After 20 years, last week saw the formal lifting of US economic sanctions on Sudan. In a punishing two decades, Sudan has weathered a devastating humanitarian crisis in Darfur, the cessession of the South and the loss of its precious oil revenues with it. But it has not been buckled, and it has not been broken.
A bit like Nigeria, Sudan become a one-resource nation and paid the price when South Sudan broke away and took its oil fields with it. The two countries have a similar history and north/south ethnic and religious makeup, and the one thing that's true of our futures is that if we don't diversify, we'll sink!
So the immediate challenge for the newly liberated Sudan is how to make sense of its economic position in the world without vast oil reserves. But it should be one that is easily met, and a big challenge for Sudan may well be just as big an opportunity for foreign investors.
Or at least that will be the case if the United States Sudan Business Council (USSBC) has anything to do with it. Launched last week on the day that sanctions were formally lifted, the USSBC announced its mission to ‘encourage trade and investment between the US and Sudan' and by doing so ‘accelerate investment opportunities through dedicated private sector exchange.'
The USSBC is backed by some of the biggest indigenous Sudanese companies and businesspeople, offering newcomers to Sudan's marketplace an enviable head-start. Described as ‘industry giants' in the announcement seems an injustice, with titanic operations such as the Bank of Khartoum, Golden Arrow Co, Haggar, and Elnefeidi Group all signing up to deliver the council's mission.
The vision seems to be to introduce a deep and diverse business exchange in Sudan. A private sector that keeps the rest of the country in check certainly sounds like something that Sudan could really use. Commenting on the launch of the USSBC, its Chairman, Ihab Osman tells us:
“The lifting of the US Sanctions on Sudan provides a critical opening for the Sudanese private sector to reach out and re-integrate with the global community. The opening brings with it prospects for shared prosperity and the promise of a more peaceful and equitable future for all. A vibrant private sector has an important role to play and the USSBC is committed to driving towards the creation of an engaged and sustainable private sector.”
If the USSBC can deliver on its promise to work to ‘accelerate development of a range of key sectors in Sudan, including, agriculture, finance, healthcare, Information Communications Technology and natural resources' then this really could be a new dawn for a country with Africa's third-largest population and a GDP bigger than Kenya's. Geopolitcally, Sudan is well positioned as a regional hub for accessing East Africa and the Gulf, so it will be interesting to see how the membership base of the USSBC develops to take advantage of it.
The USSBC has launched a website, online at: https://www.ussbc.org