African nations eye Dubai Expo for image overhaul

African nations eye Dubai Expo for image overhaul
While expectations are high, even the continent’s heavyweights acknowledge that selling a revitalized image at the Dubai Expo will be a challenge.
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Updated 10 May 2021

African nations eye Dubai Expo for image overhaul

African nations eye Dubai Expo for image overhaul
  • Africa witnessed 25 years of growth before falling into a COVID-induced recession

DUBAI: African nations are attending this year’s Dubai Expo 2020 in force, hoping to project an image of a modern and ambitious continent and shed stereotypes of conflict and underdevelopment.

The six-month mega-event, delayed by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, is a milestone for the wealthy Gulf emirate. It has spent some $8.2 billion transforming a barren stretch on the outskirts of the city into an eye-popping site bristling with high-tech pavilions.

As the huge project nears completion ahead of the scheduled October 2021 opening, African delegates touted their ambitions to generate trade and investment at a high-level meeting this week.

With nearly all African states represented for the first time, Expo provides a stage to advertise a “continent that is ready to move forward” and “a secure place to do business,” Levi Uche Madueke from the 55-member African Union (AU) said.

“The time has come for us to actually reach out to the world, and for the world to understand us, and also see how they can collaborate with us,” said Madueke, the AU’s head of strategic partnerships.

Since the first World Expo was held in London in 1851, global fairs have been used to showcase innovations and as a branding exercise for participating countries. And in its quest to gain influence on the international scene, the UAE has increased its political and economic presence in Africa in recent years, particularly in the eastern Horn.

Africa witnessed 25 years of growth before falling into a COVID-induced recession in 2020. It continues to dominate the bottom half of the global Human Development Index.

Aside from exceptions such as Rwanda, Morocco and Kenya, African states also fare poorly on indices that measure the ease of doing business. But Madueke said that despite the need to develop infrastructure and the existing barriers to international trade, Africa has “a lot to offer” thanks to its rich natural resources and youthful population.

The Democratic Republic of Congo, long seen as a country marred by conflict and corruption, is looking to attract investment from around the world.

“Often when we talk about Africa, about Congo, people will say — there is war in the east, there are rebels ... No!” said Eugene Manga Manga, DR Congo’s general commissioner for Expo 2020. “We have everything we need. If you go out at night in Kinshasa, life is good.” Known for its rich mineral resources, DR Congo will showcase its culture and landscape in promotional videos in a bid to attract tourists, from its pavilion that that will also promote the country’s agricultural potential.

“The Congo has 80 million hectares of arable land. We exploit only 10 percent,” Manga said, adding that the country has taken steps to ease property ownership hurdles and improve the business climate. “This image of Africa that is sold — of misery, suffering, war — that’s in the past!” he told AFP.

At the Dubai meetings, members of the Benin delegation said the country was working overtime to promote tourism by rehabilitating cultural sites and improving its business potential through economic reforms. “The objective is to sell the destination,” said Ines Monwanou, the country’s main delegate at Expo 2020.

While expectations are high, even the continent’s heavyweights acknowledge that selling a revitalized image at the Dubai Expo will be a challenge.

The Egyptian pavilion, featuring pyramids and hieroglyphics, will showcase the country’s ancient history and vast tourism appeal, but the main objective is to draw in business investment and cooperation, particularly in new technologies.

“The world has started to look at Africa and rediscover it,” said Ahmed Maghawry Diab, an official from Egypt’s Ministry of Trade and Industry who is representing the country at Expo 2020.

“The continent has a lot of difficulties, but it has also started to develop.”


Energy majors bid for Qatar LNG project despite lower returns

Energy majors bid for Qatar LNG project despite lower returns
Updated 14 June 2021

Energy majors bid for Qatar LNG project despite lower returns

Energy majors bid for Qatar LNG project despite lower returns
  • Qatar plans to grow its LNG output by 40 percent to 110 million tons per annum (mtpa) by 2026

LONDON: Six top western energy firms are vying to partner in the vast expansion of Qatar’s liquefied natural gas output, industry sources said, helping the Gulf state cement its position as the leading LNG producer while several large projects around the world recently stalled.
Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell, TotalEnergies and ConocoPhillips, which are part of Qatar’s existing LNG production were joined by new entrants Chevron and Italy’s Eni in submitting bids on May 24 for the expansion project, industry sources told Reuters.
The bids show energy giants continue to have appetite for investing in competitive oil and gas projects despite growing government, investor and activist pressure on the sector to tackle greenhouse gas emissions.
Unlike Qatar’s early LNG projects in the 1990s and 2000s when the country relied heavily on international oil companies’ technical expertise and deep pockets, the country’s national oil company Qatar Petroleum (QP) has gone ahead alone with the development of the nearly $30 billion North Field expansion project.
It is, however, seeking to partner with the oil majors in order to share the financial risk of the development and help sell the additional volumes of LNG it will produce.
“I don’t think QP need the IOCs expertise in the upstream or midstream construction of the project but they will be glad to see someone take some LNG volumes off their hands,” a senior source in one of the bidding companies said.
Qatar plans to grow its LNG output by 40 percent to 110 million tons per annum (mtpa) by 2026, strengthening its position as the world leading exporter of the super-chilled fuel.
An Eni spokesperson confirmed the company is participating in the bidding process. QP, Shell, Chevron, TotalEnergies, Conoco declined to comment.
Exxon said it did not comment on market rumors, but added: “We look forward to continuing success in future projects with our partners Qatar Petroleum and the State of Qatar. ExxonMobil affiliates are working with Qatar Petroleum to identify international joint venture opportunities that further enhance the portfolio of both.”
Leading energy companies see natural gas as a key fuel in the world’s efforts to cut carbon emissions and replace the more polluting coal, although the International Energy Agency said in a report last month that investments in new fossil fuel projects should stop immediately in order to meet UN-backed targets aimed at limiting global warming.
Activists say that expansion in natural gas delays a transition to renewable energy that is needed to meet UN-backed targets to battle climate change. The European Union is in the midst of a debate about what role gas should take in the energy transition.
The outlook for global LNG supplies tightened sharply in recent months after Total suspended its $20 billion LNG project in Mozambique due to a surge in violence.
It followed a string of delays of LNG projects in North America as COVID-19 hobbled demand last year.
Global LNG demand has increased every year since 2012 and hit record highs every year since 2015 mostly due to fast-rising demand in Asia. Analysts have said they expect global LNG demand will grow about 3-5 percent each year between 2021 and 2025.
Lower returns
The interest from companies in the Qatari expansion comes despite relatively low returns.
QP offered international bidders returns of around 8 percent to 10 percent on their investment, down from around 15 percent to 20 percent returns Exxon, Total, Shell and Conoco have seen from the early LNG facilities, according to sources in three companies involved.
Qatar project returns have never previously been disclosed.
The six companies and QP declined to comment on the terms of the bids.
“Clearly Qatar has become more competitive,” a source said. “But it remains very low risk from the resource perspective.”
The results of the tender process are not expected to be announced before September, two of the sources said.
In March, QP said it will take full ownership of Qatargas 1 LNG plant when its 25-year contract with international investors including Exxon and TotalEnergies expires next year, in a sign of its growing confidence.
Qatar is also in talks to make Chinese firms partners in the project, sources told Reuters last month.
QP last month hired international banks for a multi-billion dollar debut public bond sale by the end of June, two sources said, to help in part development the Northern Field project.


Cash will not be used in Saudi energy industry city

Cash will not be used in Saudi energy industry city
Updated 14 June 2021

Cash will not be used in Saudi energy industry city

Cash will not be used in Saudi energy industry city
  • SPARK announced in March that 80 percent of the project’s first phase was officially complete

RIYADH: A new city being developed in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province will be cashless according to Riyad Bank CEO Tareq Al-Sahdan.
King Salman Energy Park (SPARK), located between Dammam and Al-Ahsa, is being built on an area of 50 square kilometers and will include a dedicated logistics zone and dry port. SPARK announced in March that 80 percent of the project’s first phase was officially complete.
A new agreement signed between Riyad Bank and the King Salman Energy City (SPARK) aims to fully transform the project into a fully digital city, Al-Sahdan told Al Arabiya.
“We aspire that Spark City will be completely digital, since it is a new city, where cash is not used, and there will be payment solutions for all uses and a special pass card used in shops and services,” he told Al Arabiya.
An agreement between the pair, which includes ten initiatives, aims to support the Kingdom’s ranking in ease of doing business and the digital economy.

 


Abu Dhabi’s ADIA said to review property strategy

Abu Dhabi’s ADIA said to review property strategy
Updated 14 June 2021

Abu Dhabi’s ADIA said to review property strategy

Abu Dhabi’s ADIA said to review property strategy
  • ADIA may consider cutting its exposure to some troubled sectors, the sources said

RIYADH: The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA), one of the world’s biggest property investors, is considering changes to its real estate strategy after some of its major holdings suffered during the pandemic, Bloomberg reported citing people with knowledge of the matter.
ADIA may consider cutting its exposure to some troubled sectors, the people said, asking not to be identified.
The state-owned sovereign wealth fund has been making more direct property investments in recent years, and has amassed just under $700 billion in assets, according to estimates from data provider Global SWF.
Real estate traditionally accounts for about 5 percent to 10 percent of that overall portfolio.
ADIA could shift its focus for future deals and increase exposure to areas like warehouses, life sciences properties, technology hubs and affordable housing, one of the people said.
The fund has also invested more in private equity investments, which have outperformed during the pandemic, the people said.
The review is ongoing, and ADIA hasn’t made any final decisions on the changes it will make, Bloomberg reported.


Saudi VC Sukna, Unifonic launches entrepreneurship program

Saudi VC Sukna, Unifonic launches entrepreneurship program
Updated 14 June 2021

Saudi VC Sukna, Unifonic launches entrepreneurship program

Saudi VC Sukna, Unifonic launches entrepreneurship program
  • The 14-week program, called Unifonic X, will provide mentorship to aspiring entrepreneurs and early-stage ventures to further develop their business concepts

DUBAI: Saudi venture capital firm Sukna has partnered with Dubai-based Unifonic to host an entrepreneurship program in the Kingdom, the pair announced in a statement.
The 14-week program, called Unifonic X, will provide mentorship to aspiring entrepreneurs and early-stage ventures to further develop their business concepts, as Saudi Arabia ramps up investment in its startup ecosystem.
About 30 participants will be chosen to join the program, which will be delivered in three phases. They will be teamed up to focus on 10 venture ideas.
The teams will then present their ideas to prospective partners, angel and institutional investors.
“Unifonic and Sukna have put together an impressive consortium of partners to help the founders succeed and graduate successful investible ventures,” Fares Bardeesi, founder of Sukna, said.
“Founders with or without ideas joining this program will go through a structured venture building program while having access to a network of market experts, mentors and advisers thus significantly improving their chances of success,” he added.
Unifonic X is modeled after the Global Innovation Catalyst Innovation Execution program, and gives participants access to Silicon Valley experiences and resources from top universities, the company claimed.
“By launching ‘Unifonic X’, we connect this generation of entrepreneurship with the needed skills and resources to lead and excel,” Saudi deputy minister for future jobs and entrepreneurship, Ahmed Altheneyan, said.
“We are doubling down our investment in emerging technologies and entrepreneurship through various incentives and an integrated ecosystem,” he added.


Lebanon currency hits new low

Lebanon currency hits new low
Updated 14 June 2021

Lebanon currency hits new low

Lebanon currency hits new low
  • Lebanon has been without a fully functioning government for 10 months since the last one stepped down after a deadly port explosion in Beirut last summer

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s currency hit a new low against the dollar on the black market Monday, continuing its freefall in a country gripped by political deadlock, an economic crisis and increasing shortages.
The pound, officially pegged at 1,507 to the US dollar since 1997, was selling for 15,400 to 15,500 to the greenback on the black market, several money changers said.
After hovering around 15,000 to the dollar in mid-March, the unofficial exchange rate dropped to between 12,000 and 13,000 later that month before soaring back up in recent days.
The latest plunge means the pound has lost more than 90 percent of its value on the informal market since October 2019, in what the World Bank has called one of the worst financial crunches worldwide since the mid-19th century.
Lebanon has been without a fully functioning government for 10 months since the last one stepped down after a deadly port explosion in Beirut last summer.
Politicians from all sides have failed to agree on a line-up for a new cabinet even as foreign currency cash reserves plummet, causing fuel, electricity and medicine shortages.
In recent days, frustrated drivers have waited for hours in long car queues outside petrol stations to fill up their tanks.
Pharmacies went on strike on Friday and Saturday in protest at the central bank allegedly failing to provide them with dollars as a preferable exchange rate so they could continue working.
Electricity cuts have increased in length as the state struggles to secure enough fuel to operate power stations.
People earning salaries in Lebanese pounds have seen their purchasing power drastically reduced as they battle to keep up with price hikes.
The country, where more than half the population now live in poverty, is in desperate need of financial aid but the international community has conditioned any such assistance on the formation of a new government to launch sweeping reforms.