Saudi Arabia to Invest $1 Billion in Africa, Competing with China

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends the Future Investment Initiative (FII) conference in the Saudi capital Riyadh on October 23, 2018. - Saudi Arabia is hosting the key investment summit overshadowed by the killing of critic Jamal Khashoggi that has prompted a wave of policymakers and corporate giants to …
FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty

Saudi Arabia announced on Tuesday it plans to invest nearly $1 billion in economic support to African nations this year.

“[The] Saudi Development Fund will carry out future projects, loans and grants worth three billion riyals, or around $1 billion, in developing countries in Africa this year,” Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said in a speech while virtually attending an African debt relief summit in Paris on May 18.

“The impact of the [Chinese coronavirus] pandemic on low-income African countries was severe, as it widened the financing gap needed to achieve development goals. It is important to continue joint international efforts to overcome this crisis,” bin Salman said.

The “Saudi Development Fund,” officially the Saudi Fund for Development (SFD), is a Saudi government agency that provides financing for infrastructure and social projects in developing nations, according to its charter. The SDF resembles China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which similarly funds infrastructure projects in low-income countries, though often by crafting dubious loan structures critics describe as “debt traps.” Observers view the BRI as a means for Beijing to gain an economic and social foothold in vulnerable nations. The initiative has increasingly focused on Africa in recent years.

Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), is currently “carrying out a number of projects and activities worth SR15 billion (nearly $4billion) in energy, mining, telecommunications, food, and other sectors” on the African continent, bin Salman highlighted on May 18. He said the PIF would continue to seek “investment opportunities in the African continent, whether directly or indirectly, in other countries and sectors,” according to the Saudi Gazette.

“[T]he Saudi Fund for Development has been operating effectively in Africa for four decades, during which it provided loans and grants to more than 45 African countries amounting to over SR50 billion (approximately $13.5 billion),” bin Salman said Tuesday.

The crown prince further revealed on May 18 that the Saudi Fund for Development recently “announced an initiative of €200 million ($244.6m) to develop the [African] Sahel countries, in partnership with the French Development Agency,” according to the National, an Abu Dhabi-based newspaper.

Bin Salman pointed out on Tuesday that the Kingdom’s ongoing efforts to combat environmental phenomena in the Middle East attributed to the theory of climate change extended to many developing African countries, referring to the “Green Saudi and Green Middle East initiatives” which he announced in late March.

“[T]he initiatives are set to apply a number of ambitious programs that will reduce carbon emissions by 60 percent in the region and plant 50 billion trees in the world’s biggest afforestation project,” Arab News reported on March 27.

“The [initiatives’] tree-planting project will be double the size of the Great Green Wall in the [African] Sahel region, the second-biggest regional afforestation initiative,” according to the Saudi newspaper.

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