21 January 2016       Download

“With low commodity prices, high debt levels in emerging markets, higher interest rates in the US, sluggish emerging-market economies and slower Chinese growth, one could be forgiven for thinking that for the time being there will be no investment in the Middle East and Africa region,” said Ahmed Heikal, Chairman and Founder of Qalaa Holdings. “But it is a fallacy that there are no growth opportunities in the region and it is a fallacy that there is no money. What we are lacking is the risk appetite and the skillset required on the part of the private sector to undertake the type of greenfield projects that the region needs,” he added.
Heikal participated in a CEO panel on day 1 of the World Economic Forum (WEF) to discuss the investment case for the Red Sea region, the barriers to investment and the measures needed to get capital flowing in the region amid geopolitical uncertainty and a collapse in energy prices. The session commenced with commentary from Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud, a senior member of the Saudi royal family and former Saudi Ambassador to the U.S., followed by a panel composed of and including views from Heikal as well as GE Power CEO, Steve Bolze and WPP CEO, Martin Sorrell.
“If you’re an infrastructure investor and have appetite for risk, then there are opportunities and very significant growth potential in regional markets,” added Heikal. “Governments across the region are now entering into a new paradigm, they have come to the realization that they can no longer do it alone, they must partner with or enable the private sector to take on the large megaprojects that were previously only in the realm of the public sector.”
“We were 3-4 steps ahead of this trend. We knew this to be the case early on which is why we invested in companies like TAQA Arabia, the largest private sector energy distributor in Egypt which is now looking at numerous growth opportunities as a result of the deregulation of the energy sector. Our long term view was questioned in the beginning but now our strategy has been validated. Governments are now starting to focus on fighting their own battles, dismantling the bureaucracy, playing the role of regulator and letting the private sector do its job. Governments cannot continue to shoulder these funding needs, or else emerging markets will wake up to a large credit crisis in five years” said Heikal.
Addressing the issue of lack of transparency in the region, Heikal explained that important strides have already been made in that respect. “The Development Finance Institutions (DFI’s), Export Credit Agencies (ECA’s) and Sovereign Wealth Funds (SWF’s) that are now funding projects in the region are requiring companies to abide by stricter codes of conduct.”
“You can look at the cup as half empty or half full. Of course there are global headwinds but if you take the optimistic view and look at the cup half full you will recognize that there has been substantial reform across the region particularly in Egypt and KSA but the results of this effort will not be felt for another five years,” said Heikal.
Heikal also stressed on the importance of education and developing human capital. “The divide between rich and poor is continuing to widen globally and it is particularly pronounced in our part of the world which is why it is incumbent upon investors to bring in and train the best talent they can find.”
“We must look across the investment spectrum and open the door for smaller projects as well as large infrastructure investments. SME’s and microenterprises will also be key for economic growth in the region,” said Heikal.
Qalaa Holdings, a leading African investor in energy and infrastructure, has been able to successfully tap into a wide pool of funding resources under highly challenging conditions to fund large-scale infrastructure projects that are critical to Africa’s development such as the Egyptian Refining Company (ERC), a US$3.7 billion greenfield refinery and Egypt’s largest in progress, private sector infrastructure megaproject which is now more than 75% complete. ERC has the potential to more than halve Egypt’s present-day diesel imports and reduce by nearly one-third the country’s current sulfur emissions when it starts production in 2017.
On day 2 of the Forum, Heikal acted as discussion leader in a session on bridging the funding gap to finance the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) for 2030 along with global thought leaders including former Secretary General of the UN, Kofi Annan, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim, former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Ethiopian Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn. He will also participate in an African Regional Business Council session on fostering economic growth and social inclusion as well as a session on building more resilient Arab economies. In addition, Heikal will partake in a panel on the Future of Economic Reform in the Arab World along with UAE Minister of Energy Suhail Bin Mohammed Al Mazrouei, CEO of the Bahrain Economic Development Board Khalid Al Rumaihi, and Kuwait’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Anas Khalid Al Saleh.