China, Middle East are spending on Sudan, but US policy is ‘confused’

Kayhan Ozer | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (C) and Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir (R) visit in Port Sudan on December 25, 2017.

Since the U.S. lifted long-standing sanctions on Sudan last October, foreign investors’ interest has started to trickle in, an expert on the region has told CNBC.

But it’s Chinese and Middle Eastern actors who already have first-mover’s advantage, Matthew Kindinger, sub-Saharan African analyst at emerging markets advisory firm Frontier Strategy Group, added.

“Any firm that was prevented from entering Sudan because of the U.S. sanctions now has much larger scope to expand in the market,” he said. “(But) the current administration’s Sudan policy appears to have become confused at the least, or at best a very low priority.”

Given the U.S.’ sanctions, some of which date back to 1997 over human rights concerns and terrorism links, China and countries including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have instead been Sudan’s most prominent foreign investors.

“These countries want to maintain access to resource exports, such as petroleum to south Asian markets, and livestock to meet growing food demand in the Gulf states,” Chris Suckling, senior analyst at IHS Markit, told CNBC.

Sudan, located on the Horn of Africa and one of the continent’s largest countries by area, has suffered from brutal conflict for much of its history and saw its economy hit hard by the 2011 succession of its oil-rich southern region. The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued President Omar al-Bashir with arrest warrants for war crimes twice in the past decade.

Given its troubled past — and present — the country is yet to fully capitalize on its strategic potential.

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