November 08, 2005
US Gov and Private Equity: Project is public [Upated with Arty Text] [Update 11 Nov]
The item I have refered to in the past is now public:
A Ludicrously Bad Idea
The key item here is this:
"The U.S. wants to see some success before further expansion. It envisions attracting board members with the clout -- names being bandied about include Jack Welch and Robert Rubin -- to get Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak on the phone to complain, for example, that he needs to free up pharmaceutical prices if a private drug industry is to flourish in Egypt."
Fucking stupid ass concept. Getting your fund involved in these kind of politics is a disastrous way to invest.
UPDATE: Arty text below with extended commentary.
As my original link to The Wall Street Journal article does not work properly, I am forced to engage in commentary and a bit of reproduction.
The article, then, and some comments.
THINKING GLOBAL By FREDERICK KEMPE A New Mideast Push November 8, 2005 It has taken four years since 9/11 to get there, but the Bush administration this weekend will announce its most ambitious multilateral action yet for promoting democratic and economic change across the Mideast.
I suppose he means by Americans as the Barcelona process and the various other EU engagements are actually rather more ambitious than the two piddling projects to be announced. Of course the EU has pissed away much money via its rather inane approach, so ambitious does not mean better here.
But where is Op Eding without hyperbole.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Saturday at a G-8 sponsored meeting in Bahrain will announce something the world hasn't seen before: a grant-making private foundation with as much as $50 million in startup funds aimed at democratizing the Mideast. Months of difficult diplomacy have won symbolically significant backing from the European Union and some Arab states that seemed unlikely until recently.
Ms. Rice at the same time will announce a $100 million-plus enterprise fund that will take equity positions to promote small and medium-size corporations across the region. The fund will launch its operations in Egypt and Morocco with some $50 million of U.S. funding. Importantly, Egypt and Morocco will each put up $20 million. The EU is likely to participate through a $30 million contribution from the European Investment Bank.
In fact, the private equity fund (aka enterprise fund) has been kicking around since 2002, but the zombie rose from the grave recently. It is not, in fact, a done deal. Close and probable, but there are ugly details being glossed over. As to the grant making foundation, the idea of it alone strikes me as absurd, but it’s not my field.
The two measures -- known as "The Foundation for the Future" and "The Fund for the Future" -- have significance beyond their initially modest backing. That is because of the G-8 imprimatur and because their broad, nongovernmental nature could make them lasting institutions that become a magnet for the region's fledgling pro-democracy forces. The U.S. is pushing the initiative now partly so that the G-8's support for democratizing the Mideast doesn't evaporate when Russia replaces the United Kingdom presidency next year.
Given what I know about the internal structuring of the Fund, the American Administration has attempted (and won) so many insertion points that pretending it is “non-governmental” is laughable. I have to suspect the Foundation is likely similar.
Skipped over an empty para about putting rhetoric to work.
Both the fund and the foundation are aimed at creating a larger "democratic space" with the immediate aim of helping defuse a ticking demographic bomb. Fifty million more Mideast young will enter the work force by 2007 and some 100 million by 2013. The State Department calculates that it would take 6-7% regional economic growth over that period to absorb them all; current growth is only half of that. Without jobs or a government perceived as responsive to their plight, the danger is that millions more Arab young will become terrorist recruits.
Fair enough (although it is not United States State Department but World Bank that did the calculation).
The nonprofit foundation's aim is to provide them new political channels and organizations to join, while the enterprise fund would create more jobs to employ them. The hope is that both will be more successful than Bush administration reform efforts that have fallen largely within the Middle East Partnership Initiative, or MEPI. That project was launched in 2002 with $300 million of government funding (some of which will go to these new programs). But insiders say the money has only been partially deployed and that MEPI has suffered from leadership turnover, stunted creativity, charges of U.S. meddling and Washington's unwillingness to stand up to recalcitrant Mideast leaders. (See related article.)
Amusing contention. The pilot organisation within United States government for this effort is … wait for it …. the very same people, this Middle East partner blah blah cellule.
I know many would disagree, but frankly I don’t think the problems with US policy in the MENA region are ‘unwillingness to stand up to recalcitrant’ leaders per se, but rather bloody magical thinking about what changes the US (or for that matter EU or G8) can actually drive as outsiders.
Also magical thinking with respect to the speed of change, given one has realpolitik interests in stability of regimes; there are choices to be made, not fucking bloody well wished away. Personally a bit of realpolitik and hard nosed pragmatism (but within the context of understanding that one has to start dealing the Ikhouan and the like) are far preferable to magical Wilsonian transformative rubbish thinking.
Besides, my assets might get fucked.
By creating these more independent and multilateral institutions, U.S. officials hope they can overcome MEPI'S inherent weaknesses.
The phrase that characterises this is “magical thinking.”
One can not have “multilaterals” that in fact you run, and rather transparently. It only fools the pre-fooled.
Moving along, this piece of idiotic spin is amusing
Elizabeth Cheney, the senior official responsible for the new push, is very familiar with MEPI. After working in her father's vice-presidential campaign, she returned to the State Department early this year to run MEPI. The Cheney name, associated as it is with the Iraq war, won't play well on the Arab street. But Ms. Cheney, the vice president's eldest daughter, has proven an effective advocate among European and Arab elites, who have seen that level of White House involvement as a demonstration of seriousness.
IE MEPI replaces MEPI, she’s only the bloody origin of it all.
As to effective, eh…..
Well, it is US FP for MENA, what can I say.
Skipping over the para about the excellence of Rice, and her “talent laden State Department”
The nonprofit democratization foundation has been the most controversial of the two initiatives, as more than a few Mideast leaders realize that its goal of bolstering civil society organizations could translate into better organized opposition to their own rule. It's no wonder that long-time American allies Egypt and Saudi Arabia haven't signed on.
Well, when one thinks about it, would the US sign on to a huge Saudi foundation funding Wahhabite cells? Regardless, I rather am convinced
The U.S. has deflected parties that might impede the foundation's independence and freedom of movement. Washington is also helping to craft charter principles that would satisfy Congress that the foundation won't unwittingly support Islamist movements.
Which you may profitably read as “Although this pretends to be new wine, it is really old wine in a not-so-new bottle and in fact the foundation will do the usual Development Organisation engagement with safe ‘secular’ marginalised but oh so English speaking liberals with no fucking roots at all in the real politics. Much empty whanking and posturing will go on between comfortable people.”
I also read “deflected parties” as meaning in fact what I suspect is its been crafted in a way that the foundation will inevitably be seen as a US Gov tool and the whole idea of circumventing the baggage will be lost.
That said, the list of countries that have promised support is an impressive one. The U.S. will pony up $35 million over two years, the European Union some $5 million. With the minimum price of admission set at $1 million, other countries that have committed are Spain, Italy, Denmark, the U.K., the Netherlands, Hungary, Turkey, Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, Morocco, Bahrain and possibly Kuwait.
I will believe the promises when the money is delivered.
Now where would we be in an American (or, to be honest, Anglophone) editorial without some pointless whinging on about the French.
France hasn't joined because it much prefers acting in the Mideast through a 10-year-old EU initiative known as the Barcelona Process. Germany won't be able to decide about joining until its new government is fully formed. Spain's involvement was a critical diplomatic victory, however, as it helps mend one of the most troubled U.S. relationships in Europe and brings on board the country that was the home of the Barcelona initiative.
With good reason.
Not that French habits of treating North Africa as its own little private stomping ground are enlightening, but they are not terribly different than the American regard for Central America.
The U.S. and European countries would like to see the foundation based in a Mideast country where it can operate relatively freely, so Lebanon is a favorite -- though Jordan, Morocco and even Yemen have put up their hands.
Oh that would be brilliant, let the bloody thing become a Leb Land plaything. I love the Lebs, but they are deluded as to being some kind of special passe-passe between “The Arabs” and “The West” – well whatever, it will inevitably become a Levant plus Egypt plus Gulf focused thing and the Maghreb will be safely off on its own.
Of course the Yemanis, I might add, are bloody deluded. You can’t even fucking travel around without armed escort from the tribes in the bloody country.
The enterprise fund is a more straight-forward affair, patterned after initiatives in Eastern Europe after the Soviet bloc's implosion. What the U.S. learned was the such efforts succeed only in countries committed to reform that are also willing to contribute themselves. Hence, the emphasis is on Egypt and Morocco.
Hence the emphasis on Egypt??????????????
Bloody delusional. Absolutely bloody delusional.
Of course, to my understanding the enterprise funds were disasters in general (although probably not from investing fundamentals per se but from the idiotic political conception driven by near term politics… sound familiar, eh?).
Except for one:
In Poland, a similar fund had $240 million in capital for just 40 million people, so the target of $100 million is small for 30 million Moroccans and 80 million Egyptians. The U.S. wants to see some success before further expansion. It envisions attracting board members with the clout -- names being bandied about include Jack Welch and Robert Rubin -- to get Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak on the phone to complain, for example, that he needs to free up pharmaceutical prices if a private drug industry is to flourish in Egypt.
100 million USD is not merely small for 110 million people, it’s fucking insignificant. It’s a joke. Worse, the idea that having big American names on a board and having them call in policy air strikes is not merely stupid, it’s delusionally stupid.
You will ensure that the people you do business with (i.e. you’ve invested in) are pariahs in the long term. Never mind the logistics and fact that domestic political interest are in play. (Or how the fuck you are going to speak to the francophone Moroccans this way)
It is, in short, a monumentally stupid thing to do, and pure magical thinking.
[update 11 November]
I share, for its amusement value, the comment by my 'mentor' (he of, 'want a friend, get a dog' fame) and old private equity hand (emerging markets and developed markets):
"I had missed the comment about having a Board with folks like Jack Welch. No only is it a stupid idea, they'd never get the right kind of people to serve on a board. Much better to have a smart staff of committed public officals, or even to put it out to bid to a gatekeeper."
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Your link just went to the main politics page - which story was it? Could you give us the gist?
Posted by: aardvark at November 9, 2005 09:15 AM
Rotted. Let me check this.
Posted by: lounsbury at November 9, 2005 09:57 AM
Bother, the link works for me through my own service, but not here. Bloody WSJ. I'll reproduce portions of the arty shortly then.
Posted by: lounsbury at November 9, 2005 09:58 AM
CL, do you think the whole concept is stupid or just the private equity component?
Posted by: praktike at November 9, 2005 11:03 AM
I believe you have your answer.
I actually like the private equity concept, just not the details.
The foundation I consider a ludicrous waste of money, but then I largely consider any Democratisation nonsense a waste of money.
Posted by: lounsbury at November 9, 2005 01:42 PM
Either the writer is a moron or the original idea has been totally botched. It sounded much better when Thomas Carothers came up with it.
Posted by: praktike at November 10, 2005 12:07 AM
first of all, let's the complimentary frog-bashing out of the way: "ikhouan"??? are those the people who call roundabouts "al-roundpoint" (with a french pronounciation of both "al" & "roundpoint", of course)? just checking.
no need to reiterate all the points L has already made, although having cheney's daughter run the whole thing was truly the icing on the cake...
why hungary would care about the foundation is a mystery to me - it has neither the ties to nor the $$$ for such an engagement.
the swiss do have the $$$, but why are they on board for that? maybe 'cause they figure that hq-ing the whole thing in the mideast will prove to be a desaster & then they'll be conveniently already on board for the choice of the "new & significantly improved" hq to be geneva.
both turkey and lebanon will, of course, not have to pony up the $$$ themselves & i could imagine that morocco won't have to pay the "entrance fee" out of its own coffers, either.
nothing short of (a) a complete declaration of "we've really fucked you over" by the u.s. to the "arabo-islamic world" and (b) a subsequent reorientation of its foreign policy will suffice to give such schemes the sliver of a chance.
i am, however, all for us types to try to get as much $$$ out of these funds as possible. better me than farid ghadry or ahmad jallabi.
Posted by: raf* at November 10, 2005 09:23 AM
I am told, btw, in conversations with parties that the article is based on a premature leak.
Posted by: lounsbury at November 10, 2005 01:09 PM
BTW, per the plans, the money kicked in has to be real. Morocco has pledged dinero, where it comes from is perhaps another issue.
Posted by: lounsbury at November 10, 2005 02:13 PM
i did not mean to insinuate that the "brown people's $$$" would not have to be real but merely suggested that it would not have to come out of their very own treasury departments. i'd be woefully pissheaded if i did not defer expertise on the maghrib to you, but i can say with certainty that the lebanese cheque will NOT be written at the masraf libneen.
i still want to know where to send grant app's, though.
Posted by: raf* at November 10, 2005 04:34 PM
I did not think you were saying brown dollars were not real, however the capital sources per my present understanding and inside sources are that in fact the cheques are coming from treasuries. Where treasuries get the money is, perhaps, another problem.
Posted by: lounsbury at November 10, 2005 07:29 PM