For over 50 years the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development has been building bridges of friendship and solidarity between the state of Kuwait and the developing nations of the world. With the objective of aiding different countries in advancing their socio-economic development, Managing Director Abdulwahab Al-Bader tells United World how the visionary organization today continues to extend its reach to help out its many “friends in need”
Ever since the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development (KFAED) was established by the late Sheikh Jaber Al-Sabah in 1961, it has been supporting development projects all around the globe. Now in 2013, the Fund’s commitment seems natural to Kuwait given its historical reach. In your opinion, how did the establishment of this institution reflect the essence of Kuwaitis and shape its commitment into an essential trait of Kuwaitis?
This institution was established just about six months after Kuwait gained its independence. Our leaders in 1961 were quite farsighted and precise in coming up with the first resolutions and laws of the nation as well as in establishing an institution that they hoped would become successful and long-lasting. They did not establish the institution just to put some money into the fund and then watch the institution get dissolved in two or three years. Their intention was to establish a long-term institution and I believe, after 52 years since its inception, Kuwait Fund signifies the foresighted vision of Kuwait's leadership and the initiative to establish the institution.
KFAED has surpassed financial constraints and it is much stronger than what it was in the earlier years and it is totally dependent on its own resources. As a bilateral institution, Kuwait Fund was established by our government with initial capital from its own resources, while other regional and international financing institutions obtained their resources from member countries. Our capital today is five times more than what we were originally handed years ago.
The institution started to work with defined development goals and in line with the vision of the leadership. When established, an important aim was to help others. Initially we focused on the Arab countries, but 40 years ago the scope of our work was expanded to cover assistance to all developing countries. We provide assistance to all developing countries according to policies and procedures designed to ensure aid effectiveness and contribution to recipients' development objectives.
So evidently the KFAED has stuck by its core principal of ´we will never forget our friends in need’ under which it was created. How then, in your opinion, has the Fund brought Kuwait closer to those countries in need and contributed to Kuwait’s diplomacy?
Firstly, there is a saying: ‘you would know a friend if you live with him’. If your friend lives far away from you, you would not know much about him and it will affect your friendship.
When we work with those countries, they understand us better and we understand them as well. When we work on a project, for example in an African country, I as a Kuwaiti would certainly understand the country better and will benefit from that experience. At the same time, for the recipient country, besides getting the opportunity to implement a project that they really need, they would also be able to understand us better than what they did initially when we were introduced as an aid donor.
For Kuwait to come with the idea of helping by donating and giving a hand to carry out projects based on the priority of the receiving country and not with the intention of enforcing a point of view is great. We have never committed to a project only because we wanted to do only that project; we commit to a project if it is one of priorities in that country and fits into their developmental program. At the same time, we try not to overload them with our own ideas if our ideas do not fit their requirements. It is not our intention to change the political system of a country or to impose a point of view. Our aim is to select and work on a project that will help the recipient country and its population.
Over the years, after working with 104 countries around the world, I think these countries have understood our objectives. In fact, we sometimes feel the requests for help come not just due to shortage of financing but the actual intent is the conviction that our involvement in a project will be a good drive for its execution, completion and financing.
At the end of 2013, the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah launched the Third Africa-Arab Summit during which he pledged US$ 1 billion in low-interest loans and the same amount as investment to the African states. What conclusions do you draw from the event Kuwait hosted and the involvement of the Kuwait Fund with the event team that was partners in development and investment?
About a week before the Africa-Arab Summit, Kuwait hosted a conference to discuss the issue of development, investment and trade in Africa and the Arab world. It was a 2-day conference and different topics were discussed- mainly development, investment, investment guarantee and trade. We added a discussion on NGOs during the conference. We had prepared recommendations on how to encourage development, investment, and trade since the trade relations between Africa and Arab countries remain far below the potential based on their natural resources and geographical proximity.
I think in his speech, His Highness the Amir of the State of Kuwait succeeded in putting the point across especially with his commitment of US $ one billion towards Africa to be executed by Kuwait Fund. He had also talked about investment aspects. At the start of his speech, he had emphasized the need for building relations that benefit both parties and not just one. This was a very important point in his speech that he wanted to stress.
When the US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Kuwait last June, he thanked the Government of Kuwait for its generosity in helping to strengthen the region and its contribution to the world. As a Kuwaiti and in consideration of the role you play with the Kuwait Fund, what do you feel when you hear such recognition?
I appreciate what Mr. Kerry has said about Kuwait. It is good to receive appreciation for what we are doing. Our ultimate objective is to assist our country partners to achieve their desired development goals.
In the end, what the Kuwait Fund and other aid donors are doing is giving hope to this world. As a development agency, giving hope to the world is a great mission and this is the motivating factor for us to work.
It is obvious that you are not seeking recognition and you said some powerful statements such as ‘We cannot abandon a country just because it is far away’. Many allege that the economic and financial crisis the world has just suffered is actually a crisis of values driven by selfishness, greed and self-centeredness. If the Kuwait Fund, as a model, could leave a footprint apart from the projects, what kind of footprint would that be?
I think we have established ourselves as partners with the recipient countries and our friends in need over the years. At times, we are asked not just for financing but for our advice, experience and capabilities to join others in supporting development operations in various countries.
Most of the time, we are unable to cover the full financing of several projects that we undertake, and in those situations, we need others to join us. I think many of the countries we work in, especially in Africa know that we have no interest other than in the projects and we are keen on ensuring the projects reach full completion and implementation. Therefore, many of the developing countries come to us because they believe having Kuwait Fund as a part of their projects is a good omen for them to help them complete their projects.