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Mohammed bin Salman: Portrait of a Ruthless Crown Prince – By Osmund Agbo


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It’s hard to imagine that the impulsive action of a certain thirty-something year old, living close by the rolling sand dunes of the Rub’al Khali desert, could impact my state government’s ability to pay her bills. Yet that’s the reality of the interconnected world we live in today. As the oil price war between Russia and the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) led by Saudi Arabia continues to force a precipitous fall in the commodity price, Nigeria is beginning to experience a failure to thrive. This prodigal son of a country is forced to slash her annual spending plan since the initial projection was based on a crude price projection of $57 a barrel. Not good!

The country is working to raise daily production of crude oil to offset some of the deficit, hoping the price war could be resolved and crude prices appreciate sooner than later. Without such, Nigeria’s strategy of pumping flat out may have to be reversed because it ceases to make commercial sense, according to Oil minister, Timipre Sylva.

Although Russia is a big part of the problem for refusing to cut production down in the face of dwindling global demand, Saudi Arabia overreacted by flooding the market completely. This resulted in a free fall in the oil price, placing a choke hold on wholly oil dependent economies like Nigeria. Unlike many other OPEC countries, Saudi Arabia, with a foreign reserve that stands at a whooping $490 billion (compared to Nigeria’s meagre $38 billion) could afford such a luxury. At least on the short term. Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) knew about all these but could care less about how his actions impact other OPEC member nations.

When on June 21, 2017, Muhammad bin Nayef was deposed in a palace coup, no one could have predicted that the heir-designate to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia would be the thirty year old cousin of the then crown prince – Mohammed bin Salman, referred to in the West as MBS.

No sooner had he assumed his new position than he warmed his way into the hearts of liberal democracies across the world. He immediately launched his Vision 2030 programme, aimed at diversifying the Saudi economy through investment in non-oil sectors, including technology and tourism. He invited the world to explore investment opportunities in what was known as Davos in the desert. In September 2017, he issued a decree that would allow women to drive for the first time in the Kingdom’s history. Although the much anticipated Aramco IPO launch continued to hit road bumps, MBS nevertheless was determined to transform Riyadh into a mega city similar to Dubai in the neighbouring United Arab Emirate.

No one was more sold on MBS’s charm offensive than the US president. Although it had been alleged that Mr. Trump has his own personal interest to protect, which was why he ditched the regular diplomatic channel through the U.S. State Department and instead favoured to stick with his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. The prince had a direct line to the White House and Trump was ever ready to overlook all of his sins. Even when American intelligence agencies alleged that MBS directed the hit that killed the U.S. based journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, Trump blocked every move by the American Congress to punish him.

Over time, MBS would reveal more of his true self. Although he loves to position himself as a reformer, the young man continued to show he had more antics up his royal sleeves.

Since becoming the crown prince, MBS has launched an aggressive bombing campaign in Yemen, resulting in famine, starvation and death of thousands of civilians in that country, in a brutal proxy war with Iran. His other signature moves included the escalation of the Qatar diplomatic crisis, the detention of Lebanese prime minister, Saad Hariri and the diplomatic spat with Canada, to mention but a few. He also orchestrated the arrest of other royals under the guise of fighting corruption, but which was more of a move to consolidate his powers. The crown prince had become totally unhinged as the world watched on and it did appear as if there would be no limit to his endless shenanigans.

It’s true that power corrupts but the good news is that even absolute power doesn’t lasts forever. The oil price war with Russia might have turned out to be his Achilles heel. The needless war is starting to hit the American oil industry pretty hard and with Trump’s re-election on the horizon, the president is feeling the pressure already. In a response, his first order of business was to request the recall of the U.S. patriot missile defence system and many fighter jets deployed to protect the Kingdom against Iranian aggression. MBS is now pissing his pants and that’s not a bad thing. In fact, it might actually be a good thing.

As his mask continues to come off, it is our hope that other powerful nations of the civilised world would seize the moment and rein in on the excesses of this highly priveledged and reckless brat.

Osmund Agbo is the president/CEO of African Center for Transparency.

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