x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Emaar chief sets sights on Ugandan oil venture

Mohamed Alabbar has been approached to invest in the African nation, which seeks to become an oil player.

Mohamed Alabbar, the head of Emaar Properties, could make his next commercial move into the fledgling Ugandan oil industry. Mr Alabbar was invited by the president of Uganda to invest in the country's energy and agriculture sectors, the Ugandan government announced. The landlocked African nation has aspirations of becoming the continent's next oil exporter.

He was visiting Kampala, the Ugandan capital, on Sunday to explore investment opportunities for the Dubai-based company Africa Middle East Resources, the announcement said. In addition to his position as chairman of the region's largest property developer, which built the Burj Khalifa, Mr Alabbar is the vice chairman of the state-owned Dubai Aluminium and the chairman of Emcredit, the first independent credit information company in the UAE. He is also a senior adviser to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

"Uganda has one of the most favourable investment environments with access to tax-free and quota-free markets in the US, the EU, India and China," the Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni said in a statement, adding that he encouraged Africa Middle East Resources to bid for contracts in Uganda. His reference to quotas was a clear pitch for financial assistance from the UAE, which must restrict its oil output in accordance with its OPEC commitment.

A number of major oil companies have expressed interest in developing the large reserves discovered recently in western Uganda near Lake Albert, on the country's border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They include the French group Total, Italy's Eni and China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC). Total and CNOOC have expressed interest in a partnership with the UK's Tullow Oil to develop the fields in three oil blocks.

Tullow owns one of the blocks and co-owns the other two with Canada's Heritage Oil, which has agreed to sell its holding to Tullow for US$1.5 billion (Dh5.5bn), pending Ugandan government approval. Uganda may be sitting on 2 billion barrels of crude, of which 800 million barrels have been discovered, Tullow has estimated. Until this week, the Ugandan government had indicated it preferred the crude to be developed by experienced international operators with the technical expertise and deep pockets to take on large field developments in remote locations.

Transport and processing infrastructure, including an international pipeline from the African heartland to the continent's east coast, would also be required. It is not clear whether Mr Museveni has invited Africa Middle East to participate in upstream development or to build pipelines and refineries. He suggested the company might invest in food processing and hydroelectric projects in Uganda. The UAE may be seeking to strengthen its ties with east African nations. On Sunday, the Cabinet approved new embassies in Uganda and Kenya.

Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research and a member of the Abu Dhabi Royal Family, is the chairman of Abu Dhabi Group and its subsidiary Warid Telecom International, the developer and operator of mobile networks in developing countries including Uganda, Congo, Pakistan and Bangladesh. In 2008, the UAE funded a new health centre in Kampala with a focus on HIV/Aids family care. The Johns Hopkins University Family Care Centre opened last August.

Mr Alabbar was not available for comment. @Email:tcarlisle@thenational.ae