US, WASHINGTON (ORDO NEWS) — Slowly but surely, Riyadh begins to look west. After many years of relatively modest interaction with the countries of East Africa, Saudi Arabia is today embarking on an ambitious plan for engaging in geopolitical affairs and the economy of the Black Continent.
In January, heads of five East African states (Sudan, Djibouti, Somalia, Eritrea, and Egypt) and three Middle Eastern states (Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Jordan) gathered in the capital of Saudi Arabia to sign an agreement on the creation of the Council of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden – a new basis for expanding trade and diplomacy in the region, writes Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council, at The National Interest.
Riyadh’s interest in the council, the creation of which took almost three years, is quite logical. The development of the corridor between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea – including tourism and trade – is an important part of economic diversification in Vision 2030, initiated by the actual ruler of the kingdom, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. It should be noted that up to 13% of world trade currently passes through this waterway.
However, the Council of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden is just one element of Saudi Arabia’s large-scale turn to neighboring Africa, which Riyadh increasingly sees as an integral part of its economic prosperity, internal security and geopolitical position.
Over the past few years, the kingdom has significantly expanded its participation in the economy of the continent. As of 2018, Saudi Arabia took fifth place among the largest international investors in Africa, having invested about $ 4 billion in various projects throughout the region (from the energy sector of South Africa to the defense industry in Sudan).
Economic interaction is determined by the internal needs of Riyadh. Only 2% of all land in Saudi Arabia is suitable for agricultural use, and for this reason, the country is heavily dependent on food imports.
The Saudi authorities have been trying to mitigate this dependence over the past decade by actively investing in agricultural holdings in East Africa as part of the Food Security Initiative. Saudi entrepreneurs have already acquired thousands of hectares of land in Africa for agricultural purposes.
The kingdom’s current population of 32 million is projected to reach 45 million by 2050, and this growth will inevitably lead to a sharp increase in food demand. Africa, with its vast arable land and fertile soil, is the logical response to the anticipated boom.
However, Riyadh’s interest in Africa is due not only to the economic potential of the Black continent. The Kingdom is well aware that its presence there is becoming increasingly important to contain potential threats to its security.
One of the main goals of the Council of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden is to combat maritime piracy, which will certainly help protect the vulnerable western flank of Saudi Arabia.
Today, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman faces many important challenges. He began a radical reorientation of the kingdom from the oil economy, as well as a large-scale restructuring of social and cultural norms in order to keep up with the expectations of the country’s younger generation.
At the same time, Saudi Arabia is still embroiled in a bloody civil war in neighboring Yemen, in strategic confrontation with its regional rival Iran and ideological rivalry with Qatar.
On this multifaceted agenda, Africa is a relatively bright spot – it promises greater security and prosperity for the kingdom. For this reason, Saudi interest in the Black Continent and its presence there will undoubtedly only increase in the coming years.
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