Sudan special – oil fuels rapid growth in telecoms and internet sectors

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Sudan is Africa’s largest country but more than 70% of its population live in its small towns and scattered across rural areas. The country sits strategically between Arabic-speaking North Africa and the Gulf and several sub-Saharan African countries: it is bordered by no less than 12 countries. The civil war in the south of country raged for over 20 years but now seems to be at and but troubles persist in the west of the country. Its oil revenues have created a building boom in the capital and attracted telecoms investment from the UAE (Canartel) and Kuwait (Celtel).

So despite the continuing American sanctions, international investors are interested in what one person described as “the smell of money.” Some idea of the scale of money to be made can be gained from a story told to us of an ISP with only 6 clients which is making millions of dollars profits: all the clients were oil companies.

US sanctions means that the military government has put in place a programme it controls for local assembly of things as diverse as copper wire, cars, computers and lorries. And well-known international brands like Hyundai (producing the parts and expertise to produce the local GIAD car) are closely involved in this process.

The peace with South seems to be holding on the basis that “the details” are not being worked out. Whilst one mobile operator from the North is beginning to roll-out in the South, the Southern Government is planning to introduce a new “national” operator into its area and went to the ITU to ask for a separate numbering scheme. If the South’s new operator conflicts with existing licences from NTC, how will this be resolved? Will that new Southern Sudan operator be able to go north and operate there? Nobody seems sure although the two sides are talking to each other. When Southern Sudan’s Minister of Communications in Juba has an office with no electricity, it’s fair to say that these things will take a while to sort out.