Sudan is rolling out the red carpet for investors from wealthy Gulf Arab states as it aims to attract billions of dollars in foreign direct investment, part of a drive to stabilize its economy and modernize its infrastructure.
More than half of recent foreign investment in Sudan has come from the Gulf, Investment Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail said on the sidelines of an investment forum in Dubai this week.
Investors from the energy-rich region are increasingly interested in agriculture in Sudan because of food security concerns at home, he said, adding that the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain already had substantial holdings there. Gulf countries import most of their food.
“This is the area where I’m doing my best to attract investors from the Gulf to come,” Mr. Ismail said. “Their market needs these products, they are not far away from Sudan, and this is the area where Sudan can add.”
Sudan is pinning substantial hope on foreign direct investment to stabilize its economy and smooth out the effects of fuel subsidy cuts and currency volatility since the country split from the oil-rich South Sudan in 2011.
Gulf investors are seen as ideal partners because of their deep pockets, interest in food security and long-standing cultural ties. Continuing political and economic instability in Sudan was worrying for investors, Mr. Ismail said, but the country couldn’t afford to wait until things stabilize to start marketing itself.
“We think that investment itself will help us to reach to that stability, not vice-versa,” he said. “Part of the reason behind instability is poverty. Investment can add more for resources, can add more job creation, can add more technology, which third-world countries desperately need.”
Part of the pitch in the Gulf is improvements to infrastructure and changes to laws to make life easier for these investors. Mr. Ismail said he was pushing for visa-free entry for Gulf citizens as well as legal provisions to make it easy for them to set up companies and repatriate profits.
In a further demonstration of its keenness for Gulf investment, Sudan gave a direct grant of 100,000 acres of arable land last month to Bahrain, which hadn’t been as active as other countries in the region.
“How to take special steps in order to attract investors and to compete is the most important thing for me,” Mr. Ismail said.