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January 07, 2012

South Sudan: land ownership a major challenge for investors

by Shadia Basheri

The Sudanese Businessmen & Employers Union (SBEU) is one of the organizations on which the Sudanese government greatly depends in its endeavor to promote the Sudanese national economy and boost development.

The SBEU's mission has become more and more important, particularly in light of the economic changes that are taking place in the country following the secession of South Sudan. These changes have greatly affected the economic structure of the country.

Accordingly, SBEU has earnestly embarked upon the mission by presenting proposals to the government for solving the economic difficulties the country is facing following recent announcement by the government that SBEU will take up the role of managing investment in the country.

In order to shed light on the activities of SBEU, particularly those to be undertaken by it in the coming phase, Sudan Vision interviewed SBUE secretary-general, Bakri Yousif Omer as follows:

Q: We have noticed that foreign investment is focusing on the service sector. Why is that?

A: As a matter of fact after petroleum, investment on the service sector is among those the government is targeting. For example, agricultural investments are bigger and have many benefits.

As you know agricultural investment in Sudan is very little and is not sufficient for achieving food security. This is why SBEU has always been calling for more of it since Sudan has vast fertile agricultural lands.

Q: What are the most important issues of agricultural investments that the government has to deal with?

A: The problem of ownership of land is one of the biggest issues that face agricultural investment in the county. However, the Higher Council for Investment (HCI) has started to look into this matter to find a solution to it. We must have a vision regarding agricultural investments. Foreign and local investors should mark their contribution in the region and show can they address the positive social impact of investments.

Q: Has SBEU ever participated in international or regional conferences?

A: SBEU has contributed to many conferences and meetings. As you may know, the Islamic Chamber of Commerce (ICC) has created a body called Business Employers which is located in Pakistan. In addition, we have participated at a conference in the State of Qatar on December 2 in which young people participated. Moreover, Islamic chambers of commerce have many important projects.

For example, there is a proposal for a railway project that links some African countries to Port Sudan that passes through Darfur. This proposal has been submitted by Sheikh Kamil.

Also Turkey has Africa bridge project and the African-Turkish Relations Forum. Internally, we have launched a Diplomacy Day for ambassadors accredited to Khartoum.

Moreover, SBEU has participated in many conferences, meetings and seminars through the Council of Arab Chambers of Industry, Commerce, and Agriculture and SBEU is represented in its board of directors. We are also active in this.

In addition, we are members of the Arab Businessmen federation as well as the Arab European Chamber s board. At the African level, we are members of the COMESA and IGAD.

Q: Has the COMESA made things easier for Sudanese businessmen with respect to exports and imports and what problems do you face?

A: As a matter of fact we are no more isolated. It is important for any country to join regional blocs.

At this stage of history and in light of the new millennium, Arab countries have realized the importance of joining African blocs, such as the Arab Free Trade Region and COMESA.

Yes, in any economic activity there are negative and positive sides. On the negative side, you have the removal of custom duties that are negatively reflected on local industry.

For example, Sudan has got plenty of natural resources for manufacturing but despite that we import. An example of this is that tea and coffee are amongst these imports and so COMESA affects commodities.

As regards problems that we face is that we suffer from the similarity of our productions which affect the COMESA market. In addition, poor roads greatly affect the economy and hence the government should reduce transportation fees since all industries in the COMESA region are still young.

Q: SBEU has recently held many meetings, such as those with Council of Arab Chambers of Industry, Commerce and Agriculture as well as Islamic Chambers of Commerce and Industry Boards. What is the purpose of these meetings?

A: All these meetings have been sponsored by the President of the Republic and in these meetings; many papers were presented relating to investment opportunities and transparency.

We still receive thanks and appreciations from Arab and foreign chambers of commerce and this will contribute to the boosting of investment in Sudan.

In addition, papers on agricultural investment opportunities in Sudan for achieving Arab Security have been presented.

Q: What are the most important problems that face the Union?

A: There are many economic problems, such as financing policies. For example we are aware of government initiatives and we are waiting for these initiatives to be implemented on the ground. You know we work hand in hand with the government.

Q: Are there any joint investment cooperation with the State of South Sudan following secession?

A: We have agreed with the State of South Sudan before secession that we form a strategic partnership which we called smart partnership.

We have presented our vision so that the relation would be fabulous whether South Sudan seceded or not.

We have taken on board banks and presented initiatives but the general atmosphere needed an economic force and we must build good relationship in order to remove all obstacles, particularly in the light of the need of South Sudan for commodities.

Q: We want to know what have your union contributed to the civil society?

A: We have many contributions as I mentioned in Darfur and in the capital, for example our contribution to Ibrahim Malik and Ahmed Kasim Hospital. In addition, we have contributed to political parties and provided great support to various bodies.

Q: What type of relation do you have with Investment Commission?

A: The commission has been established at the state level and it came about in implementation of the federal system according to Naivasha peace agreement.

Q: What is your role in securing the lives of businessmen?

A: Since our meeting with Dr. Garang in 2005, he called on businessmen to work in an institutionalized way for ensuring investment in the South. At that time, finance was being provided by the government South Sudan. We agreed and held two forums but our activities were suspended.

Had such policy been implemented it would have had great impact. We must represent such initiative to the government of Sudan.

Q: What else do you want to say?

A: I would like to thank Sudan Vision for its covering of our activities and for being engaged in all issues that take place in the Union.

Sudan Vision

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