KHARTOUM: The ink on the framework agreement to guide future peace negotiations between the government and Sudan’s main rebel groups is not yet dry, but the wheels are already in motion to capitalize on the hoped for political stability by luring investors to the country’s southern region, starting with its capital Juba.
It is with these optimistic sentiments that the first Arab Investment Conference in Southern Sudan opened with both the blessing and backing of the Arab League. As one panelist at the opening said of the League’s secretary general, “Amr Moussa visiting is investment enough.
Indeed, even at this very initial stage of merely scouting investment opportunities and before signing off on any concrete agreements, there was a palpable sense of appreciation for the delegation of businessmen and media – mostly Egyptians – who, led by Moussa, visited Sudan for two days to take part in the conference.
“Sudan is the future of investment [in the region], a nascent economy with a large capacity, Amr Moussa, Secretary General of the Arab League, said at the conference opening in Khartoum on Monday.
At the headquarters of the Sudanese Businessmen’s Federation, Moussa was accompanied by Sudan’s Investment Minister George Bourinq, head of the federation Ali Mohamed Hassan, and Sudan’s Ambassador in Cairo Abdel-Rahman Siralkhitm.
“It’s clear that Sudan’s unity needs to be attractive to people who realize it’s importance – and this is more than a slogan.we are committed to helping spur investment in South Sudan, Moussa added.
The delegation headed to Juba the next morning to explore the area and possible development ventures.
At the opening, Moussa said there has already been a delay in investing in the area, a sentiment shared by the panelists; still the overarching message was clear: it’s never too late and the time is now.
Also on Monday, Sudanese President Omar Al-Beshir was in Qatar for talks with rebel groups after reaching a ceasefire agreement with Darfur’s main rebel group the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).
The political stability that has deterred investors from pumping money into Sudan, according to Moussa, has come to an end.
“Sudan is moving towards stability. The Doha meeting to sign off on the agreement is a big step that was preceded by the return of relations between Chad and Sudan, he said.
He also spoke of ongoing developments in Darfur, recalling last week’s visit to the region which highlighted redevelopment efforts in the area.
Sudan’s Investment Minister George Bourinq gave participants a promising “Welcome aboard, before going on to tell investors to be patient. “You may come in with a lot of enthusiasm but after facing some challenges you may lose interest, but this should not be the case.
“Sudan is tired of conflicts, he added, and there are things that must be addressed in order to make it a more attractive investment destination.
Several sectors ripe for investment were highlighted, including tourism, agriculture, industry and infrastructure.
“We need to cultivate human resources, responsible leadership that can make sure people work together to create wealth and peace within these borders, he added.
“There are a lot of opportunities with guaranteed benefits to both the residents of South Sudan as well as the investors, Moussa said, and then asked a number of businessmen who already have investments in Sudan, or are well on the way to doing so, to take the floor and share their experience with participants as well as highlight the obstacles they have faced along the way.
Alaa Diab of Egypt’s PICO, an agriculture industry company, said that the main problem is that the current infrastructure is lacking in regards to transportation, energy and labor.
He said they would be looking into oil exploration in Sudan as well as renewable energy, highlighting solar and wind power having high investment potential.
Speaking to Daily News Egypt on the sidelines of the conference, Diab said, “We’re still looking at where to invest. and will be looking for partners both from Sudan and Egypt, as well as Arabs, Africans, Europeans.
“We’re looking for a viable, long-term investment and we can raise capital by going public or by private placement, he added, meaning partnering with a group of investors, such as banks, investment funds and people already in the sector.
“This is an initial round, I’ve been to North Sudan, this is my first time in South Sudan and I want to know what opportunities are there, what they have to offer. I hear a lot but I don’t know exactly what. I’m gathering information, I have my eyes on one or more issues but nothing concrete yet, he told Daily News Egypt.
As for business in Egypt, Diab said the company is mulling possible mergers, but that it’s still “evaluating companies.
“We’re [also] going into agro-projects management, that is providing the essentials for projects to start up, we’re not going to be the investors per say, but the providers of support and know-how and expertise, he added.
Mohamed Batran, a member of Egypt’s Shoura Council and businessman who has already invested in a number of restaurants in Sudan, named money transfers and land approvals as obstacles he has faced.
Mostafa El-Guindy, independent member of the People’s Assembly, said Egypt and Sudan face similar, interdependent problems that they must work together to fix.
“Any internal divisions [in Sudan] will eventually reach [and effect] Egypt, and any development project in the North or South will be beneficial to both, he said.
He pointed out to the importance of securing strategic investments in conflict zones, and said this was not just Sudan-specific, but applied to problem spots all around the region.
“We can, on a regional level, establish an entity to secure investments in Africa in order to attract more investors, he said.
El-Guindy’s investments past and future are focused on building barges to ease transportation via the Nile.
Representatives of the Arab Tourism Organization as well as the Arab Broadcasters Association stressed that cooperation is key to promoting development in both sectors.
Mohamed Sayed Ahmed of the Arab Broadcasters Association said that there was an obvious lack of media outlets in Sudan, and that it is vital to promote economic development through and in the media.