23 October 2018

Africa: Will Khashoggi Debacle Sink Mega African Projects?

Photo: CIO East Africa
(File photo).

The disappearance of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi has shaken Saudi Arabia's many international ties and raised serious concerns about it political and economic links to the African continent. Legalbrief reports that the future of the kingdom’s proposed megacity (33 times the size of New York) linking it to Africa via a bridge over the Red Sea is now in doubt.

Since Khashoggi went missing after visiting the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on 2 October, at least four board members have pulled out of a megacity development to be backed by $500bn in investments. At 16 400km2, the megacity would be one of the largest cities in the world to run on 100% renewable energy. Business Insider reports that its name, Neom – from the Arabic terms for ‘new’ and ‘future’ – symbolises its utopian vision of robot workers and drone taxis.

The project is closely tied to the Saudi government, and particularly to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whom Khashoggi had criticised in his reporting. Neelie Kroes, a former European Commission vice president, said she would suspend her involvement ‘until more is known’ about the Khashoggi tragedy. Full Business Insider report

Saudi Arabia is one of several Gulf and Middle-Eastern countries scrambling for control of ports across the Horn of Africa, in a race that analysts say could benefit, but also potentially destabilise, the already fragile east-African region. A report on the Raconteur site notes that Saudi Arabia and the UAE have become active in ports and military bases in Djibouti, Eritrea and Somalia, while Qatar and Turkey, who align with Saudi Arabia’s regional rival Iran, are building in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, and the Red Sea port of Suakin, off the coast of Sudan.

‘We are seeing a race between regional and global players to take advantage of big opportunities located in the region,’ said Camille Lons, programme co-ordinator at the European Council on Foreign Relations. The Horn of Africa is strategically located next to one of the world’s busiest sea lanes, with access to both the Red Sea and Indian Ocean. Every day, about 5m barrels of crude and petroleum products flow through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, a neck of water bordered by Eritrea and Djibouti. Full report on the Raconteur site

Saudi Arabia recently committed to investing $10bn in South Africa. Legalbrief reports that it also purchases weapons from South Africa which, in turn, exports about R4.4bn in products to that country each year. As a result, it is not surprising that Pretoria says it will not halt several upcoming bilateral engagements. This despite the fact that President Cyril Ramaphosa cancelled State Security Minister Dipuo Letsatsi-Duba’s planned trip to Dubai to meet with the Saudi Arabian head of intelligence.

A report on The Citizen site notes that South Africa is expected to host investors from Saudi Arabia this week during the International Investment Conference. Department of Trade and Industry spokesperson Sidwell Medupi said the department was also expecting a technical team from the Saudi government to visit South Africa shortly as part of its ongoing talks for partnership in the energy sector. Meanwhile, it appears neither the defence department, arms manufacturer Denel nor the presidency is in the loop about a multibillion-rand arms trade deal Saudi Arabia wants to cut with South Africa. Denel denied any involvement in talks earlier this month. Full report on The Citizen site

Saudi Arabia has much to answer for – including rerailing the Arab Spring, funding and arming Egypt's military coup, laying siege on Qatar, bombing Yemen, allying with Israel against Palestinians, seeking military action against Iran, outlawing legitimate civil society formations and resistance movements such as Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and Hezbollah as ‘terrorists’, and stoking intra-Muslim strife.

That’s the view of Iqbal Jassat in an analysis on the Iol site. He argues that critics, whether in South Africa or elsewhere, are probably aware of Saudi intelligence ties to Israel's notorious Mossad.Although international outrage against the killing has been as loud as media coverage, the South African Government has yet to make its stance known. Justifiably, critics will question whether the controversial yet lucrative arms trade and the pledge of billions of dollars made to President Ramaphosa, will hold us hostage to a rogue regime's contempt for human rights. ‘ Full analysis on the IoL site

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