Angola is raising its profile in UAE

Depa lands Luanda contract, Emirates to add service and diamond deals are being explored.

The Ridge Solutions stand in the Cityscape at Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre, Dubai.
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One of the biggest newcomers at Cityscape Dubai this year was Ridge Solutions, the largest property developer in Angola. The company's stand was among the larger ones and positioned near the front of the exhibition centre with a model Formula One car from the AT&T Williams team that rivalled the Ferrari at the Aldar Properties stand across the hall.

Ridge Solutions arrives as the UAE and Angola, which is undergoing a massive building boom fuelled by oil sales from the southern African nation, are increasingly exploring business opportunities. In August, Depa, the interiors contractor based in Dubai, announced it had signed a Dh9.2 million (US$2.5m) deal to fit out the new Talatona Convention Centre Hotel in the capital city of Luanda. While the contract was relatively small, Depa executives said the move was part of a larger shift of economic activity to Africa.

Nadim Akhrass, the managing director of operations at Depa, said the company was "testing the waters" for expanding to Angola in a large way. "We have a good appetite to expand in such a virgin market that is full of opportunities for us," he said. "People are really eyeing the Angolan market." In June, the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre said it was "exploring opportunities to increase diamond trade" with Angola. Later this month, Emirates Airline will start direct flights to Luanda.

Raul Silva, the managing director of the Dubai office of Ridge Solutions, said his company and the Angolan government in general were looking for "strategic partners" to take part in a massive redevelopment of the country. After decades of civil war, Angola found stability in 2002 when the leader of a violent political faction, Jonas Savimbi, was killed in combat with government forces. In the years since, the economy of Angola has emerged as one of the fastest growing in the world. Last year its GDP grew by 16 per cent, according to estimates from the IMF.

The key driver of the economy is its wealth of natural resources, especially oil and diamonds. Oil production is strong and expected to expand next year with new deposits such as the Tombua-Landana offshore field coming online. One consequence of its fast economic growth is that Angola has become the most expensive city in the world, A basic apartment can cost $15,000 a month. Joseph Freeman, the group vice president of finance for Ridge Solutions, said companies in Angola were taking advantage of the need to build everything from sewer systems to roads to apartments. "With Angola tying into the global economy with oil, it has opened itself up to the rest of the world," he said.

One major area that is still in the "nascent stage" is agriculture. Ridge Solutions was building a dairy farm and preparing the way for fruits, wheat and corn to be grown in the country, Mr Freeman said. "The country is becoming accessible again."