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Destination Africa, Part II

Destination Africa, Part II

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

April 30, 2009 7:15 by

Click here to read Part I.

GCC markets lost more than half their value in 2008. And the Gulf states’ overseas investments (60 percent of which are dollar-denominated) have depreciated by a whopping 30 percent since the crisis began, according to a February estimate from the Riyadh-based GCC secretariat.

Venturing into sub-Saharan Africa – as Abu Dhabi-based Mubadala and the Dubai Aluminum Company are doing through Guinea’s bauxite mines, for example – will presumably help diversify government holdings, shoring them up in case such calamities should recur.

While African states were largely spared from the initial shock of the financial crisis, many are now feeling the effects of the global recession. Indeed, the African Development Bank has set up a $1.5 billion emergency fund to deal with the recession’s growing footprint. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, falling commodity prices have reportedly forced more than 60 Chinese-owned mines to close, while a further 100 mines are said to have been shuttered to the south in Zambia.

Retreating investment is clearly bad news for stricken African states. But it may also pave the way for companies that still have access to funds, to step in and expand there. From agriculture to tourism, sub-Saharan Africa is home to a host of virtually untapped markets, which cash-rich GCC firms are well positioned to try and corner. Gulf telecoms, for example, are facing growing competition and saturated markets at home. To the south, however, the industry is growing faster than anywhere in the world, making it an ideal place for them to focus on.

“Africa has the land and the primary resources, while the Gulf states have the capacity to invest in infrastructure, which will benefit the entire continent,” Bos says. “So I think they will continue to seek each other out for a while.”

The downside. The world’s second-largest continent receives only a dismal 1 percent of global foreign direct investment, and unfortunately there are legitimate reasons that many companies choose to steer clear. Corruption, political instability and lacking infrastructure can make it challenging to operate there, especially on a large scale. Deep pockets or not, GCC firms are still vulnerable to local problems.

Nigeria is one example, where Dubai World hopes to become a major player in the country’s expansive oil patch. Interfaith violence there has been a lasting problem, and trade in stolen oil continues to feed corruption.

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