November 30, 2022

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Sudan: Is it being exploited by foreign powers?

A boy carrying a Sudanese flag sits on a man's shoulders, amid a celebrating crowdSudanese crowds celebrate the recent power-sharing deal

Opposition leaders in Sudan say its military rulers are being exploited by foreign powers, eager to take advantage of the country’s natural resources and strategic location.

A power-sharing deal has recently been reached between the military and opposition groups – but Sudan’s political future remains uncertain.

So which countries are involved with Sudan and what are they hoping to gain?

"All of them want to exploit Sudan - its resources, its manpower, its strategic position," said Mohamed Yousif Ahmed al-Mustafa, Sudanese opposition spokesman

Who’s buying Sudan’s resources?

The United Arab Emirates is Sudan’s biggest destination for exports. It buys most of the country’s lucrative money-earner, gold.

Second is China, which imports significant amounts of crude oil.

Sudan’s oil industry was once a much larger proportion of its economy – but when South Sudan broke away in 2011, most of its oil fields went with it.

Oil now accounts for just 1% of Sudan’s economy, compared with just under 20% in 2011.

The next significant destination for Sudan’s goods is Saudi Arabia, which buys mostly livestock.

Destinations of Sudan’s exports in 2018

(US$ millions)


Source: Central Bank of Sudan

With the drop in oil exports, Sudan has sought to bolster its agriculture sector – and this has involved granting land leases to foreign powers.

Sudan has agreed to lease millions of acres to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Turkey and China, and is in the process of making similar deals for other countries, including Jordan, Egypt and the UAE.

Regional rivals are vying for contracts

Sudan’s coastline, on the Red Sea, is an important shipping route, close to the continuing war in Yemen, and various countries are vying for influence.

Most of the country’s trade currently passes through Port Sudan.

However, a contract worth $2.4bn (£1.9bn) to develop and operate the port, granted to a Philippine company, has been suspended by the ruling Transitional Military Council (TMC), following a strike by workers earlier this year.

Suakin, on the Red SeaSuakin, on the Red Sea

And an even bigger contract has been agreed to develop another port facility, in the city of Suakin, south of Port Sudan.

In march last year, Turkey and Qatar signed a deal worth $4bn to support Sudan in the development of this port.

This is seen as both a highly strategic move and a politically sensitive one – as it could allow Turkey to establish a military presence on the Red Sea.

A map of Sudan

But both Turkey and Qatar are political rivals to Sudan’s increasingly influential backers, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

And Saudi Arabia and the UAE, having provided an aid package of about $3bn to Sudan since the military took power in April, have been putting pressure on the government to cancel the deal.

“It’s becoming clear that the UAE is extremely influential in the TMC,” says Annette Weber, a senior fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.

Sudan is also a recipient of significant amounts of Chinese infrastructure investment as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative to create a global trade route.

Sudanese troops in Yemen Sudanese troops in Yemen

Sudanese soldiers active in Yemen

The growing economic and political influence of Saudi Arabia and the UAE is nowhere more apparent than in the military support the Sudanese military has been providing in Yemen.

Sudanese forces have been active in Yemen in support of the Saudi-led coalition against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.

“Sudan has 16,000 troops securing the Saudi Arabia-Yemen border,” says Dr Weber, who cites a senior ranking government official as the source.

These forces have been under the command of Gen Mohammed “Hemeti” Hamadan, now a powerful figure within Sudan’s military leadership.

This deployment of troops to Yemen, which began as far back as 2015, has been seen as a clear shift of Sudanese foreign policy towards Saudi Arabia and its allies and away from its earlier close ties with Iran.

Source: Sudan: Is it being exploited by foreign powers?

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