Several cables in the newly released cables detail Al Amoudi‘s business empire and his relationship with the ruling EPRDF. Some are summarized below:
As the Ethiopian government auctioned off state owned enterprises, Al Amoudi was aggressively buying them up. According to this cable, “nearly every enterprise of significant monetary or strategic value privatized since 1994 has passed from the ownership of the Government of Ethiopia (GoE) to one of Al Amoudi’s companies.” In total his purchases accounted for “approximately 55 percent of total privatization revenues.”
The U.S. embassy believes that Al Amoudi’s strong connection to the ruling EPRDF (he “reportedly deals directly with Prime Minister Meles“) provides him with preferential treatment. Al Amoudi is now one of the main investors in the recent land deals that the Ethiopian government has been making (link). As of 2009, his investments were approximated to be around 8% of total foreign investment in this sector and is slated to increase in the coming years. The cable also suggests that some exceptions might have been granted to his operations.
His ties to the EPRDF also insulates him and his companies from serious allegations. In a cable from 2010, for example, Al Amoudi’s Laga Dembi gold mine is accused of “releasing toxic chemical waste into a nearby river, causing illness to people and animals.” The government’s response to the local protests that ensued was its usual prescription of mass arrests and intimidation followed by accusations of being OLF sympathizers. Al Amoudi for his part tried to calm the situation by giving 15 Million Birr to the affected woredas. The cables do not say whether any real, long-term solutions were planned to investigate or address the problem.
Al Amoudi understands the brewing challenge to the unprecedented control over resources and the Ethiopian economy that he wields. In a conversation with the US ambassador, he repeatedly says for Ethiopia to change, the “young people have to change.” He explains that his recruitment of the Black Eyed Peas, Janet Jackson, Beyonce Knowles and 50 Cent, to perform concerts in Addis is part of his focus to shape the [urban?] youth [and to rehabilitate Ethiopia’s image]. At face value, this seems quite absurd. But it points to his belief that the young need to be depoliticized. The idea isn’t that far fetched – a simple search for “hip-hop” among the released Wikileaks cables does point to its utility in shaping attitudes.
Though Al Amoudi’s name often pops up on cables from the U.S. embassy in Addis, he is also mentioned in cables from Djibouti and Saudi Arabia. In this cable from Riyadh, the US embassy is unable to reconcile the ownership of the largest media interest in Saudi Arabia, SRMG (global readership of 180 million and aggregate market share of 46.1%), which on paper says is majority owned by Al Amoudi, but senior Saudi editors said was owned by the Saudi prince Salman (who isn’t listed as part owner and whose sons only have a 10% interest). Such revelations are likely to raise questions among EPRDF political leaders as to what “Al Amoudi owned” really means.