Accessibility links

Breaking News

China, Libya and Others Investing in Sudan's Booming Economy

The government of Sudan has been accused by the U.S. of committing genocide in the strife-torn region of Darfur. More than 200,000 people have been killed and two million made homeless during almost three and a half years of conflict. But the Sudanese government has some powerful friends on the world stage. And they include the Chinese, who have defended Sudan in the United Nations Security Council. Simon Marks reports from Khartoum on one of the reasons why.

At Sudan's largest oil refinery the Chinese are cycling to work. The facility on the outskirts of the capital, Khartoum, was built using Chinese know-how, and today it operates partly using Chinese labor.

Beijing is helping Sudan and helping itself in the process, according to Mohamed Atif Ahmed, the refinery's deputy general manager.

Mohamed Atif Ahmed is Deputy General Manager. "They have double benefit actually. The first one is that they have an investment in Sudan, which is a good investment. And the second one is that they have some oil that they can take to China".

Beijing's voracious appetite for energy has brought Chinese investment to Sudan -- along with Chinese restaurants in Khartoum that cater for the investors.

They come from across Asia. The Malaysians and Indians are also contributing to an oil-fueled boom that is swelling Sudan's economy by 14 percent this year.

Sudan's neighbors are in on the act as well. The Libyans are constructing the tallest building in Khartoum -- a new, 15-story hotel.

Successful businessman Osama Daoud Abdelatif says it is wonderful. "It's wonderful, this oil. It fixes everything". He runs a conglomerate specializing in heavy machinery, real estate and Coca-Cola.

Even though the U.S. accuses Sudan of sponsoring terrorism and U.S. sanctions remain in place, they do not apply to beverages. So 30 million cases of "the real thing" (Coca-Cola) will roll off production lines in the next 12 months.

Abdelatif says he heavily invests in Sudan. "We have no investments outside Sudan. So for us, I think, obviously we are very optimistic. We've had our ups and downs throughout the last 30-odd years. But I think overall we're extremely optimistic and we are very glad to be part of this boom."

Not part of the boom -- U.S. investors. Washington's sanctions keep them out.

But even some Sudanese who are building the new economy in Khartoum say it's a high-risk investment, and the U.S. may not be missing out.

That's because even though villas are sprouting up all over Khartoum to accommodate the city's new millionaires, there are millions of Sudanese who are not benefiting from economic development.

Khartoum's population is exploding, as villagers abandon the country's farms and head to the cities, where poverty and squalor make Sudan one of the world's most unstable states.

The humanitarian disaster in Darfur, where two million people have been displaced, only adds to the potential for implosion here.

Software engineer Hasham Ibrahim is concerned about the treatment of its people. "To be brutally honest, I'd like to change the way people are treated in this country".

At a new Khartoum night spot, young Sudanese educated in the U.S. and Britain, such as software engineer Hashim Imbrahim, say they won't stay unless the government abandons 50 years of war and conflict.

"There's enough money in this country now for everyone to have a good job and a good living. And that's not happening".

It could happen. The rising price of oil is giving Sudan an unprecedented opportunity to recreate itself.

But the country that once gave refuge to Osama bin Laden has spent years in the global doghouse, and only investors from Asia and the Gulf States are currently willing -- or able -- to take the bet.