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Thu 11 Oct 2007 11:06 AM

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Flashing the cash

Qatar's state-owned Venessia Petroleum on its $1.5bn venture in the troubled nation of Zimbabwe.

Each week Arabian Business turns the spotlight on a leading company.

That's quite a bold move Qatar has just made...

Zimbabwe, you mean?

Too right. Where did that come from?

It's out of the blue. The rest of the world is puzzled at why the Gulf state would want to venture into a country on the brink of economic collapse, where people are starving in the streets and its president Robert Mugabe is facing serious charges of crimes against humanity.

Zimbabwehas the world's highest inflation rate, no?

Yes, it's officially 6,600%, in addition to chronic food and fuel shortages, and 80% unemployment.

And Qatar doesn't seem bothered?

Venessia Petroleum, a company run by a member of Qatar's ruling family, is pumping US$1.5bn into the troubled nation to build a 120,000 barrels-per-day oil refinery and a US$136m five-star hotel in the capital Harare. The company's official line is that it is "not concerned" with the political and economic situation and that it has been in the region for "quite some time".

What is Venessia Petroleum exactly?

It's chaired by Sheik Abdulaziz Bin Mohammad Bin Jabor Al-Thani and operates overseas as Venessia General Trading, established as part of the government's scheme to develop the country's energy sector. The company is also investing in hotels and oil storage facilities in Malawi and South Africa.

I see. And work on the newly announced project starts when, exactly?

After a feasibility study is conducted and examined, consultants will start to design the refinery by the end of this year.

And the oil, where will that come from?

Crude will be imported from Qatar and another Middle Eastern country, according to Venessia Petroleum's general manager Jawahr Zaidi.

Robert Mugabe must be pleased...

No kidding. Zimbabwe's president has been cosying up to Asian and Muslim governments for a while now, in an attempt to lure them into investing in the economically-shattered nation.

I'm not sure we'll see them queuing up...

You might be surprised. Zimbabwe has signed deals with China and Iran in the past two years to invest in mining, agriculture and engineering.

Attracting investment is one thing, winning a popularity contest is another.

True, Mugabe's not popular. ‘Comrade Bob's' policies to seize farms owned by the minority white population to resettle the black population have made him persona non grata in the West.

What about foreign company ownership?

The government has proposed a bill to transfer majority ownership to Zimbabweans. If this law comes into effect, it will force mining and banking companies to give up at least 51% of their control to Zimbabweans.

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