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Al-Ahmadi, the home of Kuwaiti oil

Interview - May 16, 2013
As the first Kuwaiti governorate to export oil to Britain in 1946, Al-Ahmadi enjoys the reputation of being “the home of Kuwaiti oil” and “where everything happens” in the emirate. Sheikh Dr Ibrahim Al-Duaij Al-Sabah, Governor of Al-Ahmadi, speaks to World Report about his governorate’s history, its rapid recovery from the Iraqi invasion’s scorched earth policy, the raft of new projects under way, and the warm welcome that awaits international investors.
SHEIKH DR IBRAHIM AL-DUAIJ AL-SABAH, GOVERNOR OF AL-AHMADI
IBRAHIM AL-DUAIJ AL-SABAH | GOVERNOR OF AL-AHMADI
Could you please tell us a little about Al-Ahmadi? 

The name of this area was not an old name; it was not a name of a piece of land or for a mark. This name was of the late Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Ahmad, the father of the recent Emir. During his time, oil was discovered and the concession of oil was signed and this town was built, and also oil was exported from here. The company was the Kuwait Oil Company and the first time we exported oil was the 30th of June 1946; it was the first shipment to Britain. And then, in three, four years’ time they built and completed the town here and called it Ahmadi after the Emir. 
 
The area was then developed and the government named the whole area as Ahmadi, not only the town but the district. Now we are a very populated district compared with [others in] Kuwait, with a population of 800,000, and there is a lot of demand to live here. Cities are going to be built or are already under construction. We have Sheikh Sabah city, we have Al Khairan town which is further south, and another city by the name of Al Khiran Sea City. 
 
People tend to go to the south because of the negative experience with our neighbours in the north; it had a negative effect. Even though we have a lot of farmlands in the north, people prefer to come here. And because of this, there is a lot of demand to live here and to have activities here. 
 
Also this area is the end of our oil and petrochemical activities. Even if they dig in the north or the west, they handle everything through here: the oil seaports are here, the plants are here and will be here; this area is the centre of the petrochemical industry and oil at the same time. And we have of course the famous reservoirs of oil, which thank God are still producing and are in demand. As well as our southern oil wells, in the divided area between Kuwait and Saudi Arabia there are also oil activities in partnerships, by sea and land. This area mostly is synonymous with oil. 
 
This area is indeed synonymous with oil. You were talking of 1946 and the first shipment to Britain. Oil is such an integral part of the Kuwaiti economy. Can I ask you what your assessment of the Kuwaiti economy is today and where you feel the economy is going in terms of development?  

What we hope is to develop services. We should be a hub of services. We were at a time, before oil, a hub of services. We were giving services to the area – as sailors, as traders – and we were connecting eastern Africa and the east of India with this area and then to the Mediterranean. And that was back not less than 400 years; the relationship with India and Pakistan, with all this coast, with all this area – especially Kuwait – goes back to that time.  Kuwait was having this role, providing services, being sailors, being traders, builders of ships, and that was the main thing this area was living on. I think it is in our National Development Plan but also it is the tendency. The right thing is to go towards services, to be a centre of services on all sides: education, medication and business.
 
There was the health centre here that was launched last month. Are there specific projects that are coming up that you can reveal to the readers of The Independent?

Of course, there is a new hospital, new colleges, universities, because the people here shouldn’t go 50km or more to study. This has been discussed with the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education, explaining that they are entitled to continue their activity here. We already have colleges and hospitals but we are looking to have more specialised colleges and more specialised hospitals.  
 
There is a lot of development going on here at the moment, we can see it on the street: the construction for example of the harbour nearby. These are exciting times.  

Most of the residential areas, buildings, residential towers, residential houses, and also some entertainment projects, are to cope with the population [expansion]. 
 
Entertainment is close to your heart, in terms of one of your dream projects for Al-Ahmadi. Could you talk about your vision for entertainment here? What’s going to happen? 

Yes, we are going to have another entertainment city. There is one in the north of Kuwait. People should have all needs met in their area. And that’s the policy we are concerned about and the government is offering this. The Central Government should be obliged, not only give normal promises, but it should be obliged to insist on these items again and again on the Plan. 
 
In terms of cross-sectorial development going on here, could you send a powerful message which says that Al-Ahmadi is ready for investment and a message to the British readership? Why should British investors look at Al-Ahmadi specifically? 

The British are mostly welcome in all Kuwait, not only in Ahmadi. We think that there is a good partnership between Kuwaiti businessmen and companies and the British side. The British are not participating in electricity projects and power projects, but the sector is open.
 
How do you think Ahmadi can encourage the British community and investors to participate in these projects, in electricity, and not only that but also in other projects with the National Development Plan?

They can participate through their counterparts here, through their sister companies. We are dealing here mostly with it. Last month we received an Argentinean group and discussions were made in the Chamber of Commerce and they assured their willingness for projects here. This is the way. And we are sure that investors who are caring know what is going in Kuwait. And we received also Mexicans, and soon we will receive another Mexican group. Every time they come from a district we tell them in Kuwait we are small. For some activities we should go through the centre; we don’t have everything here because we are small compared to Mexico or Argentina. But we follow up with them. They contact us, and they have their counterparts here; we visit them.

They come from all over the world. We had also Dutch people from the Netherlands: we are having very active relations with the city of Rotterdam. The Kuwait Oil Company has a very important participation and they are following up and are in contact, and there will be new projects there; we are even mostly owning the plant there in Rotterdam.  
 
You are very open to international partnerships. This is very evident from looking at your recent presence in the media and your comments here today. And Britain has had a long-standing affectionate relationship with Ahmadi, since the 40s, with lots of expatriates coming to stay here. Could you expand a little bit on that, on expatriates coming here and the close relationship between Britain and Ahmadi?  

It began through the Kuwait Oil Company, which is the oldest company in the oil sector. The company hired the first British and American personnel who started to work here and they had connections, they had meetings and receptions, and exchanged information. Kuwait Oil Company is very much concerned in continuing with this contact because they feel it is their heritage to keep on, to follow and to update. And every three or four years they do something.  
 
As far as doing business in Kuwait, there has been a perception that it can be challenging to come here and do business because of red tape and bureaucracy. Have you got any lessons that you could give to British business, specifically, the best kept secrets for British business coming here? 

To be frank with you, we all complain here about the red tape, and it is a very long process also. Now the government has promised to look into that with the new parliament. They are looking to eliminate a little bit of the procedures and change the tenders’ laws and procedures, for example having the freedom of movement within. But some of the companies that have just gained tenders here have done very well with the red tape and all this process. They managed well in two important projects: the electricity project and Sheikh Jabber bridge, a great project, and still a project on the way. Also there will be a new city built in the northeast of Kuwait.   
 
Those indeed are exciting projects and it’s good to hear that businesses come here and overcome some of these challenges. Is there any key advice that you would give to the British business before coming here, for example finding a local partner, for example that must be absolutely critical?

Yes, it’s very important to find a suitable partner. And also to pass by the Chamber of Commerce – they have a lot of updated information and they are willing to help very seriously. They are very serious at the Chamber of Commerce. 
 
Yes, and it has the largest amount of subscribers in the region. We met with the Vice-Chairman, Mr Al Wassan, and he was telling us about all those exciting projects. 
 
They are really serious businessmen and they are also receiving delegations. When I was there three weeks ago with the Argentinian governor of a state, he was in discussions with the chairman of the Chamber, who was very clear with him. He was also offering chances and opportunities in his state there. And the chairman of the Chamber was frank with him, he said the most important thing are the procedures, the red tape also. If you can come completely with your project, we can also go there; the people are ready to do business. But the best thing to do is to get the correct information from the Chamber.  
 
Now going back to Ahmadi and talking about perception and identity. Obviously Kuwait, a small country, with 10% of the oil reserves of the world, the international community tends to relate Kuwait with oil but they don’t necessarily know that Ahmadi is the home of oil in Kuwait. How would you like to raise the profile of Ahmadi and position it to the international community so that people think about Kuwait and oil and they know that it comes from Ahmadi?

Yes, of course. This area will supply this percentage of oil for many years to come. We are sure about it. We are now trying to hold the 3 million barrels a day level and also open the possibility for clean gas development, and also for the projects of 2020 and 2030; there are very ambitious objectives there in oil and gas, and we are sure that we can supply the world with a good quantity of oil.   
 
Of course, I have no doubt about that but do you think the international community knows Ahmadi and they know that here is where everything comes from?

I think so. This area was the first piece of land from which oil was exported, as I mentioned. Then after the liberation of Kuwait, the burning of oil, the fires, were also here; all the world has seen them – 700 oil wells were burnt, and after seven months it was under control and this area was in the world’s focus, due to all the TV coverage.
 
But I imagine with the oil burning, fuels and everything, Ahmadi received quite bad press at that time. Ahmadi should position itself in a good way, in a positive way. Here is where everything is happening. Would you like to turn the negative press into positive and say: “Look, here is where everything comes from, where fuel goes to the world, and it’s all happening in Ahmadi?” Do you think you need to position a positive image of the governorate?  

Yes, but not only the governorate. You have to see this place with our people and the oil, to have the wider picture and the exact information about oil. Ahmadi is still a part of Kuwait. We are proud of it. It will be a much more important district, open to the world.
 
Economists recently predicted at the Euromoney Kuwait 2013 conference, with the Minister of Finance present, that the current surplus could become a deficit by 2017. Do you feel there is some urgency about rebranding Kuwait? 

Well, if they are going to spend it like this, yes. In development projects it’s something else. They have to compromise as politicians. It could be but the people are having the feeling of that they are ok and they have a lot of oil reservoirs and a lot of investments. And the Authority of Investment does its best to take care of that, and to have 25% put aside for future generations, and if everybody does their work properly we may have to worry but not now. 
 
You have been governor here for some time and you have your own business interests as well. Your father is a highly respected man in the private business sector. Do you have personal achievements that you can reveal to us? What is your top achievement that you can reveal to the readers?  

My achievement is not in the private business. I am devoted to my work as government personnel. And doing my best to improve and develop this area and following up the government projects especially, and the oil projects, that will reflect on our area and its prosperity. 
 
Dr Ibrahim, thank you very much for those insightful and eloquent comments indeed about your governorate here. Can I just ask you finally for a message to sum up the great community here in Ahmadi?  

We wish them and send to them our greetings, and we hope that they can contact our people here who are concerned about business, for doing business together and improving their relations. And we are sure that they will find a lot of our businessmen here from the area and they can exchange their views and they can work together.

COMPANY DATABASESee all Database >

ABLIC Inc.

Manufacturing, Japan

Atago Ltd.

Manufacturing, Japan

UNIFLOW CO., LTD.

Manufacturing, Japan

LEADER DATABASESee all Database >

Nobumasa Ishiai

President and CEO, ABLIC Inc. Senior Managing Executive Officer, MinebeaMitsumi Inc. (Parent Company of ABLIC)
ABLIC Inc.

HIROSHI KOYAMA

MANAGING DIRECTOR
JUJO CHEMICAL CO., LTD.

Yoshihiko Hirano

President & CEO
Hirano Steel Co.,Ltd.

Yorifusa Wakabayashi

President and Representative Director, Chief Executive Officer
DAIO PAPER CORPORATION

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