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Saudi-Arabia ramps up investment in the New Scramble for Africa

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Picture: Presidency – President Cyril Ramaphosa visited the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia at the invitation of King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, and was hosted in Jeddah by Crown Prince and Prime Minister of the Kingdom, Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud. The inaugural Saudi-Arab-African Economic Conference took place in Riyadh last week, November 9, 2023, with 45 African leaders in attendance, talking trade, not aid, the writer says.

By Kim Heller

It is a new scramble for Africa, but it may be the same old game. In the play of monopoly power and the stake of imperialism, world powers have always looked to Africa with glee and greed. The inaugural Saudi-Arab-African Economic Conference took place in Riyadh last week. Over 45 African leaders attended the conference which was opened by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.

There was much talk about the advent of a new age of economic synergy and reciprocation between Saudi-Arabia and Africa. The language was of trade rather than aid, the lexis pointedly inflected with vowels of developmental boosts and debt solutions for the Continent.

The Saudi-Africa Summit supersized the investment of the Arab Kingdom in Africa. With a commitment to projects valued over $500million, Saudi Arabia is set to significantly increase its African imprint. Over 50 projects, focused on mining, energy, tourism, and security amongst others, were agreed upon. Nigeria emerged as a big winner. New deals with Saudi Arabia included a pledge to invest in the revamp of Nigeria’s oil refineries.

Agreements with Chad, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Senegal on oil, gas and innovation projects were also forged. Round table discussions on the opportunity landscape, training and sustainable development were all part of the mix. The Kingdom expressed its willingness to “support innovative solutions to address African debt” and improve cash flows.

The Saudi Minister of Investment, Khalid Al-Falih, spoke of how the Kingdom’s Public Investment Fund is looking at Africa with keen interest and that in due course there would be some “game-changing” announcements.

The growing interest and investment in Africa should be seen as part and parcel of Saudi Arabia’s far-reaching strategy for a new golden eon as it positions itself as a growing economic giant. It is clear that the Saudi Kingdom is intent on becoming a major power player in Africa. Its ambitious Vision 2030 is a blueprint for economic diversification, beyond oil and gas, and for its grand expansion into new geographies and industries.

The Saudi Press Agency reported on how Saudi Arabia, through the Public Investment Fund, and other strategic business partnerships, is set to invest an estimated $25 billion in Africa by 2030. This is expected to include water, cleaner energy, and security programmes.

South Africa’s Deputy President, Paul Mashatile, led the country’s delegation. In his address, he congratulated the government and the people of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on their Inaugural Summit. Mashatile said, “The geographic proximity of the Arabian Peninsula and the African Continent captures the essence and offers confirmation of the rich cultural and historical connection between the peoples of our ancient lands.”

He spoke of how Saudi Arabia is poised as one of the foremost partners to the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA). The Deputy President said, “With its strategic position as a gateway between Africa, Asia, and Europe, Saudi Arabia can play a vital role in realising the full potential of the AfCFTA.

“By facilitating trade and investment, the Kingdom can contribute to the transformation of African countries from mainly being exporters of raw materials to producers of finished goods for both continental and global markets.”

Mashatile spoke too of the possibility and potential of university partnerships to “develop cutting-edge solutions to the challenges we face, from healthcare and education to agriculture and infrastructure”. In conclusion, Mashatile said, “Your Majesty, we look forward to fruitful outcomes of the first-ever Saudi-Africa summit. Between our sister peoples and our ancient cultures, we have a duty to build a better world, the world we want.”

For South Africa, the conference was an important event. Saudi Arabia is South Africa’s second largest trading partner in the Middle East region. Last year, trade between the two countries was estimated to be close to R80 billion. At the summit, the agreement to lift the ban of red meat imports to Saudi Arabia from South Africa was signed.

In his address, Kenya’s President William Ruto focused on the need for a strengthened partnership between Saudi Arabia and Africa in the sphere of clean energy development and sustainability. Ruto said, “This emerging market is hungry for development and abounds with attractive investment opportunities.”

He spoke of how by pooling their collective hydrocarbon and green energy resources, Africa, and Saudi Arabia, could go a long way to meet current and future global energy demands. Ruto said, “If we work together, we can provide the world with effective solutions to the global climate crises.”

Saudi Arabia is a good financial friend to have. With its rising prosperity and prowess in the Middle East, and with a presence at both G20 and BRICS, its influence and impact are set to grow. Time will tell whether the budding partnership with Africa will be a gamechanger for either or both parties.

Yahaya Lawal, the Ambassador of Nigeria to Saudi Arabia said, “From time immemorial, even long before the establishment of modern nations states in Africa and the Middle East, these two regions have had age-old interactions as neighbours bound by history and geography.”

It all sounds very noble and encouraging. Sentimental almost. For now, it is a friendly enough game. Whether it will be the gamechanger it promises to be is still in the making. The new deal with Saudi Arabia may just be the same old sorry tale of an unequal partnership. Africa is often the loser in such partnerships.

Most African nations, both in colonial and neo-colonial times, have been in the service of building and developing foreign nations, at great cost to its own fate and fortunes. International relations expert, author and academic, Dr David Matsanga, spoke of how many African leaders left the conference with a rich basket of “goodies”.

For those African leaders who are ruling over food short and conflict torn countries, a bundle of economic treats may make them feel like big winners. For now. But in the end, the real prize is sustainable economic self-determination.

Africa needs its very own homegrown economic summit. Not one that rest or vest on the vision, ideas, or investments of other nations but on a united quest for an Africa that is in full bloom and flourish.

The future of Africa’s economy will be best built on an endogenous determination and dedication to self-investment and self-powering. The African Union’s Agenda 2063 which envisages an African Renaissance and widespread prosperity for the Continent, is a faraway fantasy age. The African Union anthem speaks of making Africa the Tree of Life. For now, Africa is more bonsai than Baobab.

Kim Heller is a political analyst and author of ‘No White Lies: Black Politics and White Power in South Africa’.

This article was written exclusively for The African. To republish, see terms and conditions.