Blackwater founder Erik Prince to help Chinese firms set up shop in Africa

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 July, 2014, 5:02am
UPDATED : Monday, 07 July, 2014, 8:13pm

Erik Prince, the man behind controversial private security firm Blackwater, wants to "take the drama out of Africa" for Chinese firms eyeing the continent's trove of natural resources.

Prince, who sold Blackwater in 2010, is now chairman of Frontier Services Group (FSG), which provides logistics, aviation and risk management services to firms that want to set up in Africa.

"We want to take some of the drama out of Africa; the drama of getting there, setting up and operating there," he said.

Over the past decade, Chinese investors have poured billions into Africa to secure access to natural resources amid concerns of exploitation. China is Africa's biggest trade partner.

FSG, which has a sales team in Beijing and is headquartered in Hong Kong, is closely linked to Citic Group, China's largest state-owned conglomerate.

While the dictum "high risk, high return" applies to the continent, Prince said his customers - who are looking for bauxite, steel, energy, copper, tin or gold - should focus on another slogan: "happy locals, happy project".

It is important for foreign companies to partner local businesses, he stressed, adding that Chinese firms face certain risks simply because they have a lot of people in Africa.

"If there's a concerted effort against some regime in a country, then anyone there helping that country build its infrastructure … will be subject to the wrath of that insurgency," Prince said. "Some blame might get wrongly put on a Chinese firm that's just there building a road, so there's animosity directed towards them."

Prince singled out Nigeria as a key challenge. "It's the continent's single largest economy and the fact that they've had more than 200 schoolgirls captured … represents a real challenge for any company," he said.

In April, Islamist militant group Boko Haram kidnapped over 200 schoolgirls, who remain captive. A month later, in neighbouring Cameroon, Boko Haram rebels were suspected of abducting 10 Chinese employees.

"The tragedy of those schoolgirls being taken or Chinese nationals … kidnapped in Cameroon, those are challenges that [state-owned enterprises] haven't really faced before," he said.