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Saudi Influence in Africa

Date & time : Monday, 11 June 2018

Abstract

Recent Saudi moves in Africa show new horizons of Saudi foreign policy as it isn’t limited to a particular direction. It seek to open new horizons In untraditional spaces like Africa. Saudi Arabia seeks to take a leadership role in African-Arab joint actions and counter some of the progress Iran has made in recent years in the Horn of Africa. It also wants to diversify its regional allies, in order to meet it public policy’s goals such as food security by expanding its agricultural projects in countries with abundant water and land resources in the Nile Basin region.

Saudi political coordination with some African countries was evident when Djibouti and Somalia, like Sudan, broke off ties with Iran against the backdrop of the January 2016 attack by protesters on the Saudi Arabia Embassy in Tehran.

To secure economic interests, Saudi Arabia has intensified investments, particularly in the agriculture sector, focusing on the abundant water and fertile soil in the Nile Basin countries, especially Sudan and Ethiopia.

Also Saudi Arabia appears intent on reaching across the Red Sea to build alliances in the Horn of Africa, where piracy, drug and weapons smuggling, and terrorism threaten commerce in the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

Saudi political coordination with some African countries was evident when Djibouti and Somalia, like Sudan, broke off ties with Iran against the backdrop of the January 2016 attack by protesters on the Saudi Arabia Embassy in Tehran.

To secure economic interests, Saudi Arabia has intensified investments, particularly in the agriculture sector, focusing on the abundant water and fertile soil in the Nile Basin countries, especially Sudan and Ethiopia.

Also Saudi Arabia appears intent on reaching across the Red Sea to build alliances in the Horn of Africa, where piracy, drug and weapons smuggling, and terrorism threaten commerce in the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

This was clearly revealed during Saudis’ intervention in Yemen. Over the past year, they built a coalition with African partners to help dislodge Houthi rebels who were in control of most of the country, including the capital, Sana’a.

Eritrea played a key role, although it was not technically part of the Saudis 12 nation coalition. Eritrea allowed the United Arab Emirates to use an airbase and logistics hub in the port town of Assab. The two countries also shared intelligence.

Saudi Investments in Africa

With 60% of the world’s uncultivated arable land being in Africa, it’s no wonder that Saudi Arabia has an eye on the continent, with almost 70% of all concluded and planned investments in offshore agriculture being in Africa.

Saudi Arabia is approaching a food production crisis that is a major problem for its growing population that is consuming more food. “Local poultry production in 2012 is likely to be almost 800,000 tonnes lower than consumption, while wheat production will be deficient by around 1,800,000 tonnes and maize by 1,880,000 tonnes,” notes Standard Bank’s report. Saudi Arabia’s water scarcity is also problematic, with water consumption having more than doubled since 2006.

An example of a Saudi investment in agricultural land in Africa is the Ethiopian government leasing 10,000 hectares to the Saudi Star Agricultural Development in 2008. The company has plans to acquire another 290,000 hectares of land.

 

Iran’s influence in Africa

Africa has become a new competing arena between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Both states have turned their focus to the continent, developing ties with a number of African states on both economic and security levels. As international focus remains centered on the Persian Gulf and the Levant, Africa’s importance in the regional rivalry is often overlooked. By focusing on key strategic issues found throughout the continent, including the formation of alliances in East and North Africa

The presence of Iran in Africa dates to the 1980s. During the Cold War, Iran was located in the bloc of US-aligned states. After the Islamic Revolution, Iran became interested in spreading Shiite thought in West Africa through cultural, economic, diplomatic, and media initiatives.

Most African countries are rich in natural resources such as gas, oil, gold, iron, copper, diamond, platinum, and phosphate. Poverty in the Sahel Region and West Africa, however, opened the doors of the region to Iran. Iran implemented hundreds of economic projects in many African states like Senegal, Gambia, Mali, Sierra Leon, Benin, Nigeria, and Ghana. Iranian leaders—Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, Sayyed Muhammad Khatami, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad travelled to these states and signed many bilateral agreements.

 

Saudi movements in Africa

Saudi Arabia after the ascension of King Salman. Saudi Arabia poured investments into the public and private sectors in West Africa and the Sahel. But Saudi penetration also extended into the religious realm, with a focus on the Maliki Muslims who compose the majority of West African population. Since 78% of African Muslims are Sufis, their beliefs generally stand in contrast to a Saudi culture that features elements of Salafism.

To compete for influence, then, Saudi Arabia has gone beyond economic projects and religious programming. That’s why it has created an unofficial coalition with Mauritania and Senegal and is also preparing a new coalition with Libya and Chad. The presidents of Senegal and Mauritania travelled to Riyadh in April 2015, and Senegal has committed to sending hundreds of troops to the Asefah Al-Hazm military operation under Saudi command.

Saudi Arabia has contributed to the joint military force of the Sahel to earn international legitimacy in the fight against terrorism and to further its political and economic interests in West Africa.

Results

  1. The Saudi and Iranian attention to Africa is, at best, a mixed blessing for the governments and people of the region. The competition has undoubtedly meant a financial and development windfall for the region as the two sides seek to buy loyalty.
  2. Saudi Arabia’s interests include counterbalancing the military and political influence of Iran in the Middle East and beyond. They also include neutralizing the potent threats of jihadist groups such as the Islamic State and al-Qaeda, which could gain a foothold in every corner of the Horn.
  3. the strategic objective of Saudi Arabia’s initiative was to stop Qatar punching above its weight
  4. It is imperative that the Horn countries stay out of the zero-sum diplomatic crisis and keep lines open to both the unrelenting Saudi Arabia and unyielding Qatar. They must also carefully weigh the complexities of the crisis and regionally coordinate their diplomatic involvement.
  5. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy and the resultant diplomatic crisis with Qatar have upset the balance of power among the countries of the Horn. The diplomatic crisis has reignited the border dispute between Djibouti and Eritrea that’s been simmering since 2008. Qatar had been mediating the dispute since 2010 and had stationed its troops in the area contested by both countries.

Political Studies Unit*

References

  1. Why Saudi Arabia and Egypt are competing for influence in Africa

https://ethiobook.net/why-saudi-arabia-and-egypt-are-competing-for-influence-in-africa/

  1. Saudi Arabia Looks to African Allies During Gulf Crises

https://www.voanews.com/a/saudi-arabia-african-allies-gulf-crisis/3260218.html

  1. The New Focus of the Saudi-Iranian Rivalry
    https://www.mei.edu/sites/default/files/publications/PF2_Feierstein_AfricaSaudiIran_web_4.pdf
  2. Saudi Arabia, Iran compete in Sahel

https://moderndiplomacy.eu/2018/02/11/saudi-arabia-iran-compete-sahel/