1 April 2017

Sudan: Partnering With the Gulf Countries


The Sudanese-Gulf relations are moving into new heights following the last trip by President Omar Al-Bashir to both Kuwait and Bahrain last week, where he announced that a memorandum of understanding on strategic partnership is to be signed between Sudan and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) during a foreign ministers' meeting. Sudan will be the third country to sign such agreement following those already sealed with Morocco and Jordan. Those agreements cover investments, trade in addition to military cooperation, which looks like a logical conclusion with clear backing at grass roots given the tens of thousands of Sudanese working in the Gulf countries with spiritual and social ties.

Sudan's active participation in the war in Yemen, seen by the GCC as a battleground to fight Iranian expansionism, has helped into putting its relations with the Gulf states into a new level, highlighting its abundant natural resources that could provide a golden opportunity for potential investors and which will help at the same time in securing some of the GCC food needs.

According to Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour, "Sudan has prepared a list of 220 development projects of which 79 ones were good to go".

That is fine, but there is a need for more than listing projects for would be investors. What is the framework and the strategy on which such projects are based as far as Sudan is concerned?

The GCC countries agree on the need to secure their food requirements, which has been long standing for quite some time.

For instance Saudi Arabia and back in 2008 during the height of the food crisis that engulfed the world started to develop what came to be known as "King Abdullah's Initiative for Saudi Agricultural Investments Abroad: A Way of Enhancing Saudi Food Security".

That initiative stipulated clearly the objective, the vision, the tasks and principles governing it, the targeted 12 products like wheat, barley, sorghum and named nine targeted countries with Sudan on the top of the list to be followed by Egypt and Ethiopia and that the private sector be the engine for investment and executing projects.

On the criteria to choose the countries hosting this initiative six factors were stipulated that include availability of natural resources be it land, water and labor, political, social and economic stability, free market environment, transparent and attractive procedures, regulations and incentives for investments, adequate infrastructure and good relations with Saudi Arabia.

It is not fully clear what is Sudan's strategy in receiving those investments. Aside from the general wish to attract capital to improve the country's economic condition, nothing much has been spelled out. It is high time to get into some details and priorities so as to provide a base for accumulation that will eventually affect change. Otherwise, there is great risk of squandering this opportunity with- out a qualitative impact on the whole scene.

In fact this is not the responsibility of the government only, but rather it is a duty of various media outlets as well to abandon the long standing tradition of focussing on Khartoum stories that are basically political ones, leaving it to mere chance or an official celebration to highlight what is going on outside the capital. All in all and according to Saudi ambassador to Sudan Ali Hasan Ja'afar more than $26 billion have been approved by Sudanese authorities for Saudi projects. Of those a total investment of $12 billion haven carried out already. On the micro level, there was a lot of publicity of late related to Al-Rajhi wheat project and the canned factory in Karima, but hardly any details about how the local community is benefitting from these projects, whether all production will be shipped for export or that some of it will be directed to local market and on what terms?

However, on the top of the list of issues to be addressed is how to achieve a good degree of political, security and economic stability. As long as there are those who resort to arms question marks will continue to haunt investors.

The government is currently in better shape politically with an upper hand domestically and diplomatically and at the time its strongest military opposition is reeling under the weight of internal strife. This is a golden opportunity not to settle the score with rebels, but to achieve a lasting peace that will really usher Sudan into an era of politico, economic and social stability.


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