If one were to visit the website of Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the following would appear in the section about Egypt’s relationship with Africa: “In the wake of the January 25 and June 30 Revolutions, Egypt sought to restore its role in Africa as being one of Egypt’s national security spheres, especially in light of the historic ties and vital interests between Egypt and its African circle, as Egypt seeks to reinstate its historic role in the continent through a strategic vision.”
Egypt’s share of exports total intra-African trade rose from 4.8 percent in 2010 to 5.1 percent in 2016, according to the African Trade Report 2018, coming in fourth after South Africa, Nigeria and Cote D’Ivoire. But how is Egypt’s so-called “historic role” in Africa developing and how present is the country really across the continent?
Business Forward sits down with former secretary general of the Union of African Chambers of Commerce and current board member at Bavaria Fire Fighting Solutions Gamal Khalid Abdel Nasser to talk about the shifting tides of influence on the continent, especially with the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) under construction, the lack of Egyptian presence in the African market and the 30-year void that Egypt left behind.
From an economic perspective, where can we find Egypt in Africa?
Egypt is not so much on the African map in terms of competing with African products. From my experience, the Egyptian product has a very good reputation in Africa, but it just does not have a presence in terms of presence. One of the reasons behind that is transportation. We currently use the indirect Emirati and Qatari shipping lines which are quite costly, because our only other option is air freight. It’s an infrastructure problem. The Lebanese are very smart – they go and live in the country they want to trade with. They get to know the people, how everything works and then export to sell. If they would try doing this remotely, it would not carry on for more than two to three months.
From the investment side, Africa is looking for investors with access to finance. Egypt does not have access to finance that is as good as Europe, China or the US, for example. In fact, China has the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) which brought $60 billion to Africa. The key to Africa is either know-how or finance. If you don’t have either of those, you cannot invest in Africa.
What does our current relationship with the African nations look like today?
We have a very good relationship with most African states, but we are losing credit. If you look at the core of the relationship between Egypt and the African states, it goes back to the liberation days, when Egypt helped Africa free itself from colonialism. The people that were born at the time and even their succeeding generation know who Egypt is and have a kind of affinity towards the country. However, a high-profile African politician told me that the new generations of Africa do not know Egypt or its historical relations with the continent, causing the country to lose credibility. There will come a time when Africa’s response to Egyptian business proposals will merely be: “What will you give me?”
Moreover, while speaking to a high-ranking judge in Kenya about Egypt and Africa, he made it a point to differentiate between North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa. This is a differentiation waiting to be capitalized on. The more you stay away, the more you become divided. Sub-Saharan Africa will at some point ask why they should do business with the North African countries, because the latter has not done anything for the former. We are losing credit, we need to be more involved with the issues of Africa, such as AIDS, Ebola or Malaria issues. We need to become more African if we want to have a chance.
What about Ethiopia’s rising influence in the region?
If you look at the Nile Basin Agreement, out of the 10 countries, seven signed. The three that refused to sign were Egypt and Sudan, mainly because they are directly affected by the dam, and Congo. Seven out of 10 countries sided with Ethiopia. I think that Ethiopia is getting help from abroad to become a centralized hub for banks, the United Nations (UN), etc. and part of that is automatically not in Egypt’s favor. Egypt is losing influence in Africa. Historically, Egypt left Africa for 30 years so Israel, Turkey and India filled the void. China is additionally building many roads in Africa. So there is a big tide working against Egypt now. Economically, the challenge lies in getting to the African countries and selling our products there, as well as contributing with investments and know-how. Politically, the challenge lies in the amount of external help being directed at Ethiopia to be a regional player, such as the financing of the dam.