Qatar opens door to Africa

Since assuming power, Amir of Qatar H H Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, has embarked on a series of tours to Africa, where he visited a number of countries, and hosted a large number of African leaders in Doha — more than any other Gulf leader. His Highness was accompanied during these tours by delegates composed of high profile ministers and key advisors in investment and development. From east Africa to west Africa, His Highness discussed a number of issues and signed many investment and economic pacts, memoranda and other initiatives that aim at boosting economic partnerships with those countries.

Qatar is steadily building its presence and putting an increasing weight on the African continent. In fact, H H the Amir is building on his father legacy in Africa where Qatar has made significant efforts to engage with Africa in different aspects.

H H the Amir’s visits to those African nations, indicate the strategic importance given by His Highness to the continent and its potential for cooperation in different areas such as political relations, investment, and security. The tour has significantly elevated and transformed Qatar’s engagement with Africa in different ways and marked a new strategy for Africa, a strategy of cooperation and partnership.

Beyond the economic and political opportunities that Africa has to offer, Qatar is also interested in the continent security and peace by reinforcing its commitment to fighting terrorism and mediating crises in some troubled African nations. During the tour of His Highness, Qatar reached a mutual understanding with Mali in security cooperation which will provide surveillance, military and financial aid to help the country in its efforts in fighting terrorism.

In fact, Qatar has also been a vigorous player mediating conflicts and contributing to various peace efforts in Africa. In 2010 Qatar played a significant role in the mediation of border disputes between Eritrea and Djibouti. In Sudan, Qatar patiently hosted and mediated the peace process in Darfur which resulted in the Doha Agreement in 2011.

Doha’s involvement in Africa in this regard has been particularly noticeable and received international appreciation.

His Highness visits, also focused on trade and investment rather than the traditional aid. Since 2005, Qatari investment on the continent has largely targeted opportunities in the service sector, insurance, finance telecom, mineral, tourism, health and agriculture.

Throughout his trips, H H Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani emphasized the importance of economic partnership and investments with the continent. Qatar has pledged more than 800 million dollars to development projects in Africa, including $13.8m for funding a cancer hospital in Burkina Faso; $40m for children education in Mali; $42m for projects in Ghana; an ongoing budgetary support to the Federal Government of Somalia; more than $6m aid to Burkina Faso, Senegal, Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire.

In addition to different investment projects in Sudan, Morocco, Mali, Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya and Ethiopia, to name a few. Qatar also has succeeded in providing thousands of jobs for young Tunisians through the Qatari-Tunisian Friendship Fund. Qatar National Bank has acquired banks in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, and set up branches in Mauritania, Sudan and South Sudan.

To witness this expansion, Qatar airways has significantly increased its flights over African space which cover 48 destinations.

H H the Amir visits to the continent initiated a pivot to Qatar-Africa policy, a little further away from aid and closer towards business, investment, and mutual opportunities. It looks clear that His Highness has made it a foreign policy priority to establish new ties with those strategic emerging African countries that he visited.

This led many Africans to believe that the continent might gain more prominence in Qatar foreign policy and investment. It also showed that a lot could be accomplished by engaging the Qataris and Africans in a way to serve the interests of both sides.

Africa matters, a reality that will only grow more important as the continent’s economies continue to transform. Africa is no longer a stagnant continent contaminated with wars, famine and hopelessness as the stereotype suggested. Africa is rich in its natural resources and full of opportunities. Africa matters to Qatar because it offers an immense potential for trade and investment for the Qatari private sector that not only creates capital flows back to Qatar, but also results in job creation in those African countries.

Indeed, His Highness was uniquely positive in his vision of Africa’s economic potential. In this context, the Amir’s tours could be seen as a drive to open doors to Africa, the fastest growing economies in the world, and explore mutual benefits and provide more opportunities amid the ongoing blockade, which will provide Qatar with a valuable new tool of soft power.

His Highness has laid down a framework and a new direction for the Qatari private sector to get engaged with Africa. He recognised not only how supporting this momentum could transform the bilateral relationship, but also how it could create investment opportunities for Qatar.

Qatari investments can go a long way in investing and partnering in Africa and the move by His Highness is bound to have impact. Many ideas and proposals could be introduced to draw incentives and support to Qatari businesses to invest in Africa.

A business summit will be a good idea for both Qataris and African business leaders to chat a new trajectory of Qatar-Africa relations. A “go out” policy with incentives, would be another good idea to encourage the Qatari private corporate to go out to Africa.

Finally, the Amir’s tours to Africa successfully defused and quelled the blockade’s countries efforts and attempts to isolate Qatar in the continent and reflected how Qatar has managed to turn the siege to its advantage. In many respects, they have been important and significant tours and will go a long way to deepening the relationship between Qatar and Africa despite the blockade. To sum-up H H the Amir’s visit to Africa has a great deal of symbolism. It is another call on the Gulf countries to change their approach to Africa.

The writer is a legal consultant in Qatar and has over 25 years experience as a lawyer and legal consultant. The author could be reached at: ibrali7@hotmail.