I landed in Jeddah in 1976 as the pilgrimage of the Hajj was taking place. It was a shock and since that first visit to the region, I have been in the Middle East probably a hundred times. It was my first experience of emerging markets, and I discovered the importance of human relationships. The person who probably impressed me the most was Sheikh Ahmed Abdullatif who was running the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency.

I have friends throughout the region, and they bleed. The United States has, with the perfect ignorance of local realities that characterizes its foreign policy, literally exploded the fragile equilibrium between Sunnites and Shiites.


The region would be insignificant without its primary energy resources. It would probably not have interested the United States at all. Keeping it under control is one of the key challenges of the world economy. It is the disastrous decision to invade Iraq that led to the dismantling of the army and the creation of ISIS. The confidence of the Arab world in the US is anything but broken.

Without understanding the history of Islam and the way the Holy Quran has been created and interpreted, one cannot capture the intrinsic values and violence of Islam, not only physical violence, but also moral. It is also surprising to see that Islam has been blamed for what a number of mullahs have made it: conservative, racist and male chauvinist.


It also does not have the equivalent of the Pope and the Vatican and it is a terribly missing piece that makes it impossible to excommunicate practices that are made in the name of Islam, in particular, recently ISIS, that only is Islamic by name and is just a terrorist movement.


Iran, Gulf Countries and Saudi Arabia


I have not been to Iran since the Shah was deposed. I never stopped keeping contacts and following this exceptional country, that carries a unique civilization that is Islamic without being Arab. The degree of sophistication of the Iranian elite has now been disaggregated in the Iranian diaspora and destroy by the religious leadership of the country. It intrinsic modernism, however, will reemerge. Hopefully, the new agreements will stop decades of isolationism on their part and exclusion on our part.


The Gulf countries play a major political and economic role. However, with the exception of Bahrain and the Unite Arab Emirates, their conservatism continues to raise serious human right questions.


My main concern is Saudi Arabia. Its fight for the leadership of Islam leads it to lapidate women and behead why lashing those who express view they do not like. For political reasons, it is the head of the Human rights commission of the United Nations. One of the main sources of funds for terrorists, the country bears a huge responsibility in the instability of its own region.


Belgians have, for good or bad reasons, a special relationship with Africa. Generations of Belgians worked, lived and died in what was called at the time Congo, Rwanda and Burundi. My family had several of its branches literally expatriating themselves to the Belgian colonies. I will not defend colonization or decolonization as Belgium did it, but history has ignored the immense investment people from my country did in Africa. I keep in touch with the country where my brother, Bernard Ugeux, coordinates from Bukavu the training in Africa of the White Fathers, a Roman Catholic congregation dedicated to the continent.

That commitment is more than just of historic value. it created a deep attachment to a continent that its politicians, by and large, continue to systematically ruin. Africa is almost impossible to help because of the lawlessness of its politicians.

Algeria and Angola


Algeria has been important in business relationships and the most vivid memory of this period was the organization of a week of training of Banque Nationale d’Algerie executives on the workings of international capital markets. The Algerians are amazing people, mixing the worst and the best and I enjoy the relationships I built with professional Algerian people.


Angola has been destroyed by civil war. Tanks International, based in London was a subsidiary of Societe Generale de Belgique and I was in charge of its supervision. It owned the Benguela Railways together with the Angolan Government. The war had made the railways impossible to operate, but I have vivid images of employees who had rebuilt a locomotive with the remnants of two who had been bombed and the hospital of the Railways.


Developing Africa


Tata International is managed by two important executives of the Tata Group: S. Ramadorai (former CEO of Tata Consultancy Services) and Noel Tata. I work closely with them and hope that the vision will prevail that India has a unique role to play in Africa (not only to compensate for the Chinese). Its presence in South Africa is substantial and it is physically operating in 34 African countries. It is a major strategic challenge for the group.


Africa is unfortunately vastly plagued by corruption, abuse and crime. But the corrupting powers are mostly Western companies without scrupulousness. The political pressure of the West will not be sufficient to change this lack of governance. Recently, in some parts of this exceptional continent, we started to see progress and investments followed. But it is for the Africans to impose a state of law without which terrorism and wild illegal emigration will continue to flow tom the detriment of the Africans.


As the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria once said at a forum in China: The West considers Africa as the new frontier. It might be the case for them, not necessarily for the Africans. It is the challenge of the XXI century.