Despite conflict, Sudan attracts investors

Gretchen Wilson Apr 16, 2007

Despite conflict, Sudan attracts investors

Gretchen Wilson Apr 16, 2007

TESS VIGELAND: Today,Sudan agreed to accept 3,000 peacekeeping troops in Darfur. Washington isn’t entirely happy with the development, because there’s still no decision on who will take charge of the predominantly African force.

More than 200,000 people have been slaughtered in Darfur.Another two and a half million displaced. Since 1997, Sudan has been subject to U.S. economic sanctions.And there are threats of stiffer penalties. But Gretchen Wilson reports there’s no shortage of investors in the local economy.

GRETCHEN WILSON: On this dusty stretch of land between the Blue and White Niles, all I see is red earth. But in an air-conditioned trailer a few yards away, Amir Diglal of the Alsunut

Development Company says I just need to look harder.

AMIR DIGLAL: You could see that, according to the master plan here, the golf course is just nearby to the Alsunut forest.

Wait a minute. Back up.

[SOUND: Tape rewinding]

Golf course? In Sudan?

DIGLAL: This is where you could just have all the . . . this, like a Tiger Wood and a . . . with the famous people around the world, they come and play on it.

Yep, Sudan’s planning its first golf course, part of a $4.5 billion development here. What gets lost in media coverage about Sudan is the huge economic story happening here.

Most people have heard the horror stories about Darfur — the killings and full villages on the run. Key reasons why North American and European companies have largely quit doing business here.

But rather than buckling under U.S.-led sanctions, Sudan looked around for a new economic formula.

ABDUL-RAHIM HAMDI: We have reoriented our trade and investment policies to the East, and not to the West. Because the West has largely shunned our country.

Abdul-Rahim Hamdi is Sudan’s former finance minister, and an architect of Sudan’s economic program. Now, instead of doing business with the U.S., it’s doing phenomenal business with China, India, Malaysia and the Persian Gulf.

HAMDI: First of all, they don’t meddle into our internal affairs. In any way. No issues about human rights. They don’t go out and try to impose sanctions in Geneva, or in United Nations, and so on — and brand us as a rogue country.

Sudan’s oil boom has made it one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. Direct foreign investment topped $3.8 billion in 2005, and GDP has doubled in the last three years alone.

China is now Sudan’s biggest trade partner. In the last decade, it’s locked a 40 percent stake in the oil industry. It also loans Sudan money at attractive terms.

No surprise, then, it wins multimillion-dollar contracts to develop pipelines and dams.

WONG JIONG: Sudan has become a very, very important market for Chinese manufacturer.

Wong Jiong’s company makes heavy machinery used to build roads and bridges. Today, he meets prospective buyers at a trendy outdoor cafe.

Wong understands the reasons behind U.S. sanctions. But he and other investors told me they’re not sure they even trust the West’s view of what’s happening in Darfur. All the more reason to develop clients in a fast-growing market, while pouring cash into a nation in need of development.

JIONG: The most important thing for Chinese manufacturer is how we can go into this market as quick as possible. Because if we go to a market slowly, maybe the competitor from America and European countries will go in.

But of course, it’s not just China pouring money into Sudan.

INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS PEOPLE:“The profit in Sudan is very high.””There’s a very big opportunity here.””The economy here is booming.”

India, Malaysia and many other nations are all securing major oil construction and transport contracts. And some fear that Sudan’s economic success will bolster the resolve of other regimes the U.S. doesn’t like.

But investment here’s not gonna stop any time soon, as emerging economies jockey for natural resources.

Ross Herbert is with the South African Institute of International Affairs.

ROSS HERBERT: Heretofore, the economic center of the world was somewhere between United States and Europe. And that center of gravity is shifting. So, what’s happening in Africa is a manifestation of that competition.

The U.S. and its allies want U.N. troops to take over peacekeeping in Darfur. But the emerging face of the global economy means there’s less of a reason for the government of Sudan to take note.

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

Construction is happening throughout the city of Khartoum. (Photos by Gretchen Wilson)

Construction is underway on the new headquarters of the Greater Nile Petroleum Oil Company. CNPC of China owns the largest share, with other major shares held by Petronas of Malaysia and ONGC of India.

Technology and the Internet play a big role in developers’ visions of a new Khartoum.

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