We hear what Dr Abdelrahman Mohamed Dirar (AM) — Chairman of telecommunications company and internet service provider Sudatel — has to say about how important the arrival of the sector has been to Sudan and why investors in this industry should strike while Sudatel’s iron is hot
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LE: How important is the communications sector in Sudan?
AM: The communications sector is very important to the Sudanese economy. It currently contributes over 3% to GDP and has a knock-on effect on other sectors in the economy. In fact, the CIT sector actually activates many other sectors, especially trade.
Before the development of the communication sector in Sudan, information was not at all available. Let’s say you wanted to export meat; there was no way to contact outside markets. It was extremely difficult, so the arrival of advanced means of communication has been very important for the Sudanese economy and indeed for all developing economies. The sector has a crucial role to play in social programming like building hospitals, schools and water wastes.
This sector is also very important because it is presenting us with a great opportunity for employing our highly skilled people. That is also why the government is paying special attention to this sector.
LE: Where does Sudatel feature within this picture you have painted?
AM: Sudatel is the national telecommunications company, and the government has about a 22% share in it, not simply because the government is interested in holding shares in the company, but because it wants to encourage people to invest in this sector.
Sudatel has a great deal of potential for widespread success because of the infrastructure it owns, and because of its heavy involvement in various social programmes to help disadvantaged individuals – building hospitals, schools and so on. Our pivotal role in helping the government has been reflected by them appointing me as Chairman of the Board.
LE: Can you elaborate on the potential investment opportunities that Sudatel presents? In particular, in which direction do you see the company’s future growth?
AM: Sudan sits in the heart of Africa and it has the chance to connect all African countries. It is even perfectly placed to connect Africa with European countries, and Sudatel is leading the way; our submarine cables start at Jeddah, and arrive at Port Sudan. We intend to connect to Libya and Egypt in the future. The scene is set for Sudatel to invest in linking its neighbouring countries.
Sudatel already has investments in other African countries like Senegal, Mauritania and Guinea-Conakry. Now is the perfect time for investors to reap the benefits of Sudatel’s investments in these regions, and what is really exciting is that all these markets are prepared for an immense opportunity to develop CIT business there.
Now is the perfect time for investors to reap the benefits of Sudatel’s investments in Senegal, Mauritania and Guinea-Conakry, and what is really exciting is that all these markets are new for the communications sector
We are in the process of planning how to connect the country with Libya via the same means, and we are also working in Darfur. Darfur is a very rich region. Many just talk about the poverty in Darfur, but the region is abundant with agricultural opportunities thanks to the fair climate. Its people are experts in agriculture and they have plenty of livestock and animals, with their own cows, camels, goats and so on.
It is our belief that now that peace seems to finally be on the horizon, the region’s riches can be taken advantage of. There is a national dialogue in which all Sudanese people have united and agree on the fact that the area is big enough for everyone. The government is ready to execute all the recommendations of this ongoing national dialogue, so as soon as peace is secured there will be a huge area in Darfur state in which we will hurry to invest in the communications sector.
LE: We’re interested to hear more about the corporate social responsibility programmes that Sudatel is providing. What’s your view on the role of Sudan’s youth, and on how to bring education to them, to build a better future?
AM: Well, as we know, education is the right of all human beings and it is a service that absolutely must be provided. We are not only building schools in Khartoum but also in rural areas, where people are left behind, and a lot of children want to join schools but face a situation where there are no places for them. In a nutshell, if we find many children waiting for places, we do our best to go there and build extra schools. In some areas, students are sitting on the ground; we provide them with chairs, and sometimes we assist with training teachers and providing books and so on. We build lecture halls in new universities and generally do what we are able in order to help communities to enjoy better education levels.
Training in the communication sector is important for Sudatel as well. The company is playing an important role in a paperless approach to supporting e-government.
LE: What would your message to potential investors in Sudan be?
AM: Sudan is an enormous territory, lying in the heart of Africa and with great potential for return on investment, above all in agriculture. We have the River Nile, we have underground water and we have rain. We have sources of water, very fertile land, a good climate and expert farmers. There is great potential for people to join forces and invest in the agricultural sector. We would highly value investors with knowledge of technology and finance, areas where Sudan is lacking.
Investment is also timely right now because there is a decrease in the prices of oil and gold; we can find substitutes for gold and a substitute for oil, but we can’t find a substitute for food. Food security is fundamental and we have opportunities to continue to share in this area.
We also have a suitable environment for animal production. We are poised to join forces with industries like slaughterhouses. Our immense quantity of water means that there is also plenty of investment to be had in the energy sector and in hydroelectricity in particular.
Also, one significant area we haven’t touched on is tourism, where we also have golden opportunities. This importance of this industry to the overall economy will only increase. Sudan has witnessed very old civilisations, like the Merowe people, over an epic period of 10,000 years. Remember – this is the oldest human civilisation in the world. Our people are very polite, very hospitable, extremely fond of foreigners and, perhaps above all, there is peace.