First Saudi-Africa summit: What Both Sides Stand to Gain

Assessing these latest updates provides valuable insights into the challenges and successes of Saudi and African collaborative efforts, informing the strategies employed in the current summit to further expand and deepen economic ties.

The inaugural Saudi-African summit on promoting trade relations was recently held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s capital, on November 10, 2023. King Salmane ben Abdelaziz Al Saud had earlier sent an invitation to numerous African heads of state to attend the inaugural summit. Some ministers and heads of state of Mauritania, Djibouti, Nigeria, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Kenya, Ethiopia, and the Seychelles were present. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the military commander and de facto leader of Sudan, as well as the leaders of Gabon, Niger, and other African countries being shunned by Europe and the US, also participated.

The summit marked another key moment in the collaborative efforts between Saudi Arabia and African nations, specifically in the context of growing geopolitical competition between the Middle East rivals and the importance of Africa with regards to trade and investment.

The summit, despite its significance, was also greeted with scepticism due to the attendance of ‘coup’ states, as critics questioned Saudi Arabia’s commitment to Africa’s best interests and governing principles.

Historically, Saudi Arabia and African countries have engaged in diplomatic and economic relations, with a significant emphasis on energy cooperation. Saudi Arabia, being a major oil exporter, has played a vital role in supplying energy resources to African nations, fostering mutual dependence and collaboration. Past trade agreements have primarily revolved around the energy sector, laying the foundation for a broader economic partnership.

Over the years, the economic landscape has evolved, prompting both Saudi Arabia and African nations to diversify their interests. Previous joint initiatives have seen investments in sectors beyond energy, including agriculture and technology. This also reflects a shared commitment to creating a more balanced and sustainable economic relationship that goes beyond the traditional boundaries of energy cooperation.

Trade and Development Initiatives

As Riyadh welcomed African leaders on the day, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman suggested $5 billion in development funding for African countries in addition to $10 billion to finance and guarantee Saudi exports through 2030.

Through the Saudi Fund for Development (SDF), the monarchy “inked memoranda of understanding and agreements for development loans with twelve African nations.”

For many years, the Kingdom has made notable and noticeable contributions to the infrastructure and socioeconomic development of numerous African nations through the Saudi Fund for Development.

The fund is renowned for having generously provided funding for development initiatives in over 44 African nations, allowing the Kingdom to participate in the concessional financing of various African nations’ development initiatives.

It’s also critical to note that Saudi Arabia, which joined the African Development Bank in 1983, collaborates with the bank on co-financing projects via the Saudi Fund for Development. Additionally, the bank has approved a number of co-financing projects with organisations that receive significant support from Saudi Arabia, such as the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development, the OPEC Fund for International Development, and the Islamic Development Bank Group, of which the Kingdom is the largest shareholder.

While investing in Africa is by no means new for Riyadh, it appears that the Saudis are making a concerted effort to make key partnerships with Africa. The summit’s primary goal is to deepen relations between the Kingdom and African nations. More than $45 billion has been invested by Saudi Arabia in projects throughout 54 African nations. As part of the Saudi King’s initiatives, it is reported that Saudi Arabia will spend over $1 billion on development projects in African nations over a ten-year period, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced.

The crown prince said: “We are committed to developing cooperative relations with African countries and developing trade. From this rostrum, we announce the launch of the initiative of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques [the King of Saudi Arabia] for the development of Africa worth over a billion dollars for a period of ten years.”

He also mentioned that there will be “an innovative solution to resolve the debt problem of African countries” and that Riyadh will support “the right of countries to develop natural resources and self-sufficiency.”

Africa-Saudi’s bound

Africa and Saudi Arabia have long engaged as neighbours bounded by geography and history, even before the creation of contemporary nation-states in Africa and the Middle East.

Through human interaction, Africa and the Arab world are known to have maintained successful commerce, cultural, and civilizational exchanges. Africa and the Arab world share not only a common geography and population but also a common destiny and interest, which naturally necessitates close cooperation for the benefit of their peoples. Apart from human interaction, there has always been a leap in economic cooperation between the two regions, as Saudi Arabia has been an active contributor to Africa’s developmental aspirations.

The Saudi Press Agency recently released that “to mitigate the effects of climate change and curb the most influential sources of gas emissions into the atmosphere, His Royal Highness the Crown Prince launched several initiatives, including the Green Middle East Initiative. The initiative encompasses multiple African countries and aims to plant over 50 billion trees and reduce more than 10% of global carbon emissions.”

The above highlights a way to step up global efforts to discover novel solutions that let Africa make the most of its resources and internal capacities, maximising the benefits of the Kingdom’s investments and development initiatives in African nations on an economic and social level.

Also, Yahaya Lawal, the ambassador of Nigeria to Saudi Arabia, noted that it is not surprising that “after the attainment of independence by most African countries in the 1960s, relations were prioritised with their Arab neighbours.” It should be recalled that the struggle for freedom in Africa was also supported by Arab nations.”

“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a major and strategic Arab state and African neighbour, was one of the first countries with which the emergent independent African states hurried to establish formal diplomatic relations.”

From the angle of the Hajj pilgrimage, Africa-Saudi collaboration has significantly expanded over the past 60 years to include a variety of mutually beneficial fields, including sustainable development, trade, investment, education, health, sports, culture, mining, and oil and gas.

On the entertainment level, many professionals from different African nations—among them, some of the most esteemed football players—are actively engaged in fostering relationships and enhancing collaboration across a wide range of human endeavours.

Furthermore, in attempting to advance South-South cooperation, Saudi Arabia, the Middle East, and Africa—all constituents of the Global South—share a common vision for a fair and just international order at the multilateral level. Hence, there is a need to collaborate on regional and international issues of mutual interest and concern.

What Saudi Arabia stands to gain

Africa is a naturally and human resources-bless continent with diverse landscapes, rich soils, and abundant water, providing a foundation for agriculture and ecological diversity. The continent is home to an array of valuable minerals and resources beneath its soil. Equally important is its young and vibrant population, offering a demographic advantage for economic growth and innovation. Africa’s wealth extends beyond its natural treasures; it lies in the resilience, diversity, and potential of its people, contributing to the continent’s unique and promising position for future development.

The summit, however, holds immense potential for Saudi Arabia, paving the way for expanded economic partnerships that could bring substantial benefits. Firstly, increased collaboration in trade and investment opens up new avenues for economic diversification for Saudi Arabia; Saudi Arabia can tap into a myriad of sectors beyond its traditional focus on energy. This diversification not only mitigates economic risks associated with overdependence on oil but also positions Saudi Arabia to benefit from Africa’s burgeoning industries, including infrastructure, technology, and agriculture.

Also, many African nations are experiencing rapid economic development, presenting fertile ground for Saudi investments. Engaging in joint ventures and strategic partnerships allows Saudi Arabia to participate in and contribute to Africa’s economic boom. This will without doubt position Saudi Arabia as a significant player in the global economic landscape.

Furthermore, enhanced economic partnerships with Africa align with Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, a comprehensive plan aimed at transforming the nation’s economy. This synergy creates a win-win situation where Saudi Arabia gains access to new markets, resources, and investment opportunities while African nations benefit from Saudi expertise, capital, and technology transfer.

Another foundation for cooperation is provided by the African Union’s Agenda 2063. The idea to hold the summit as a new forum for collaboration demonstrates the Kingdom’s unwavering belief in Africa and its enormous potential.

Conclusively, it is pertinent to state that the two parties’ cooperation should include every other field, such as routine bilateral political coordination and discussions, energy, health, education, transportation, climate, environment, peace, and many others. With these, Saudi Arabia will unlock more economic potential and foster long-term, mutually beneficial collaborations with African nations.

Educator, writer and legal researcher at Alafarika for Studies and Consultancy.

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