Several companies from the region are at the forefront of a new race for Africa. Gold, global dominance or diamonds are not the objective this time around. Instead, Africa's emerging markets, rich in potential mobile phone users, have become prime targets for the expansion of Middle Eastern telecoms firms, including Zain and Etisalat.
The Fujariah Media Group (FMG) is the latest company to join them. As we report today, FMG, which is part owned by the Government of Fujariah, will invest 25 million euros in building a communications network in South Sudan.
The last frontier of the mobile world is in Africa. And one of Africa's last frontiers is the new state of South Sudan, which voted to split from the north of the country earlier this year. "We'll be putting in a transmission system for wireless data services," said Mekki Abdulla, the chief executive of FMG. They hope to create "a wireless cloud over the state".
FMG's investment is not without considerable risks. South Sudan has few roads; those it has are in dire need of repair. Running water also remains a luxury in much of the country and there is no real electricity grid. El-Fatih Keer is an investor who has put more than Dh100 million into a company focused on transport between North and South Sudan. "Infrastructure is very lucrative, telecoms is attractive," he says. FMG is also not the only company eyeing up investments in the country. "Whoever moves in first will be able to reap the profits," says Mr Keer.
A communications revolution also laid the groundwork for the last race for Africa. By the end of the 19th century, steam navigation and the telegraph connected Africa to Europe and Asia more closely than ever before. Mobile networks and the internet present this generation an opportunity to bridge the divides between Africa and the world that the last scramble for Africa failed to correct. Unburdened by the legacies of imperialism that still complicate African politics and international affairs, Middle Eastern companies have an opportunity to begin with a cleaner slate than their European counterparts. If any place in Africa needs a new beginning and new connections to the world, it is South Sudan.
Opponents of this development may argue that it's too risky to invest millions in Africa, particularly in South Sudan. But alongside risks come rewards - not all of them financial. FMG could be the first of many companies, from the UAE and beyond, to build the infrastructure essential for South Sudan's growth as a nation.