An Indian powerhouse in the Gulf

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Yusuf Ali

Billionaire M.A. Yusuff Ali has built the global retail empire Lulu Group from his base in Abu Dhabi.

M.A. Yusuff Ali, who has built a global empire of supermarkets, shopping malls and grocery stores, will be at the top of just about any list of the most powerful Indians doing business in the Gulf.

The managing director of the retail giant Lulu Group, based in Abu Dhabi, started in a small, isolated office in a barren desert 40 years ago and went on to build an international powerhouse that employs more than 35,000 people in 31 countries, most of them in the Middle East and Africa.

With a net worth of $3.1 billion, the Kerala-born businessman is number 24 on Forbes’ list of India’s 100 Richest People. He’s repeatedly been named the most powerful Indian in the Gulf by publications including Arabian Business and DNA India.

More retail outlets to open

Lulu Group now operates 121 retail outlets that cover a total of 22.5 million square feet. In January, it opened an outlet in Dammam, Lulu’s sixth in Saudi Arabia, and another in Juffair, a suburb of Manama, its fifth in Bahrain.

Yusuff Ali also has announced plans to open more hypermarkets and malls in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and Malaysia.

The company, with annual revenue of $5.5 billion, is also venturing into the hospitality business, notably with the development of a hotel at the former Scotland Yard in London.

Lulu opened its first hypermarket in Dubai in 2000. The stores cater to multi-ethnic shoppers in the region with an international mix of both products and staff.

In addition to its retail chain, Lulu Group engages in manufacturing, import-export, and business services.

Scotland Yard will become a hotel

Yusuff Ali has recently gone into the hospitality business, making headlines last summer with a $171 million deal to develop the former Scotland Yard headquarters in London. The new hospitality arm of Lulu, Twenty14 Holdings, will open the Great Scotland Yard Hotel early in 2017.

It was his second London investment. In 2014, he purchased for $85 million a 10 percent interest in East India Company, the historic trading company that led British colonization of India in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Yusuff Ali started small, moving from India to Abu Dhabi to join the family business in 1973 and finding challenging conditions there.

“It was a very hard time initially. Abu Dhabi was all of two roads; none of the glitz and glamour that you associate UAE with today. The entire country was just coming terms with the discovery of oil,’’ he said.

Company employs 35,000

In all, Lulu employs more than 35,000 people from 37 different countries.

It has operations in the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen, Egypt, Kenya, Benin, Tanzania, Senegal, Uganda, Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast, South Africa, Mozambique, Cameroon, Togo, and Gambia as well as India, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brazil, Turkey and the United Kingdom.

Yusuff Ali is also active in business and charitable affairs in the Gulf and in India.

He cites as a matter of great pride that he is the first expatriate to be elected to the board of the Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce & Industry. In 2014, he was re-elected to the board for a third term.

He also has received the Padma Sri and Pravasi Bharatiya Award, the Indian government’s highest honor for a non-resident Indian, as well as the Asian Business Award for Best Business Leader and Arabian Business Award.

He has donated to a variety of charitable causes in both India and the Gulf. He also helped organize relief from the Gulf for multiple natural disasters in India, including the Lathur and Gujara earthquakes.

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Kenzibox: Thinking Outside The Box

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KenziBox is a Dubai-based company that makes shoe-box sized treasure troves of children’s activities, delivered to parent’s doors to promote creative and constructive play. UAE-based co-founders Leyla Lahsini and Shirin Benamadi started the business after facing the problems parenthood poses in the digital age.

Both women have Masters Degrees in Business Administration and impressive careers in finance. Lahsini holds an MBA from London Business School as well as a Masters in Strategy and Marketing and has experience in hedge funds in London, while Benamadi holds an MBA from the University of Maryland and has worked in private wealth management at Morgan Stanley.

21st Century Parenting

In the digital age, pulling children away from televisions and iPads and towards activities that promote healthy brain development can be a challenge for parents- especially those who work full time.

For many, after school programs are expensive or unrealistic to take advantage of on a daily basis. “Kids finish school early and you feel this need to keep them busy in the afternoon,” said Lahsini. “We don’t want to put them in activity classes every single afternoon, but you want to keep them busy in a nice way in the house.”

Like many parents of the 21th Century, Lahsini turned to the internet for solutions, downloading craft projects from Pinterest to take up with her four-year-old son. But it was more difficult than it seemed- having to go to many stores to find the right materials, complicated instructions, and the chaos that young children inevitably introduce to situations that involve glitter glue and dexterous finesse.

Taking Play Seriously

Despite the frustrations, Lahsini was determined to continue because she saw the value of exposing her son to such products. Not only do they take up the afternoon in creative play, but craft projects have been shown to develop higher thinking skills, enhance multicultural understandings, build self-esteem as well as positive emotional responses to learning- all benefits every parent would want for their child.

Lashini turned to her friend, now-business partner Benamadi, who always seemed to make the arts and crafts projects look simple and easy. This simple request for help and the master’s degrees they both carried in business administration paved the way for KenziBox.


When Moms have MBAs

“Can we bring that simplicity to everyone?” thought Lahsini. Together they researched themes and developed activities around those ideas. In November 2014, their first themed box, Circus in Town, was launched.

Little more than a year later and KenziBox stays true to their successful original fashion. Every month a new theme debuts in shoe-box form, where children can open the box and find everything they need, from materials to illustrated instructions, on how to craft everything from make-your-own clown outfits to volcanoes that actually erupt.

KenziBox: a Dubai’s Business (Role) Model

By creating a product that re-invents itself every week, KenziBox continuously provides opportunities for growth for both children and parents, with creative projects designed by early-age education professionals. Boasting stellar customer service for the busiest of parents, KenziBoxes are conveniently sold online, delivered to the door with all the necessary materials. The simplicity in meeting 21st century parenting problems makes KenziBox a role model in the UAE’s emerging e-commerce market, and is a learning lesson in itself for other businesses that aspire to create a positive impact in their client’s lives.

Their superb business model has won them several recognitions in their first year alone- Dubai Women’s Business Council awarded them First Place as well as the People’s Choice award, and KenziBox was a finalist for SME’s Start Up of the Year.

Emma Fisher, a Dubai-based schoolteacher who was one of KenziBox’s intial clients, can attest to the benefits the projects offer, both as a mother and an education professional.

One month of KenziBox starts at AED 185, with lower rates for long term subscriptions. The company also offers party favor sets and KenziBox travel bags.

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New African Development Bank leader puts energy at the forefront

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Akinwumi Adesina

The new head of the African Development Bank says his top priority is to develop the continent’s energy infrastructure to spur economic growth.

Akinwumi Adesina, known for his reforms and anti-corruption efforts as Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development of Nigeria, became president of the bank on September 1, 2015. The bank is one of Africa’s largest lending institutions and finances projects to improve electricity, water and transportation.

“My top priority will be to focus the Bank to deliver on “power-for-all” – a universal access to electricity for Africa. Nothing is more important to Africa than access to power,” Adesina said in his vision statement for his candidacy for president.

Lack of energy slows development

Adesina said lack of energy is the greatest obstacle to the development of the continent.

“The development of the energy infrastructure for Africa will drive more rapid economic and social development of the continent, by reducing the cost of doing business, powering industrial growth, unlocking entrepreneurship of millions of small and medium size enterprises, improving educational and health systems and deepening financial services, driving agro processing to create jobs,” he said.

He noted that Africa’s total energy capacity is only 147 GW – similar to that of Belgium. He wants to expand that to 700 GW by 2040 with development of renewable resources.

“Africa has 50% of the world’s renewable energy (wind, hydropower and solar) but they remain largely untapped,” he said.

Plans to fund large and small projects

He proposes a mix of large, regional projects and smaller local ones that can be developed quickly.

“The Bank cannot afford to put all its focus on large regional power projects alone, as they are very complex, have high capital exposure and risk profiles, will take time to achieve, even though they are critical,” he said.

“Under my leadership, the Bank will pursue a twin track approach: build success in the short term, deliver successful investments in power and then scale up based on success. To show quick successes, build momentum on execution and delivery for countries, the Bank will also focus on providing support for the piloting of decentralized integrated power systems within countries.”

Corruption is an obstacle

Another obstacle, he said, is corruption.

“The cost of corruption is massive; it turns the whole continent into darkness,” he said, estimating that corruption costs Africa $148 billion a year.

Africa looks to reduce carbon emissions

Adesina was a prominent voice for a unified African agenda at the recent Climate Conference in Paris and that agenda also stressed development of renewable energy sources in order to reduce greenhouse emissions.

At the time, he said Africa needs an international investment of $55 billion a year through 2030 to create an efficient energy sector that uses more renewable resources. He said the bank would contribute $5 billion in financing, 40 percent of its total investments.

Increased investment in private sector

In addition to pledging to make investments in the energy infrastructure, Adesina said the bank would increase its investments in the private sector.

He said private sector lending by the bank was $2.1 billion in 2013.

“Given that the private sector accounts for 70% of all investments in Africa, 70% of all output and 90% of all employment, there is need for the Bank to be more expansive in its private sector operations,” he said.

Adesina also said the bank will embrace an “activist” posture in support of infrastructure developments.

“The Bank will increasingly take on a transactional approach by helping countries and the private sector to resolve legal and regulatory environments that will unlock bottlenecks to project development and execution. The role of the Bank will be more of an “activist financier” that will be more engaged in driving the execution of infrastructure projects, not just ideas and master plans,” he said.

Known for agricultural reform in Nigeria

Adesina is a respected economist and agricultural expert.

Before joining the bank, he had been Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development in Nigeria since 2011. He was known for implementing bold reforms in the country’s agricultural sector, including anti-corruption efforts and infrastructure improvements. Agriculture had been long neglected as the West African country’s reliance on oil revenues grew.

During his tenure, domestic food production increased by 22 million tons while food imports decreased significantly.

In 2013, Adesina won the Forbes Africa Person of the Year award for his reforms in Nigeria’s agriculture sector. In 2014, he was selected as Anti-corruption Man of the Year and Most Transparent and Accountable Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria by the Foundation for Transparency and Accountability.

He holds a master’s degree and a PhD in agricultural economics from Purdue University.

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Ashish J. Thakkar, from refugee to millionaire

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Ashish Thakkar

Uganda’s Ashish J. Thakkar, 34, founder and executive chairman of the Mara Group parlays a small computer business into a multinational conglomerate.

His life story reads like a sweeping epic of tragedy, adventure and success.

He was born to parents expelled from their native Uganda by Idi Amin. He became a refugee from the genocide of Rwanda. He left school at age 15 to start a computer business. Nineteen years later, that tiny business has mushroomed into a conglomerate that employs 11,000 people in 25 countries.

Meet Ashish J. Thakkar, founder and executive chairman of the Mara Group. At only 34 years of age, Thakkar’s net worth is estimated at $260 million.

Real estate, shipping, manufacturing among holdings

Mara Group, now headquartered in Dubai, operates in telecommunications, manufacturing, real estate, shipping financial services, communications technology, renewable energy and manufacturing with revenues of $100 million.

His latest venture is agriculture, large-scale maize cultivation in Africa.

The secret to his success? “It’s difficult to identify one specific reason or catalyst, but above all other things, I believe a strong sense of perseverance, always thinking big and aiming high, and of course positivity, has allowed me to realize my vision,” he said.

“Always be down to earth and approachable,” he added. “The day your arrogance or ego kicks in, it’s all over. Always remember, no matter how big you become you will still always be a drop in the ocean in the grand scheme of things.”

Foundation supports entrepreneurship

He also founded the Mara Foundation, which mentors budding entrepreneurs.

In his book, “The Lion Awakes: Adventures in Africa’s Economic Miracle,” (Palgrave: August 2015), he chronicles the economic awakening of Africa that he has seen and benefitted from first-hand.

“The West is definitely investing more in Africa — or wanting to invest more in Africa — but they’re still investing a lot in Asia as well, specifically India and China. [The] nice thing is that India and China’s investing in Africa, so the ultimate destination is us,” he says. “People do want to come to Africa; people realize that we’re the next big thing — India and China have had their time, it’s now ours.”

He also wants to be the first East African in space through Virgin Galactic, the Richard Branson-backed space tourism project. “I’m taking quite a few of flags into space, as a way to kind of send a strong message that ‘look, we as Africa have the vision and the ability as well’,” he said.

Expelled from Uganda, fled Rwanda

His super star status belies difficult beginnings.

Thakkar’s family is of Indian descent but had lived in Uganda since the 1800s until 1972, when Idi Amin expelled Asians from the country. The family lived in England for more than a decade; Ashish Thakkar was born in Leicester. The family returned to Africa and lived in Rwanda until they were forced to flee the genocide and return to England in 1994.

“From being top entrepreneurs, my parents were reduced to waking up at the crack of dawn to sell women’s clothes and drive vans to markets all around England,” he said.

From England, the family moved to Burundi before returning to Uganda when he was 14.

Started computer business with a $5,000 loan

Thakkar dropped out of school at age 15 and borrowed $5,000 to start a small computer business, traveling to Dubai regularly to bring back equipment including keyboards and mice.

“Education is good. However, informal education is much more important and valuable in life than formal education. Mentorship and vocational skills training build up an individual,” Ashish said.

Growing the business

He said he focused on growing his business rather than on taking profit.

“I reinvested everything in my business. The only way you are going to grow is if you keep on planting.”(source)

He is sometimes referred to as Africa’s “youngest billionaire” because his estimated $260 million net worth translates into more than one billion South African rand. Thakkar resists that label.

“Money should never be a measurement for anything,” he said. “I like to see myself as an entrepreneur that’s being disruptive — I like to be the underdog in a lot of cases.”

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Phuti Mahanyele: an inspirational black business woman

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Phuti Mahanyele

Phuti Mahanyele – an inspirational black business woman who believes that the poor representation of women in the boardroom of major businesses in the private sector is “not just a social injustice but an economic and business imperative”.

Phuti was born in Dobsonville, Soweto, South Africa on March 15th, 1971, however she largely grew up in the Claremont township outside Durban. Her mother died at the age of 42 in 1989 when Phuti was 17. Phuti has since acknowledged that this was a major turning point in her life as it made her for the first time realize how short life can be and why it is therefore so important to never take it for granted.

Throughout her life her parents continuously advocated the importance of education, never differentiating between their sons and Phuti and her two sisters.

Her father: a pioneer for the improvement of black education

Her father, Professor Mohale Mahanyele, was a successful business man and pioneer for the improvement of black education. Whilst the Chairman of the National Economic Education trust, he ensured that thousands of young people progressed into tertiary education. Throughout his life he refused to accept the fact that just because a child came from a home with insufficient funds to afford expensive higher education fees, they were not entitled to it. During his life he could have become one of South Africa’s richest men however he was never interested in making easy money, and instead believed in reinvesting both his money and time back into the people and places he loved.

Phuti was educated in Johannesburg until she was 17, at which point she moved to the United States where she attended Douglass College in New Brunswick, New Jersey. In 1993 she graduated with a degree in Economics and then went to De Montfort University in the United Kingdom where she obtained an MBA on “The Impact of International Trade on Black Economic Empowerment.” Her education didn’t end here because in 2008 she completed a course called “Global Leadership & Public Policy in the 21st century” at Harvard University.

Early career

Phuti’s first job was at her father’s company, National Sorghum Breweries, however whilst she admits to being very happy at this time of her life, she also confesses to feeling unfulfilled. After two failed applications she finally won an internship at Fieldstone – an investment banking firm in New York. After a difficult start, she flourished and achieved the position of Vice President before leaving 7 years later, at which time she moved back to South Africa.

Her next job, running the Project Finance Unit for the Development Bank of Southern Africa proved to be less successful and she left after only a few months. Looking back, she admits that it was a bad fit for her and not an environment she could continue to work in.

Whilst looking for other work she received a telephone call from Cyril Ramaphosa, the Chairman of a then relatively small company called “New Africa Investments” which became the Shanduka Group.

Shanduka Group

Phuti originally joined as the managing director of Shanduka Energy in 2004 and eventually went on to become the CEO of the Shanduka Group. It was whilst working there that she truly found her passion.

She has since admitted to finding Cyril so inspirational on their first meeting that she agreed to work with him even before she knew what the job and salary was.

Phuti speaks of the amazing culture and work ethic at the Shanduka group, admitting that Cyril’s astonishing humility and ability to inspire was fundamental to this. She has always felt hugely responsible and accountable to her community and working at the Shanduka Group allowed her for the first time to give something back, as the company, unlike so many others, didn’t just focus on the profit for shareholders.


Business pillars and key successes

Phuti adheres to 3 business pillars: understanding herself including her spiritually; understanding any issues affecting her staff, personal and professional; and ensuring she has all the information she needs at all times in order to be able to drive the business forward

When appointed CEO, her key priority was to ensure that the business moved some of its investments into areas that were less market sensitive, as she saw this as a way of ensuring the growth and security of the company’s investments in years to come. During her time at Shanduka she helped increase the company’s net asset value to approximately R8billion. Major deals driven by Phuti with Coca-Cola and McDonald’s were key to this success.

After 10 years at the Shanduka Group, Phuti has achieved a lifelong ambition and with the support of her business partner Jeremy Katzen, a highly experience banker from Johannesburg, has launched her own investment company called Sigma Capital.

Major influences on her life

Phuti often cites her family, notably her father as a major influence in her life, however she also frequently talks about the huge impact Cyril Ramaphosa has had on both her business and professional life.

Her parents taught her how to see beyond problems and challenges and to remain positive at all times. Phuti believes that every single person on earth has a purpose and that they are obligated to discover what it is and then achieve it.

Life changing experience

Whilst attending a meeting in London, in 2013 Phuti was experiencing severe headaches, however she assumed it was just due to tiredness and tension. Whilst out shopping after the meeting she fainted, it was at this time she first sought medical attention. She was told to rest and returned to South Africa the following day, however on arrival she ignored the advice and went back to work where she then fainted again. When she woke up in hospital she was surrounded by friends and family, all of whom she didn’t recognize. It was at this time that she was told that she’d actually suffered from a stroke, hence her loss of memory.

Although she has now made a full recovery, the experience has changed her. Whilst she still has her incredibly high work ethic and puts in long hours, she is now also committed to finding a better work/life balance by valuing the importance of friends and family and not just achievements. She is in fact now engaged again (having already been divorced twice), and is learning to cook and play the piano. She admits to being excited and is looking forward to being a better wife and stepmother. “I feel ready to be a wife now”, she said.

When Phuti was asked what she would most want to be remembered for she said, “for having given as much of myself as I possibly could”.

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FACE Africa develops water sources and sanitation programs in Liberia

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saran kaba jones

Liberian American Saran Kaba Jones believes assuring access to clean water is the essential first step to rebuilding the war-torn West African nation.

At times recovery from the devastation of war seems intractable, even hopeless. But a 33-year-old woman whose family fled the civil war in Liberia when she was a child is proving otherwise.

Saran Kaba Jones, a Liberian American woman, founded FACE Africa in 2009 to help Liberians gain access to clean drinking water in the wake of her native country’s 14-year civil war. By the time the conflict ended in 2003, Liberia was in ruins – roads, schools, factories destroyed and no electricity or running water.

Jones believes providing access to water is an essential first step in addressing other problems such as lack of education and employment and rebuilding the shattered nation.

Water unlocks opportunity

“We view water as a true catalyst for change and it doesn’t just solve the issue of health, but it’s a holistic sort of development issue,” said Jones, who is the nonprofit organization’s executive director.

In its nearly seven years of existence, FACT Africa has worked with local residents to build 50 well projects that serve 25,000 people in 35 communities in Liberia. The organization has also trained 300 local pump mechanics.

A more recent effort is WASH, a project to provide water, sanitation, and hygiene awareness to local schools in response to the West African country’s Ebola outbreak.

According to UNICEF, 55 percent of Liberia’s schools do not have access to water, 43 percent do not have functional latrines and 80 percent do not have hand-washing facilities.

Local community engagement boosts success

A key aspect of FACE Africa’s effort is that local residents are engaged from the outset and communities take ownership of the water projects once they are operational. All of the projects so far continue to be fully functional, according to FACE Africa.

“Our projects utilize local materials, local labor and ingenuity and ownership is transferred to the communities upon completion. More importantly, we focus on optimizing sustainability of our water projects by forming long-lasting, collaborative relationships with communities,” FACE said.

Jones said she realized the importance of access to clean water in 2008 when she returned to her native country for the first time since her family fled the war when she was 8 years old. The family lived in Cote D’Ivoire, Egypt, France and Cypress before she attended college and settled in the United States.

Priority was education

She was initially focused on education, having contributed small scholarship assistance to a family friend in Liberia. But the visit convinced her that access to clean drinking water had to be addressed before significant improvements could follow in other areas.

“My interest at the time was education, but when I got to Liberia, one of the things I started to see was that one of the major impediments to education was the lack of clean drinking water,” she said. “Kids were getting sick and not showing up to school for long periods of time because they were drinking contaminated water.”

Empowering women

Jones also saw a connection between water and the empowerment of women and girls, who may spend as much as 60 percent of their day walking to collect water, robbing them of opportunities to work or go to school.

“One of the biggest impediments to women’s growth and development is the lack of clean water. Women and girls are the ones responsible for walking long distances to fetch water. I came to the realization that the basic necessity of clean water had to be met before any other area of development can be tackled. That’s what led me to focus on water, rather than education.’’

The UN estimates that Sub-Saharan Africa alone loses 40 billion potential work hours per year collecting water. FACE Africa estimates its 50 projects have saved 1 million work hours to date.

Africa hard hit

Lack of access to water is a global problem and Africa is particularly hard hit. According to FACE Africa, 663 million people globally do not have access to safe water supplies and more than half of them are in Africa. Globally, two million people die each year from water-related diseases. According to the World Bank, water-related diseases kill more African children less than five years of age than HIV/AIDS, malaria, and measles combined.

FACE Africa, based in Cambridge, Mass., raises money through donations, grants from foundations and corporations, and fundraising events, raising about $150,000 annually. The money can accomplish a lot: It costs FACE Africa $7,500 to build a hand-dug well and install a hand pump, for example.

Jones has been recognized for her work, including being named a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader and one of The Guardian’s Africa’s 25 Top Women Leaders in 2013.

From depression to determination

Jones said the harsh realities she found in Liberia on her first visit left her “depressed and disheartened.” But she was determined to make a difference and she has.

“There’s nothing more pleasant or fulfilling than seeing the smiles on the faces of women and children who no longer have to travel miles every day to fetch contaminated water and can now drink water without worrying about getting sick from it,” she said.

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Who is Ayman Rafic Al-Hariri?

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ayman hariri

Ayman Hariri: a talented entrepreneur or a well-financed, well-connected, unprincipled businessman?

Ayman Hariri was born in 1978 in Saudi Arabia but at the age of two he moved to Lebanon, the birth place of his father. At the time his father Rafic Hariri, having become a successful and hugely wealthy businessman in Saudi Arabia, was increasing his philanthropic activities in Lebanon as well as starting to build a political career for himself. Ayman has joint Lebanese and Saudi Arabian nationality and currently lives in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia with his wife and child.

Ayman Hariri is the son of Rafic Hariri and Nazik Hariri (nee Audi). Nazik was Rafic’s second wife and as a result Ayman has three half-brothers (one deceased) through his father’s marriage to his first wife Nida Bustani. Ayman is the eldest of Rafic and Nazik’s four children. He has a younger brother called Fahd and two younger sisters, the youngest of which is called Hind.

A family of Prime Ministers

His father became the Prime Minister of Lebanon, serving two terms; 1992 – 1998 and 2000 – 2004. He was later assassinated on the 14th February, 2005 in Beirut. Ayman’s brother Saad followed his father into politics, becoming the Prime Minister of Lebanon on the 9th November, 2009. His term only lasted until the 12th January, 2011 when the cabinet collapsed due to disagreements with Hezbollah as a result of the investigations and resulting allegations surrounding his father’s assassination.

Ayman earned a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University in Computer Science. Just like Ayman, his three half-brothers Bahaa, Saad and Houssam were all college educated in the US. In fact, it was whilst studying at MIT that Houssam died in a car accident; it is alleged that he and his brother Bahaa were drag racing identical Porsche 911’s at the time of the accident.

Ayman Rafic Al-Hariri: a member of the Executive Committee for Saudi Oger

Ayman began his career working as an engineer for a company called Intelsat – the first company to offer a commercial global satellite communications solution. He later started up a company called Epok which is an identity management software company, where he is still the Chairman.

In addition to his responsibilities at Epok, he is also a Director of 3C Telecommunications Ltd and Vice Chairman, Deputy Chief Executive Officer and a member of the Executive Committee for Saudi Oger Ltd, the company founded by his father Rafic in 1978.

Saudi Oger is a construction company based in Riyadh, and in conjunction with all its subsidiaries it offers a complete construction package including building design, project management, engineering, facilities management, telecommunications, waste management and IT services.

Strong leadership skills…

Ayman Rafic Al-Hariri

Ayman Rafic Al-Hariri

Whilst his elder brother Saad is the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Ayman is very much considered to be the driving force behind Saudi Oger.

His strong leadership skills, in conjunction with his experience and entrepreneurial vision, as well as the fact that he appears to have no political aspirations, make him the apparent heir to the Hariri family business.

…but many controversies

Rumors of corruption have plagued this family for years; whilst Prime Minister this father was often accused of stripping Lebanese finances whilst building his own personal wealth. His supporters however insist that he actually invested much more money into Lebanon than he ever removed.

Saudi Oger along with Saudi Bin Laden have for a long time been the two major businesses to benefit from the massive investments being made in Saudi Arabia, including Princess Noura University for Women and King Abdullah University of Science and Technology. This dominance is however starting to change so whilst there are planned investments totalling approximately $806 billion in the next 15 years, Saudi Oger can no longer be confident of benefitting as they would have done 10 years ago.

Whilst the financial stability of Saudi Oger is hard to fully ascertain, in 2012 three major Saudi banks stated that Saudi Oger and its subsidiaries were “financially vulnerable institutions.”

Embezzlement and corruption rumors

In 2011 Saudi Oger received a loan of $800m and a further $1bn in 2013, yet at the end of 2013 it was stated that they were $3bn in the red. The year of 2013 also saw further company restructuring with approximately 1,500 layoffs. These were largely Lebanese nationals however some Saudi nationals were included, which caused major controversy and widespread objections.

An audit of the business showed a complete lack of accountability, not to mention a lack of trust between senior employees. There were also embezzlement and corruption rumors and serious concerns raised about the lack of clarity within the political, business and personal financial records.

When asked about these issues in 2013, Saad blamed Ayman, apparently even threatening to sell his brother’s shares in the business to deal with the gap in the company finances.


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Salma Elloumi Rekik, a glimmer of hope for Tunisian tourism revival

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salma elloumi

At a time when many would have shied away from such a hard-hit economic sector, Salma Elloumi Rekik, business woman and politician, boldly stepped into the role of Tunisia’s Minister of Tourism.

Time of action for the Tourism Minister

Little over a month after taking the reins from her predecessor Amel Karboul, on February 6th, 2015, the already fragile economy was knocked by Bardo terrorist attacks and again in the July Sousse beach massacre. Tourism has increasingly become the nation’s linchpin, generating 15 percent of the country’s GDP last year. It has been down to Rekik to provide solutions to get the vital tourism trade back on track.

On June 29th, 2015, Salma Elloumi announced the many government measures that were to be put in place to essentially give those in tourism a financial lift. Among them: loan repayments were postponed for the years 2015 and 2016, VAT reduced from 12 percent to 8 percent and overdue fines cancelled.

“The ministry has focused its actions on the change in the promotional policy, especially after the attacks of Bardo and Sousse,” said the Minister.

In an endeavor to broaden Tunisia’s appeal to holiday makers from African countries, Iran, China and Russia, Rekik worked hard to have security in the country strengthened and to increase air traffic, devoting a budget of 12.5 million of Tunisian dinars (over 6 million US dollars) for this purpose.

The lady behind the titles

Born in Tunis on June 5th, 1956, Rekik was influenced and immersed in business from an early age. Growing up surrounded by her family’s wiring company; she continued her education after leaving Omran High School at the Institute of Management in Tunis (ISG) until the age of 22. As well as possessing a business mind, the young Rekik became multi-lingual, speaking and reading in Arabic, French and English.

On leaving university she began working for the family business which her father, Taoufik Elloumi, created in 1985. Societé Cofat Med -SCM specializes in the design and manufacture of electrical wiring for motor vehicles and utilities and is still going strong.

“SCM started with less than 20 employees; now it is one of the most popular companies in Tunisia,” the 59 year old said of her father’s enterprise.

In the early 1990’s, Rekik expanded her professional outlook after the former president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali launched a campaign to modernize agriculture. Taking this as a cue, she branched out into a new sector, industrial agriculture.

She began with Stifen, the food processing company her father founded in 1994. In time she was made CEO and the prosperous company became part of the expanding Elloumi group. Her appetite for responsibility led her to become the CEO of SCM and she went on to drive both companies to great success. Stifen now exports globally and lists Kellogg’s, Danone and Nestle amongst its clients.

Political life

The mother of three, not content with just one profession, she embarked on her political career after the 2011 Jasmine revolution in Tunisia. Spurred into action by the changes her country was experiencing, she co-founded the secularist political party Nidaa Tounes and became a member in the party’s executive bureau.

“Engaging in politics is a duty as a citizen,” she said, and she paid her duty well, following her party to victory against the Islamist Ennahda party in the October 26th, 2014 elections, only the second truly legitimate election to be held in Tunisia since 2011.

Their time in power was not smooth, including a coalition government with their Islamist rivals in February 2015. Further difficulties beset the party when Rekik, along with 30 other Nidaa Tounes deputies, resigned Sunday, November 8th, 2015. The mass resignation came in response to members becoming increasingly fractious about the conduct and intentions of some of the party’s fellows.

For the love of one’s country

For now, Rekik has a big enough task ahead in her work as Tourist Minister. Without doubt she has proven herself many times over in her varied chosen fields of work, and has shown and continues to display strong and prudent leadership skills, which have been sought after globally.

Versatile, intelligent and brave, Rekik’s work has been publically recognized and gained her two commendations by the Tunisian Republic for her service to the nation. She still found time to participate throughout her career in leadership, management, and crisis management training programs in the United States and Europe.

Her work as Minister of Tourism seeks to bring hope to the Tunisian people and highlight the rich array of positives her nation has to offer the rest of the world. Speaking on December 2nd, 2015, she announced the upcoming release of a film about the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize, which was awarded to the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet, an encouraging sign and a pivotal moment for Salma Elloumi Rekik’s beloved country.

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Flying With Fatima Beyina-Moussa

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Fatima Beyina Moussa - ECAir13

A profile of Fatima Beyina-Moussa, CEO of ECAir.

The African aviation market is becoming one of the most significant in the world thanks to its growing middle class, which now makes up over 35% of the population. African air traffic is growing by 5.2% per year. Fatima Beyina-Moussa is 41 and a mother of 2 children. Ask her if she dreamed of being the CEO of an airline and changing the African airline industry and you will elicit a hearty laugh from Ms. Beyina-Moussa. The quick and honest answer is an emphatic “No”. She mentions several other things she dreamed of and the academic track that she trained in, but none of them involve air transportation and helping lead a revolution in travel by air in Africa.

Born in Dakar, Senegal, where her father, Pierre Moussa, studied and taught at the University of Dakar in the area of planning and development alongside Prof. Samir Amin, Fatima’s thoughts on her path in life mirrored her father’s career more than anything. Pierre Moussa was born in Owando, located in northern Congo-Brazzaville, in 1941. He is considered a man gentle in nature, married, and a father of 4 children including Fatima.

Before the Daughter, the Father

Fatima Beyina-MoussaPierre Moussa, Ms. Beyina-Moussa’s father, is an economist by training and a politician in the Congolese government. He started his government career in 1978 as Secretary-General of Planning. President Denis Sassou Nguesso promoted Moussa to Minister of Planning in 1979, the same year he joined the Central Committee of the Congolese Labour Party (PCT). The PCT selected Moussa as Secretary for Planning and the Economy in 1984. He climbed to the role of Minister of Planning and Finance in August of 1987. Moussa is considered “the regime’s economist”, and joined the PCT Political Bureau in 1989, taking on the responsibility for planning and the economy; he was promoted to Minister of State for Planning and the Economy in the Congolese government in 1989. Pierre Moussa is now President of CEMAC, the Commission of the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa. His 5-year term appointment was announced at the 11th Summit of CEMAC Heads of State in 2012 at Brazzaville.

Fatima has inherited much from her father, including the role of an economist and interest in development and planning. Her post-secondary school education has focused on economics and finance, primarily in Canada, where she received her Bachelor’s degree from the prestigious HEC Montreal. She then received her MBA from the University of Ottowa, pursuing specialized studies in the USA and France as well. Not only is she keenly aware of issues in Africa, but she is also aware of how Africa interfaces with the rest of the world. As a black African woman, Beyina-Moussa is a pioneer in her field, and her actions and opinions are followed with much interest. As she takes the pulse of modern Africa as one of its business leaders, she is also someone that drives that pulse with her ideas and decisions.

A Rising Career

Beyina-Moussa started her career as a consultant at Ernst & Young in the Congo. She advanced to the role of a consultant at the official Bank of Central African States (BEAC), then moved to New York City, working for the United Nations Environment United for Development (UNDP). Her rise, professionally, was quick but not entirely unexpected. In the Congo, she took on the job as an advisor to the economy and to reform the Congolese Ministry of Finance, Budget and Public Portfolio. Beginning in 2007, she worked on establishing a national air carrier to advance the Congo’s transportation industry and its economy. Success has been quick and in 2011, Fatima Beyine-Moussa was appointed Director/CEO of the national airline of the Republic of Congo, Equatorial Congo Airlines (ECAir). Shortly after her hiring as CEO of ECAir, Fatima was selected as a member of the Executive Committee of African Airlines Association (AFRAA) in 2012. In November 2014, Beyine-Moussa was appointed Chairwoman AFRAA and recently completed her 1-year term at the 47th General Assembly of AFRAA from November 8th-10th, 2015 in Brazzaville.

Fatima Beyina-Moussa is embracing her role as a favorite and influential daughter of Africa. She has plans and a clear view of how she wants Africa to evolve now and in the future. One that she is fervently working on now is travel between cities and countries within Africa. Currently, it can be easier to fly out of the continent, take a connection in Dubai or Paris, and fly back into Africa. Beyina-Moussa is working on a plan to avoid this and make travel within Africa easier and more beneficial for airlines and passengers. Connections between African countries are insufficient, and there are not enough round trips, making travel difficult. With Beyina-Moussa working on this, it is without doubt a job that will get done. In her words, “We have only just begun.”

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Gilbert Diendéré: Coming Out from the Shadows

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Chief of staff to Blaise Compaoré, Burkina Faso’s ex-president, Gilbert Diendéré is far more than a jack of all trades; intelligence, information, organisation and control, he is a master of all.

Burkinabé military officer and head of the powerful Presidential Security Regiment (RSP) for almost three decades, Gilbert Diendéré, who was known to lead from the shadows, took an unprecedented step into the lime light on September 17th, 2015.

In a move the General is now calling “the biggest mistake,” he took power of his West African home country, in a coup d’état that lasted a mere six days. After which, he and his army succumbed to mounting pressure to step down.

The coup, which pushed out the interim president, appears to have been an attempt to reinstate his comrade, Compaoré, the man for whom he was the quiet power behind through the former president’s entire time in office.

A Military Force

As the officer who announced the October 1987 coup, this was not Diendéré’s first experience of overthrowing a government. Taking power from the popular and revolutionary Thomas Sankara, with whom Diendéré had trained alongside as a young cadet in the army, he then placed it in the hands of Compaoré.

This was a pivotal time for the General, who was subsequently made head of the Presidential Security Regiment (RSP). With Compaoré’s blessing, he developed and expanded the RSP into a reportedly stronger and better trained army, which offered its soldiers better conditions and higher pay. It also answered directly and exclusively to the president himself.

Together the pair ruled Burkina Faso for an almost unfeasibly long time. Not until October of last year, when Compaoré’s push to be re-elected resulted in him being ousted by mass public demand, did their reign come to an end. Throughout his time in power, Diendéré has been accused of crimes against humanity. The charges against him include murder and firing at unarmed protestors, allegations for which the General will now stand trial.

Multifaceted Man

Standing at an impressive 6.5 ft, Diendéré may be physically imposing and considered to be one of the most powerful men in Burkina Faso, but until recent events the 56 years old had chosen to exert his power indirectly.

His international connections boosted Compaoré’s network and political status, whilst also cementing his own reputation internationally, particularly in America and France. In 2008 Diendéré was awarded the Légion d’Honneur, one of France’s most prestigious military medals.

The former head of RSP is highly regarded for being well informed, knowledgeable in many fields; particularly that of the West African political affairs, and a skilled negotiator and strategist. Known as a “master of intelligence,” the Burkinabé General has been involved in delicate negotiations with al-Qaeda linked group AQMI and in the release of several European hostages in 2009 and 2011.

A fearless thrill seeker, he enjoys regular parachute jumps and is popular and respected amongst his colleagues. However, it is recognised that the man described as shy and calm, with the formidable “iron fist” handshake, is a man one would prefer as a friend and not a foe.

In the Face of Justice

Just days after the coup began Diendéré conceded, “I am willing to turn myself over to face justice,” and called for his army to lay down their weapons. “I would like the people of Burkina Faso to find a solution to this crisis through dialogue.” He said, after turning himself in on October 1st.

The self-appointed Chairman of the National Council for Democracy sought shelter in the Vatican embassy as crowds on the Burkina Faso streets became violent. Negotiations took place to ensure his safety before he was handed back to the interim government. The Presidential Security Regiment (RSP) was later ordered to be disbanded and the assets of Gen. Gilbert Diendéré, frozen.

What is next for the shadowy figure is uncertain. He remains adamant that Compaoré had no dealings with the latest coup and has openly denounced his own actions. For now the country awaits the delayed elections which will take place on November 29th, perhaps a clever by-product of the General’s failed coup. The complicated history of Burkina Faso informs us that the future is most likely to follow suit, as for the rest, only time will tell.

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