September 2008
Building Brand bin Ladenimage courtesy of
Will the tiny nation of Djibouti one day be the “Dubai of Africa,” host to the largest suspension bridge in the world? Sheikh Tarek bin Laden, along with an alliance of international investors and some $200 billion in capital, hopes so.

By Jeff Neumann

Inside a half-finished five-star hotel in Djibouti this past July, several hundred foreign dignitaries, investors and journalists gathered for the first look at an ambitious plan to unite two continents. Dubai-based Al Noor Holding Investment Company hopes to build a bridge between Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. But not just any bridge: Spanning 29 kilometers of the Red Sea between Djibouti and Yemen, it will be the world’s largest suspension structure, at points boasting 800-meter pilings and anchored at each side by brand new cities bearing the same name: Al Noor City, or City of Light.

The estimated cost of the whole venture is somewhere around $200 billion (LE 1.06 trillion).

The visionary behind the project, Tarek bin Laden, the Saudi oligarch and half-brother of the notorious Osama, hopes in 15 to 20 years time to see his dream of the bridge and both cities become reality. But just how realistic is it?

Perhaps Djibouti’s only real asset today is its location at the junction of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. It has one of Africa’s smallest populations, estimated at around 500,000, and its land size is comparable to Massachusetts in the United States. It is also bordered by Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia — three nations that are embroiled in multiple conflicts and whose names have long generated images of famine, despotism and anarchy

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