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The Rediff Special/By Rupen Parekh in Khartoum
Indians in Sudan: Of potluck and cultural bonding
October 16, 2005
Dominated by Gujarati settlers, many of whom have even taken local citizenship, Indians are one of the most trusted communities in Sudan -- a country that is becoming one of India's top investment destinations. The Gujarati community started arriving in 1930s in Sudan.
Lured by the opportunities opening up in this north African country on the threshold of peace after decades of civil war, an increasing number of Indians have started arriving here.
They are mostly involved in service and project contracts in the wake of India's exploration major Oil and Natural Gas Corporation acquiring stakes in three blocks through its overseas subsidiary.
The Indian community is one of the most trusted by the Sudanese. In fact, marriages between second generation Indians and locals are not uncommon.
Born and educated in Port Sudan with a graduation degree from Wadia College, Pune, I settled in Khartoum and am a member of the close-knit Indian community found in African countries.
We are a close-knit community where every festival, be it Diwali, Eid or Onam, is celebrated with great gusto in the traditional manner with everyone participating.
We frequently organise potluck dinners and have lots of fun playing bingo or arranging gatherings to celebrate various occasions. We even organise musicals and film shows.
Today, most of the Sudanese who have completed their higher studies in India and are holding most of the ministerial posts in the goverment are seting up a Indo-Sudanese Friendship Society to mark their lasting relationship with India. ONGC has donated almost $150,000 to set up community gathering activities for Indians and Sudanese who have graduated from India.
Currently, there are around 1,200-1,500 people of Indian origin, mostly Gujaratis, residing here. Around 800 are settled in Omdurman, around 250 in Kasala and about 300 in Port Sudan.
"In addition, around 500-700 expatriates are working here. Every year, around 100-150 sugar professionals come here to work in Kenana Sugar Factory, one of the world's largest integrated sugar units," said the Indian ambassador to Sudan.
Situated at the point where the blue and the white Nile merge, Khartoum is a city under transformation with small old buildings making way for high-rise structures, villas and shopping malls.
The Afra Mall with its sprawling department store, branded outlets, bowling alley, five theatres and several other facilities is a favourite hangout for not just the affluent locals, but also Indians.
As Sudan takes a cue from the shopping haven in Dubai, a large number of retail outlets are coming up along with around 50 gold jewellery outlets.
Companies from countries like the United Arab Emirates, South Korea, Malaysia and China have either established themselves here or are in the process of doing so to grab a larger slice of industrial, infrastructure, construction and trading activities.
Increasingly skilled and semi-skilled workers from India are being brought here as opportunity beckons with new industrial and trading activities taking shape. These people have no problems blending into the close-knit community.
Having faced the problem of repatriating a large number of unskilled farm labour dumped in Sudan, the ambassador is not keen on any unskilled labour from India. On the other hand, he sees good opportunity for Indian companies to arrive early to get a chunk of business.
I have cited several examples of companies like Dodsal Group, Larsen and Toubro and the Hyderabad-based PTC Ltd that are on the scene undertaking projects like pipeline construction, road and other infrastructure construction and trading activity.
What is being appreciated here is the capacity of Indians to work as a team with Chinese, Malaysian and South Korean colleagues. In fact, the experience of working with an international team at Heglig, where ONGC Videsh holds 25% stake in the Greater Nile exploration project is seen as an encouraging example.
There is enough scope for business in Sudan, but lack of funds is hampering the undertaking of projects.
Sudan is keen to associate with Indian companies, but payments remain a major stumbling block.
Many Indian companies, including ONGC, are overcoming this problem by bringing in money, manpower and skills to undertake several mega projects.
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