Saudi authorities have arrested Mohammed Hussein Al-Amoudi, a dual national with Saudi and Ethiopian citizenship and is reportedly the second richest Saudi, after Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal.
While bin Talal’s arrest has gained most media attention. Al-Amoudi’s arrest is especially important because it could potentially destabilize the economy of an entire country, according to Middle East Eye.
Al-Amoudi, who is also known as “the Sheikh”, has invested in almost every sector of Ethiopia’s economy, including hotels, agriculture and astrology.
According to a leaked diplomatic cable from 2008 “the Sheikh’s influence on the Ethiopian economy cannot be underestimated.”
In the nearly ten years a since then it has become even harder to estimate the exact value of Al-Amoudi’s total investment in Ethiopia, which is among the fastest developing countries in Africa. One analyst estimated the value of the Sheikh’s investment at $3.4 billion, which represents 4.7 per cent of Ethiopia’s current GDP.
Another said his companies employ about 100,000 people, which represent 14 per cent of the Ethiopian private sector, according to the latest Labour Force Survey, 2013. However, World Bank analysts warn that these figures might have markedly increased over the past four years as the sector has developed since then.
Al-Amoudi has occupied the front pages of Ethiopia’s most prominent magazines since his arrest. News agencies have covered news of his detention, including the rumours that have been circulating on social media websites, as breaking news.
“They are now panicking” said Henok Gabisa, a Visiting Academic Fellow at Washington and Lee University School of Law in Virginia and an Ethiopian researcher.
In the few days after Al-Amoudi’s arrest, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn felt the need to hold his first press conference in two months. During the conference, he answered questions related to Al-Amoudi and stressed that the government does not believe that this will affect Al-Amoudi’s investments in Ethiopia.
An Ethiopian Investment Authority official rejected the notion that Al Amoudi’s arrest might create chaos in the government, “The country’s economy is not based on one investor. For heaven’s sake, we are 100 million people, how can we depend on one investment?! This is funny.”
“Investments outside Saudi Arabia that are owned by the Sheikh have not been yet affected by these changes,” said Tim Pendry, Al-Amoudi’s spokesman in the UK.
Although they acknowledge that Chinese people who are heavily investing in Ethiopia have now a much larger stake than Al-Amoudi in Ethiopia, analysts suggest that even if the government is not in a state of panic at present, there would definitely be future concerns about the extent to which a conflict with Saudi Arabia would affect the Ethiopian economy.
Dr Awol Allo, a law lecturer at the Keele University, said:
He is a person whose presence or absence might affect the country’s economy.
He added: “He has an impact and in light of all the problems that are associated with his investments in the country, this makes him an influential figure.”