Africa/Middle East - Issue 8 - Magazine | Monocle

thumbnail text

Throw a book at him


In July, President Sarkozy described Africa as being “in the margin of history, immobile”. And just to stress the point, added, “African man has not really entered history. The African peasant only knows the eternal repetition of time, gestures and words.” He was talking to an audience of Senegalese academics. Now Adame Ba Konaré, historian and wife of Mali’s former president, is planning a book to “bring Sarkozy up to speed”. She wants contributions from Africa’s historians. Sarkozy should be able to have the first copy in 2008.

My morning media menu

Esther Passaris

Founder of Adopt-a-Light and one of East Africa’s most prominent businesswomen -Kenya

Where do you turn to first for news? I love watching Anderson Cooper on CNN in the morning before I go to work – he’s a great reporter. For some unknown reason I like Sky News. It doesn’t have a lot of international news, but it is sufficient. It gives you the headlines every 15 minutes – sometimes you have to wait longer on CNN.

Which newspapers do you read? I read the Daily Nation. It is Kenya’s best newspaper; it doesn’t dramatise things as much as The Standard. When I get home I always watch the KTN news at 21.00. I flick between Citizen and NTV. It is the best way to end the day.

Short hall


Smart venues built for one-off events can become white elephants, gathering dust as city officials struggle to find a use for them. In Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, they have no such problems. A grand €7m concert venue completed in September is set to be torn down in December, just three months after it hosted the country’s millennium celebrations (it will make way for a hotel). The venue was paid for by Africa’s richest man, Sheikh Mohammed Al-Amoudi, Ethiopian by birth and the country’s largest private investor. It sits next to Addis Ababa’s Sheraton hotel, also owned by Al-Amoudi and widely accepted as the most opulent hotel on the continent.

Al-Amoudi is a curious, secretive figure who rarely gives interviews. As well as being the richest man in Africa, his estimated worth of €4.9bn makes him the 77th richest person in the world, according to Forbes. Al-Amoudi made his money in construction and property before moving into oil.

On Millennium Eve (which fell more than seven years after the rest of the world due to the country’s unique Julian calendar), US hip-hop group, the Black Eyed Peas, played to 20,000 guests at Al-Amoudi’s new venue. Prices put tickets out of reach of many Ethiopians – the cheapest was €115, around twice the average monthly wage.

Before the hall gets torn down there will be two more concerts. Beyoncé is due to perform in October, while the rapper 50 Cent is expected to make an appearance at the start of December.

Al-Amoudi – one great sheikh

01 Owns the Addis Ababa Sheraton hotel.
02 Plans to build a luxury hotel in Harar, one of Islam’s holiest cities.
03 His company, MIDROC-Ethiopia controls around 45 subsidiaries in Ethiopia, including mining, soft drinks and coffee companies.
04 Sponsors Africa’s football competition, the CECAFA Cup, now renamed Al-Amoudi Senior Challenge Cup.
05 2002 Economic Commission for Africa report estimated Al-Amoudi was responsible for 60 per cent of all foreign direct investment in Ethiopia.

Monarch of the glam


In our regular series on decoding power dressing in the world of politics, we look at the attitude – and accessories – of Queen Rania of Jordan. She is at the forefront of Middle East humanitarian organisations, but, as a woman, can she be taken seriously by her adopted homeland?

The daughter of a West Bank paediatrician from Tulkarm and a Nablus-born housewife, the then Princess Rania Al-Abdullah (née Yassin) acceded to the Jordanian throne in 1999. Aged 29, she became not only the world’s youngest queen, but also its only (joint) head of state of Palestinian origin.

A fairytale existence awaited Queen Rania as the wife and consort of King Abdullah II. But there were early signs that she was not going to buy into her newfound wealth – at least, not immediately. For the couple’s coronation Rania borrowed her sister-in-law’s €1.5m tiara (a handy accessory to have in the family), instead of splashing out on a new one.

As a former Citibank executive, with a business degree from the American University in Cairo, Rania’s gesture did not go unnoticed. Indeed, for the first few years of her reign, Rania, who was born and grew up in Kuwait, was given a fairly easy ride by Jordan’s conservative ruling elite: mostly East Bank Bedouins with strong connections to the Hashemite throne.

Things took a turn for the worse in 2002 – the year Rania began to speak out on sensitive issues such as honour killings and child abuse. (She has since created Dar-Al-Amman, the Middle East’s first centre for abused and neglected children.) Suddenly, focus switched to Queen Rania’s penchant for luxury handbags and for heading off for foreign holidays on her private jet. Jordanians still speak about a football match that same year when East Bankers chanted to King Abdullah, “Divorce her! Divorce her!”

Rania first caught Abdullah’s eye at a dinner party in January 1993. The future king was smitten and the couple married the following June. They now have four children. At 5ft 8in tall, with long chestnut hair, high cheekbones and doe-like eyes, Rania has always attracted attention. Giorgio Armani, one of Rania’s favourite designers, said, “[she] has the body of a model and she holds herself like the queen she is – what more could you want?”

In a country where fashion is a peripheral concern (the country’s sole English-language daily The Jordan Times does not even have a fashion correspondent), Rania, 37, is a unique ambassador. Fusing Arab and western styles, Rania’s eye-catching wardrobe has made her a favourite subject of gossip columns and US talk shows such as The Oprah Winfrey Show. The net result is that Jordan enjoys a high profile in the West.

“In Arabic countries, especially Jordan, there is not really a culture of fashion,” says Hana Sadiq, an Iraqi fashion designer based in Jordan. “Queen Rania is trying to change this by promoting designers from the Arab world by wearing their designs.” Favourite designers include Lebanese couturiers whose evening dresses sell for up to €270,000. Rania also has an Anglophile streak (her husband was educated at Harrow), favouring designers such as Bruce Oldfield, who designed her wedding dress.

But perhaps the biggest fashion statement the queen makes is by choosing not to wear the traditional hijab (headscarf) or niqab (face veil). Still, she remains a deeply religious Muslim and is keen to destroy misconceptions about those who do choose to wear the hijab or niqab. “The veil is all about modesty, piety and devotion to God,” she told the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter. “Unfortunately, too many people in the western world mistakenly perceive it as an expression of powerlessness and oppression.”

As this year’s winner (along with her husband) of the John Wallach Peacemaker Award for her efforts towards achieving peace in the Middle East, Rania demonstrated, beyond any doubt, that she has more than enough substance to back up her style.
See Queen Rania in action at the Tällberg Forum on

Share on:






Go back: Contents



sign in to monocle

new to monocle?

Subscriptions start from £120.

Subscribe now





Monocle Radio


  • The Continental Shift