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Destination Africa, Part I

Destination Africa, Part I

One benefit of the global recession is that it may encourage GCC multinationals to become major investors south of the Sahara, Part I.

April 29, 2009 4:19 by

When it comes to the African continent, Harry Broadman isn’t like most economists. Where many of his colleagues still see a basket case, he believes there lies growing potential that’s worth pursuing even in unsteady times.

“I see lots of investment opportunities in Africa that are particularly attractive in this environment,” says the former adviser for the Africa region at the World Bank. “Because the financial sectors of many of these countries have been delinked from the global economy, they’ve been relatively spared from the strongest effects of the global recession.”

The author of “Africa’s Silk Road,” a 2006 book about the continent’s growing business ties with Asia, today Broadman is the managing director of The Albright Group and the chief economist of Albright Capital Management, a global strategy firm and an investment advisory that focus on emerging markets.

Despite the persisting risks of doing business on African soil, Broadman says that economic links to the Gulf region, and to the developing giants farther east, are part of a growing trend. While the bulk of international business has historically occurred via the rich northern countries, today more big investment deals are happening directly between developing, southern regions.

“What we’re witnessing is sort of the maturation of South-South investment and trade,” Broadman says. “And Africa epitomizes this.”

A growing list of GCC multinationals seems to agree with Broadman’s optimistic view of their neighbor. In February, Dubai-based DP World opened what it calls East Africa’s largest container terminal, on a purpose-built island a kilometer off Djibouti’s coast. Then in March, Kuwait-based Zain Telecom expanded into its seventeenth African country by purchasing a 31 percent stake in Morocco’s Wana telecom for $324 million. That same month, Riyadh also received its first shipment of rice from Ethiopian farmland purchased by Saudi investors as part of the country’s emerging food security program.

The Gulf’s African ventures have traditionally clustered along the continent’s Arabic-speaking northern fringe, in countries like Egypt and Morocco. Since the millennium, however, GCC firms have been announcing more and more projects in sub-Saharan countries, from Guinea to Rwanda.

The pace of GCC investment is picking up speed, topping $15 billion from 2007 to mid-2008, according to one estimate from the Gulf Research Center (GRC), a Dubai-based think tank. Rather than buckling from the global downturn, analysts say it could actually strengthen investment between the two regions.

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