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Riyadh re-launches its Africa courtship

Saudi Arabia signals 'game changing' investments at economic summit with plans to sign deals worth $553m and more with African officials

Investments, trade deals and debt financing were on offer at Friday's summit between Saudi Arabia and African leaders as the Gulf state seeks to build on its growing influence on the continent.

The Saudi-Arab-African Economic Conference in Riyadh, which gathered leaders from 50 nations from the Middle East and Africa, was a mix of politics and economics. There is common cause between the two blocs on the war in Gaza, with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman condemning Israel's military attacks in Gaza following the 7 October terrorist attacks by Hamas.  

The financial offer from Riyadh, ranging from energy deals to investment and debt financing, excludes very few states. That could explain the presence in Riyadh of Eritrea's Issayas Afewerki and South Sudan's Salva Kiir, in addition to regional heavyweights including Nigerian President Bola Tinubu, Kenyan President William Ruto, Rwanda's Paul Kagame and Ethiopian premier Abiy Ahmed.

Bin Salman told leaders that the government will support 'innovative solutions' for African debt but did not go into detail.

Saudi Arabia is one of the 'middle powers' that African leaders believe can plug a financial gap left by falling Chinese and European investment in Africa. The timing of the summit was handy for Riyadh, which wants to host the World Expo in 2030, a vote on which will be held in the coming weeks.

Saudi finance minister Mohammed al-Jadaan announced at the summit that the Saudi Development Fund would sign deals worth $553 million with African countries.

He added that the government was preparing a financial portfolio of $10 billion worth of exports and another $5bn in development financing for African countries.

Al-Jadaan added that some of that investment will go toward supporting Ghana and other highly leveraged African economies to ease their debt burdens.

The country's $700bn sovereign wealth fund would make 'game changing' investments on the continent, and Mozambique announced that it had signed a $158m financing agreement to fund a series of infrastructure projects including hospitals and a dam.

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