To do business in Sudan?

Passengers jam the banks of the river Nile near the Southern Sudan capital Juba last August, a reminder of the once-busy river traffic wrecked by years of war and neglect, a former transport lifeline for goods and passengers.

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MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: Ten years ago the U.S. launched a trade embargo against Sudan for the bloodshed in Darfur. That embargo has grown as campaigns throughout the country try to put pressure on Sudan's government through divestment. As a result universities, asset funds and state treasuries have pulled money from companies that do business in that African nation. Some European investors have done the same. But as Gretchen Wilson reports from Khartoum, not all Western brands are gone.


GRETCHEN WILSON: This Daewoo minibus taxi takes me through chaotic city streets.

Before U.S. sanctions kicked in the 1990s, it was the norm to see Fords and Land Rovers here.

Today, we drive past a shining new Toyota dealership to the BMW showroom. That's one European brand still available here.

Marketing manager Abdullah Mursi says sales have tripled in the past six years, just as the country's oil industry took off.

ABDULLAH MURSI: We believe that there is a very promising market for BMW in Sudan, and it's increasing rapidly, day by day.

European companies don't fall under U.S. sanctions. But many have pulled out anyway to avoid bad press tied to the regional conflict centered in Darfur.

MURSI: Those people who believe on what they are saying in media, they are losing chance to have business in Sudan.

Many Western firms with offices here declined to speak with Marketplace, including telecommunications giant Ericsson and oilfield services company Schlumberger.

Ahmed Shakour is with the German telecommunications company Siemens. Last year, the company said it wouldn't take any new orders here in light of the humanitarian conditions.

Now, as part of a newly-merged company, Nokia Siemens Networks, it may pull out entirely — or it may stay and weather any negative publicity.

Shakour hopes the company will expand, because he thinks cell phones will benefit average Sudanese.

AHMED SHAKOUR: A country like Sudan is need an infrastructure, whole infrastructure. They need roads, they need bridges to build a country.

Still, as divestment campaigns heat up, Western companies are likely to face fire for doing business here.

This Coca-Cola plant in Khartoum sends a million bottles of Coke, Sprite and Fanta speeding around a massive conveyer belt every day.

Some Western companies, like Coca-Cola, have gotten a pass to do business here. Through a U.S.-approved licensing process, it sells its syrup to a private Sudanese bottler. But critics say that its brand, its business and the local taxes it generates prop up the country's military regime.

In Khartoum, Sudan, I'm Gretchen Wilson for Marketplace.

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