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ARAB OUVERTURES Qatar-Saudi Arabia: a diplomatic battle being fought in East Africa

Qatar-Saudi Arabia: a diplomatic battle being fought in East Africa

By Jules Crétois
Posted on Wednesday, 13 November 2019 08:45

Rwandan President Paul Kagame guides the Emir of Qatar, Tamim Ben Hamad Al Thani, to Akagera National Park on April 22. © Urugwiro Village

As Rwandan leader Paul Kagame landed in Qatar on 28 October to attend an event dedicated to new technologies, his Kenyan counterpart, Uhuru Kenyatta, travelled to the “Davos in the Desert” in Saudi Arabia

The two rival Arab countries were using the opportunity to strengthen their diplomatic and economic relations in East Africa, a region that is strategic for both.

Symbolic or financial?

On the occasion of the third Future Investment Initiative (IFI), known as the “Davos of the Desert”, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta visited Saudi Arabia where he met with King Salman Ibn Abdelaziz Al Saud and others.

Other African heads of state such as the Nigerian Muhammadu Buhari and the President of Niger Mahamadou Issoufou were also in attendance, but Saudi ambitions appear more focused on the East of the continent.

  • Many participants, however, cancelled to protest of the death of Saudi-born US journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.

Diplomatic relations between Nairobi and Riyadh are not new. Given the ruler’s august age, and the fact that Prince Mohammed Ben Salmane more or less assumes the role of head of state, might the meeting between the first and Kenyatta have been merely symbolic?

  • According to a tweet from the Kenyan presidency, the two spoke “of security and trade”, the two legs of the Saudi presence in Africa, along with religion. So far so standard.

But on 29 October, Kenya issued a statement explaining that the Saudi Fund for Development (SFD) had promised to invest in support of the so-called “Big Four” national policy, based on health coverage, social housing, industrialisation, and food security.

Kigali reaches for regional tech hub status

At the same time, Rwandan President Paul Kagame travelled to another Gulf country, Qatar. He was in Doha for the fifth Qitcom (Qatar Information Technology Conference and Exhibition), an event dedicated to new information and communication technologies.

  • Relations between Kigali and Doha are not as old as those between Nairobi and Riyadh, but they are nevertheless developing rapidly.

Two ministers — Information, Communications, and Innovation and Finance — accompanied by Clare Akamanzi, boss of the Rwanda Development Board, Kigali’s investment wing, visited the fair.

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