By Mohamed Ayyad
Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb’s trips to the African countries Chad, Tanzania and Guinea resulted in the signing of a preliminary agreement with the Guinean government that would permit Egypt to import liquefied gas, government spokesman Hossam Al-Qawish said Saturday.
While quantities and prices have not yet been announced, the agreement will take advantage of Guinea’s gas surplus to address Egypt’s fuel crisis. In addition, Mehleb reached an agreement to initiate agricultural cooperation in which officials from the Ministry of Health would visit Guinea.
Since the 25 January Revolution that toppled former president Hosni Mubarak, ongoing political upheaval has caused the Egyptian economy to suffer from a budget deficit, increasing unemployment, rising prices, a drop in tourism, and an exodus of foreign investors.
Qawish stated that, during the visit, an agreement was made for the Arab Contractors Company, which has a business volume of $1.6 billion in Guinea, to build 1,000 residential units. The agreement will also create a flight path for Egypt Air from Cairo to Guinea that will facilitate travel for businessmen looking to invest in Africa.
Delegations of Egyptian investors will visit African countries in the coming months to research the obstacles and opportunities for investment, Qawish added.
Mehleb has strong ties with African countries by virtue of being the former president of the Arab Contractors Company, which has a business presence in excess of EGP 5bn in Africa. In turn, his current role as prime minister may benefit the investments Arab Contractors has made in Africa.
Alaa Al-Saqty, president of the Industrial Zone in Ethiopia, said that Africa requires investments in all sectors, especially infrastructure. He believes that the prime minister’s comments after concluding his visits lacked operational mechanisms. He urged Mehleb to quickly diagnose Africa’s problems to pave the way for investment.
Saqty thinks that Egypt must take advantage of Africa’s arable land, which comprises approximately 60% of the world’s total unused arable land. The cultivation of products such as wheat and then importing these products to Egypt could end the country’s wheat shortage and raise the volume of trade exchange.
Saqty further said he met presidential candidate Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi last week, adding that Sisi is interested in increasing investment and trade in Africa, especially since Egyptian investments in Africa currently do not to exceed $1bn. These investments are divided between the group El-Sewedy and Citadel Capital, which invest in railways, in addition to Arab Contractors Company.
According to the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics, the volume of trade exchange between Egypt and the African continent was $2.2bn in 2012, with exports amounting $1.3bn and imports $900m.
Most African markets have good investment opportunities, Saqty said. Evidence of this can be seen in the rise of foreign direct investment in Africa. Between 1995 and 2009, investment doubled ten times over, surpassing even the rates of foreign direct investment in Asian markets.
According to Saqty, Egyptian investments in Ethiopia do not exceed $100 m, Saqty added, saying that Africa’s lack of technical expertise could be offset by Egyptian expertise.
Egypt’s reliance on aid from the Gulf, which so far stands at about $12bn, will not last forever, Saqty noted, arguing that this will make the shift towards Africa inevitable.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty said the intention of the president of Guinea to invite his Egyptian counterpart to attend the African Union session to be hosted by his country in June, is a “strong” step for Egypt towards Africa. He added this would contribute to increase the volume of trade exchange between Egypt and other African countries, which would serve the interests of the Egyptian economy.
Mehleb’s visit also aimed to allay African-Egyptian political differences, with the government spokesman saying that the prime minister “seek to explain the reality of what happened in Egypt since the removal of President Mohamed Morsi, restore Egypt’s presence in Africa, and correct the balance in Egypt’s foreign relations.”
Qawish said he believes that “the crisis of the Renaissance Dam is not a conflict or war, and the dialogue is still underway based on balancing interests.” He ruled out that the government aims to build an alliance of African countries to help solving the crisis of the Renaissance Dam between Egypt and Ethiopia.
The spokesman for the foreign ministry said that Mehleb’s visits herald the return of Egypt to African Union membership status after being suspended by the African Peace and Security Council. The implementation of the roadmap being near completion, with the presidential elections taking place within weeks, might speed up the process of Egypt rejoining the African Union.