Riyadh set to host African leaders to boost trade, diplomatic ties
DUBAI: Leaders from 50 countries across the Middle East and Africa will gather in Riyadh for the first Saudi-African summit on November 10.
Saudi and African officials hope the meeting will result in a long-term partnership between the Kingdom and the African Union, capitalizing on pre-existing economic, cultural and diplomatic relations while setting out to forge new ones.
Separated by the narrow stretches of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba, Saudi Arabia’s geographic proximity to the African continent means they have a long history of shared cultural and linguistic ties predating the birth of Islam .
“Africa and Saudi Arabia share common geography, culture and traditions,” Yahaya Lawal, Nigeria’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, told Arab News.
“We are linked by history. Islam spread in Africa. Saudi Arabia and Africa are linked by Islamic culture and tradition.
Formal ties were first established between the Kingdom and several African countries in the 1960s, when they gained independence from European colonialism.
Lawal said: “Our relationship has grown since then. Saudi Arabia is a very important partner for us.
At a ceremony celebrating Africa Day in May this year, Waleed bin Abdulkarim El-Khereiji, Saudi Deputy Foreign Minister, said the Kingdom recognized the need to support the development of African nations.
Since its establishment in 1974, the Saudi Fund for Development has provided 580 loans and grants worth a total of approximately $13.5 billion to more than 54 African countries.
The Kingdom currently maintains diplomatic relations with 54 African countries, operates 31 resident missions and is working on opening 13 more missions in the near future, El-Khereiji added. Another range of projects, loans and grants worth more than $800 million are also in the pipeline.
The Arab world includes 22 countries, including 10 in Africa: Comoros, Somalia, Djibouti, Sudan, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and Mauritania. These nations constitute an important cultural bridge between continents.
“As a member of the Arab League and an African nation, both summits are important for us,” Dya-Eddine Said Bamakhrama, Ambassador of the Republic of Djibouti to Saudi Arabia, told Arab News.
“Relations between Africa and Saudi Arabia are not new,” he added, stressing that they have been “very strong” since Djibouti’s independence 40 years ago.
The first Saudi-African summit aims to strengthen political coordination between the Kingdom and the continent, promoting joint action, economic development and investment cooperation.
Bamakhrama said: “This summit has been long awaited by African nations. »
The fifth Arab-African summit, which was due to take place on November 11 after a seven-year hiatus, has been postponed. A statement said this was due to the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza and the commitment to prevent regional political events from impacting the Arab-African partnership focused on developmental and economic dimensions. The summit was originally planned for 2020 but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Its new date has not yet been announced.
The fourth Arab-African summit took place in November 2016 in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. It concluded with the approval of the Malabo Declaration, in which Arab and African countries committed to strengthening cooperation in the areas of sustainable development, security and peace.
“Riyadh is today one of the most important capitals in the Middle East region and the world. Holding these two summits side by side in Riyadh is very important for all African countries,” added Bamakhrama.
The Islamic Development Bank, or IDB, created in Jeddah in 1975, has long financed projects in Africa. It provides loans and credits to member countries to support the development of social and physical infrastructure. Among its 57 member countries are 27 African countries.
From 1975 to June 2022, the IDB has advanced financing worth approximately $65 billion to African countries, including $20 billion for trade financing activities as well as energy, education projects , health and road transport.
On May 25, the African Union celebrated its 60th anniversary. From its inception, it aimed to liberate the continent from colonialism, strengthen African solidarity, eliminate economic underdevelopment and elevate the continent in international decision-making.
Six decades later, although there is still much to do, the continent is booming and has immense economic potential. Covering an area larger than China, Europe, the United States and India combined, Africa also has the youngest and fastest growing population in the world.
According to the UN, by 2050, one in four people will be African. As birth rates decline in rich countries, Africa’s population is expected to double to 2.5 billion over the next 25 years.
African youth are full of new ideas, eager to launch initiatives and work in a variety of sectors. Cities across the continent are also expanding rapidly, creating space for new markets and industries.
Saudi Arabia has quickly recognized Africa’s potential for increased economic, social and political partnerships, and African officials are eager to encourage investment.
“These two summits are very important because they will bring closer and solidify the existing bridges that have always existed between the Arabian Peninsula and the African continent,” Lawal said.
Trade and investment will not be the only ones on the agenda of the next summit. Security issues, including regional conflicts and extremist insurgencies, are also a source of common concern.
“We have common challenges to discuss. I think we will discuss many of our problems at the summits. Saudi Arabia has always been a formidable partner and is already pursuing mediation initiatives in several African conflicts,” Lawal added.
Saudi Arabia helped broker talks between Sudan’s armed forces and paramilitary rapid support forces, which plunged Sudan into violence and humanitarian catastrophe in April.
Since the start of the war more than six months ago, several rounds of talks have taken place in Jeddah to establish a ceasefire and allow the delivery of humanitarian aid. Talks sponsored by the United States and Saudi Arabia, as well as the African Union, resumed on October 30.
“The Kingdom contributes not only to peace initiatives and conflict resolution, but also to the development of Africa,” Lawal said.
Stability and development will be essential to unlocking Africa’s full potential. But equipping young Africans with the tools they need to transform their societies requires investment in education programs – which is why this issue will be on the summit agenda.
Bamakhrama said: “Without education you cannot understand the world we live in. Education is vital for Africa’s development. »
Hosting these twin conferences sends a strong signal to the African continent that Saudi Arabia is committed to building on its existing relationships and identifying new ways to forge a common vision for development.
“There are already significant investments from the Gulf Cooperation Council in Africa. Through these summits, we will be able to deepen our cooperation and make our investments stronger and more practical,” added Bamakhrama.