محاضرات | Lectures

Bridging the Gaps

February 24, 2010

London

In adherence to the Arab old tradition of story telling, let me start my remarks with the story, it will not be exciting as the One thousand and one Nights, but it will do.
The story is about a shoe company that decided to explore market opportunity in a small remote country in the middle of the desert, so they sent two marketing agent to this country spending a week, the 1st agent cabled back to home saying: “people over here walk barefoot, so let’s not waste our time and resources”. While the other agent wrote back, “people over here walk barefoot, there is HELL of a market shoes!!”

This story tells in a nut shell how Kuwait – U.K relations started. Sure in the middle of the 18th century the British used Kuwait’s port and to transport mail from U.K to India and Kuwait’s vessels to evade hostile ships of in the Indian Ocean.
However, the real contact was established by Sir Lewis Pelly, the British political resident in the Gulf, some hundred and fifty years ago. On his visit in 1865 he met with Kuwait ruler sheikh Sabah Bin Jabir at which he described Kuwait by saying : “Thus a group of native tribes could establish a stable secure country under the fostering care of a succession of common sense rulers and by means of policy wisely originated and systematically pursued, that an Arab tribe was promoted to masters of a thriving port which was a refuge for the oppressed and the peaceful home for all. I confess, I looked around with something like amazement at finding such apolitical and commercial structure in such a region and the work of such hands”.

That meeting was the genesis of Kuwait British relationship. This paved the way for the famous treaty of 1899 between Sheikh Moubarak of Kuwait and Queen Victoria of Great Britain. And the rest as the historian say is history.
If one asked me to define Kuwait roll in one sentence, I would say that Kuwait is in the gaps bridging business, a business that transcend time and space.
The three gaps East West, Rich Poor, and Present Future.

1- East Vs. West

Since the independence in 1961 Kuwait firmly decide to adopt positive neutrality in the east west ideological divide, Kuwait was the first Gulf country to establish diplomatic ties with USSR in early sixties; also she played a very constructive role in the north south dialogue or better known as the Brandt Commission.

However, with the fall of Berlin wall and the collapse of the
bi-polar world, Kuwait did not lose its bearings. In fact, Kuwait recalibrated its foreign policy coordinates to be well anchored in the safe harbor of International Law and legitimacy.
To be sure, the Iraqi aggression against Kuwait solidified our total and categorical commitments and adherence to the rule of Law and the behavior of Global citizenry.

From the plains of Kosovo, Nagorno – Karabakh, and Abkhazia, to the dangerous quick sands of the Middle East Peace Process and the Iranian Nuclear File, Kuwait has taken a very confident and secure position, well entrenched in the bunker of International legitimacy.

With respect to the Middle East Peace Process for example, we have embraced full heartedly the Arab Peace initiative and the quarter Road Map, while Israel continues its aggression and defiance of international law. We strongly condemn the Israeli land grab policy, illegal settlement activities and worst of all the recent assassination not only of individuals but also the assassination of historic and cultural heritage of the Palestinian People as we can be seen with the issue Hebron.

As with respect to Iran, we fully support Iran’s right for peaceful Nuclear Technology. At the same time, we strongly encourage Iran to comply fully with Security Council Resolutions and to have total transparency and cooperation with I.A.E.A.

It is in our best interest to avoid sanctions against Iran and it is equally in Iran’s best interest to transmit a message of reassurance and peaceful intentions to the Whole world.

2- Rich Vs. Poor

One of the most basic, intrinsic and existential strategy for post independent Kuwait, is to be a global citizen. The most effective way to support this strategy was by creating Kuwait Fund in December 1961, just six months after our independence.

The Amir then, Sheikh Abdullah wanted to send a message from the Kuwaiti People to the rest of the word: ‘Here we are embarking on the tide of change, but we will not forget our friends in need’.

Furthermore, Robert McNamara, the president of World Bank in 1968, wrote: “when first established in 1961 the Kuwait Fund was without precedent. Here was Kuwait, a tiny country, until recently among the poorest places on earth, establishing a development fund in the year of its political independence. While welcoming its new found prosperity, it was declaring a willingness to share its future wealth with its Arab neighbors.”

Half a century later and thanks to the genuine support from the successive Kuwaiti Amirs and the Kuwaiti people, the Kuwait fund have extended its operation to more than one hundred countries around the world which makes it the largest development assisting institution after the World Bank. A fact that propelled Kuwait to be one of the most generous countries in the world and certainly one of the most active player in the field of development
and a fervent warrior against hunger, poverty and underdevelopment.

3- Present Vs. Future

Recognizing that Kuwait’s wealth is over whelmingly concentrated in exhaustible from, the ruler of Kuwait Sheikh Abdullah decided in the early fifties to diversify Kuwait’s wealth portfolio more in favor of financial wealth. Therefore, he created the first sovereign wealth fund in the world in the middle fifties located here in London and called Kuwait Investment Office (K.I.O)

In 1976, Sheikh Sabah, signed into law the creation of the fund for future generation that encompasses the whole operation of K.I.O.

This revolutionary idea of taxing current generation in favor of their unborn grand children is a testimony to the far sightedness of Kuwait leadership and especially to sheikh Jaber.

The idea is to generate enough financial resources to enable the post oil generation to create a viable and sustainable economy.
To help facilitate this long term structural transformation of our economy, Kuwait has just embarked on a very ambitious development plan which is brainchild of the current Amir Sheikh Sabah. We are planning to spend eighty five billion pounds over the next four years.

Here I would like to extend an invitation to our British friends to participate in our development projects.

I know that to invest abroad, the investor needs three prerequisites :-
1-    Integrity, stability and transparency of the judicial and legal structure.
2-    The ability of host government to meet its financial obligations.
3-    The social and cultural hospitality and tolerance for Foreign Investors.

As with respect to the 1st prerequisite: Kuwait’s legal code has proven its resilience and effectiveness in dispensing justice and fairness.
As to the 2nd requirement, I think Kuwait’s track record as a global investor and business partner speaks for itself.
As far the 3rd prerequisite is concerned, yes we might dress differently, we speak different language, and we even have fundamentally different weather, yet you can be absolutely certain that Britain can always count on Kuwait to be a reliable, trustworthy and ally.

God bless Kuwait and god bless The United Kingdom.