network across East Africa. The company already operates in 16 African countries, and it said in November that it was willing to spend $4 billion on acquisitions in Africa.

For places like Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Qatar, sub-Saharan Africa is a vast, untapped market full of cheap assets. It is relatively close to home, and the two regions enjoy longstanding trade ties. Gulf companies also view their assets in Africa as a hedge against recent losses racked up in U.S. and European banking and real-estate deals.

Private Saudi investors have opened banks in Sudan and signed agricultural deals there. Ras Al Khaimah — one of the emirates that, along with better-known Dubai and Abu Dhabi, make up the U.A.E. — is building residential communities in the Democratic Republic of Congo.


“Africa is as important to us now as it was six months ago,” Mohammed Sharaf, DP World’s chief executive, said during a trip earlier this month to Djibouti for the opening of the company’s new container terminal, the largest in sub-Saharan Africa.

Dubai’s investment has reshaped Djibouti, a torrid and dry land dotted with salt flats and craggy plains. When Mr. Guelleh took office in 1999, he helped mediate an end to a long civil war. Traffic at the port, the country’s main revenue source, had dried to a trickle.

The World Bank and IMF prescribed a familiar remedy: Cut government payrolls, privatize national assets, clean up corruption and raise taxes, all as a condition for receiving low-cost financing. But Mr. Guelleh said he believed those moves alone weren’t enough to reverse Djibouti’s fate.

In May 2000, he flew to Dubai and signed a deal with the city-state’s ruler that included an exclusive, joint-development plan for the port. Djibouti awarded DP World of Dubai a 20-year concession to run its port. Dubai also agreed to build a $400 million oil terminal and a container terminal. Djibouti would own a two-thirds stake in each, with Dubai holding the rest.

Throughout the Horn of Africa, the Djibouti port has triggered spinoff investments from businesses interested in entering Ethiopia. Djibouti’s turnaround has prompted Gulf investors to look elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa for money-making opportunities.”

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