Sudan promises thriving private sector if revolution prevails: For 30 years Sudan's economic development was stifled by President Bashir and his cronies, but as the transition to democracy progresses, new opportunities are opening up.

Author:Collins, Tom

The Monte Carlo recreational club in downtown Khartoum sits as a faded reminder of Sudan's forgotten past. The unused gym and swimming pool show the signs of former use while the courtyard restaurant functions as an impromptu office for the club's owner, Adil Gabir Abo Elizz.

A businessman, Elizz recounts what the past 30 years were like for those not aligned to the regime of President Omar al-Bashir, who came to power in a 1989 coup and fell in last year's revolution.

"My father started three businesses in 1959: tanneries, contracting and some carpentry and steelwork workshops," he says. "Our main business was contracting. Before 1989 we used to get 60% of the tenders--we were one of the biggest contracting companies. In the past 30 years we haven't got a single tender."

Along with dragging Sudan into $60bn of external debt and crippling the local currency, Bashir obliterated the country's free market through the creation of a parallel economy that unfairly favoured the regime and its cronies --especially military and security entities.

While easily exploitable sectors like livestock and gold mining were turned into government cash cows, those on the sidelines avoided government interference by investing in riskier sectors or abroad in places like Egypt and the UAE.

"It was very tough from the beginning. We always had to avoid being in competition with any of the politicians," says Amin Nefeidi, group president of Elnefeidi Group, one of Sudan's largest conglomerates. "They [the government] tried their best but they couldn't make it in transportation. It is one of those tough businesses where you need to closely monitor trucks travelling all over Sudan."

The Elnefeidi Group now runs a fleet of well over 1,000 lorries, extending into Central Africa from bases in Cameroon and Tanzania. It made its name transporting humanitarian aid for the United Nations' World Food Programme to places like Darfur and neighbouring Ethiopia under the Marxist Derg.

While most businessmen kept a relatively low profile during the period, many look forward to opportunities in a new Sudan. Osama Abdo, the new head of Sudan's business federation, once dominated by Bashir allies, told African Business-. "This is our first step towards free competition and transparent, fair and free trade."

Overcoming the barriers to a revitalised economy

Yet while the country's prime minister Abdalla Hamdok, who came to power with the support of the civilian elements on the...

To continue reading

Request your trial