The open African secret

Hussein Shobokshi

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The African continent is often described as the promised last market — a clear destination for major industrial states and multinational corporations. The Dark Continent offers many investment opportunities and has huge reserves of wealth in the ground.

It is a continent that is capable of absorbing all the investment opportunities it needs. It is in the urgent need of infrastructure and modern-life requirements, like airports, ports, electricity, railways, hospitals and sewage systems. But the continent also faces many important challenges — the pervasive corruption, security constraints, political deterioration and the pliant judiciary.

I have the advantage to know about the continent as I am a member of a family with a history of long trade with Africa. Ali Shobokshi, my grandfather’s father who had the same name, traded with the east African countries in food and livestock and he died in Port Sudan and was buried there.

My grandfather Hussein Shobokshi traded with Ethiopia and Eritrea and my father traded with Uganda and Tanzania. He had a good relationship with the leaders there. His political interactions and trade ties prompted him to write an important book, sharing his views and experiences about Africa.

Today China has embarked on a long-term plan to acquire the largest share in the African market, keeping in view the palpable indifference of the two traditional colonial powers that dominated the African market — Britain and France. One of the most important features of China’s Africa plan is that it does not measure the amount of investment in Africa in dollar terms but in the number of individuals. There was a plan to have 10 million Chinese permanent residents in the continent by 2010 and it succeeded.

East Africa offers the greatest opportunities for Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries to continue the old and successful Hadrami investment in agricultural and real estate

Hussein Shobokshi

Demographic change

As a result of the demographic change, some African countries — Zimbabwe, Ethiopia and Sudan — have become completely reliant on China for their economies. These countries completely depend on Chinese financing for metro in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, oil companies in Sudan, major buildings in Khartoum, and many infrastructure projects in Zimbabwe.

Japan also recently entered the market, announcing a very ambitious plan for long-term investment in the Dark Continent. These opportunities come amid American confusion over economic policies toward the continent. There are four major economies in the continent: South Africa, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Ghana. There are a number of other important economies, which cannot be ignored, such as Algeria, Morocco, Guinea, Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya with some opportunities in different countries.

East Africa offers the greatest opportunities for Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries to continue the old and successful Hadrami investment in agricultural and real estate. They have very important and successful sale in coffee, tea, fruits and vegetables in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Sudan, Kenya and Uganda. For these areas, India is also betting as it has historical presence since the days of British colonialism. There is a promising, far-reaching and important outcome that has been made available to communications, contracting, mining, banking and agriculture companies in more than one African country.

The ancient history of Arab-African trade and geographical proximity makes Arabs the most likely partner to succeed with the African continent, but the importance of changing the style and way of dealing remains. Europe is out of date and there is no chance for market growth there, Asia is overcrowded, and America is expensive. Africa offers an important opportunity to invest and achieve remarkable returns, but it does not receive enough recognition and attention.

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on July 31, 2017.
(Hussein Shobokshi is a businessman and prominent columnist. Shobokshi hosts the weekly current affairs program Al Takreer on Al Arabiya, and in 1995, he was chosen as one of the "Global Leaders for Tomorrow" by the World Economic Forum. He received his B.A. in Political Science and Management from the University of Tulsa. His twitter handle is @husseinshoboksh.

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