Updated from Dubai @ February 28, 8:38am (Malaysia Time), 4:38am (Dubai Time): Updates to this post can be found in the full post. Forgive the sloppiness - sleep depravation does that sometimes.
Knowing Walski, you may have thought that this was about something sexual. Not in Sudan, tho. Unless you have a death wish, or can't find anyone else anywhere in the world to get hitched. Sudan is quite a strict Islamic country, although not as anal about it as Saudi Arabia is.
Anyways, Walski managed to cut short his trip by 24 hours, so he's now en route back to KL. Blogging live from Khartoum International Departure Terminal, incidentally. This is a different terminal from the one he departed from a year ago, and is much nicer.
Somewhere in the city of Khartoum earlier today...
Walski's purpose coming here was to pursue some control & safety system maintenance contracts, and it basically involved doing a presentation to one of the oil operating companies here. Pretty much similar to the last trip, except this was for a different operating company.
The presentation went very well, and the ensuing discussion indicated that they were quite keen on what we had to offer. Some next steps before any contract can be realized, but that's to be expected.
Walski's apologies for not blogging more on this trip, but truth be told, the trip here really took its toll on him - 10 hours waiting in an airport is not something Walski would recommend even to his worse enemies, despite Dubai airport being one of the better places you would want to have such a long layover.
Well, he's got a flight to catch pretty soon, so this post ends here for now. Updates later from Dubai... there was something interesting that happened in Khartoum today, by the way - which you may have heard about via Al-Jazeera... later, folks!
(sleep-deprived update from Dubai, in the full post)
In Khartoum today, Al-Jazeera reported that Sudan president Omar al-Bashir addressed around 10,000 protesters, protesting against the Danes for the recent controversial Muhammad cartoon reprint.
Walski was nowhere close to where the march took place, but you could hear police sirens throughout the morning (while Walski was presenting). The protest march also explained why several roads were blocked off in Khartoum, primarily along Nile Street (where Walski's hotel was), the road along which several Sudanese ministries are located.
Sudan, if you didn't know, is one of those countries sanctioned by the US - purportedly over human rights abuses and the never-ending Darfur conflict. In addition, several other European corporations have placed Sudan in the don't-do-business-with category. Among these corporations, Siemens and ABB.
The impact, from an Oil & Gas perspective, is that a lot of equipment currently installed at the various production sites are suffering from lack of maintenance, due to the fact that the original vendors can no longer do business in Sudan.
Khartoum is far enough from Darfur (a district/state within Sudan, which in itself is the size of France) that you can never get a straight story from any Sudanese. Unfortunately, Walski wasn't there long enough to get to know any UN people, to get their perspective. But what you hear from the international press isn't pretty.
In any case, the net effect is that not a lot of reputable systems can be supplied into Sudan, and for existing equipment, spare parts and services can be a problem.
Malaysia, however, is quite active in Sudan, particularly in the Oil & Gas industry, and there are numerous Malaysians working in the various Oil & Gas production operators in Sudan. The biggest investor in Sudan, incidentally, is China. South Korea, too, has a lot invested in this African nation - Hyundai has a Sudan-localized range of cars labelled under the GIAD brand.
Walski may or may not have mentioned this before, but the Chinese character for problem is a combination of the characters for the words danger and opportunity. While doing business in Sudan may not be politically popular with the US (hence the danger part), opportunities to bridge the gap abound in this country. Malaysia has done quite well, through Petronas, in this respect. What Walski understands is that Petronas has, over the last decade, invested several billion USD in Sudan, all of which has been fully recouped.
Whether or not the Sudanese government is using the profits from their Oil production to fund the Arab militia in Darfur is hard to tell. Just like Malaysia, the Sudanese government has a strong grip on the local media, and so the news that travels into Khartoum denies any involvement by the Sudanese government. One Malaysian UN worker did mention, however, that the attrocities in Darfur, as heard via the international media, is usually exaggerated. Whether or not this is true, Walski can't tell for sure. There is definitely a large-scale humanitarian problem in Darfur, that's quite certain. What isn't quite certain is the Sudan federal government's contribution to this problem, if any.
But the rally yesterday against the Danish government and media, coupled with the strong rhetoric from President al-Bashir, certainly isn't winning Sudan any new friends, particular from Europe. But as long as China, South Korea, and other countries, Malaysia included, keep development money coming in, winning new friends is not a priority for the president.
Until, of course, the big investors start pulling out, or when the oil runs out. But that is not going to be for a long, long time yet. Like many Middle Eastern and African Arab nations, God has blessed Sudan with all kinds of rich mineral reserves. The number one problem in Africa, however, is the intense rivalry between tribes. The real root of the problems as far as Sudan is concerned is no different. Tribal conflict, just add politics... and the ensuing troubles can last generations.
Not unlike Malaysia, actually, if you think about it. Where it all starts from an "us against them" tribal thinking. While the definition of tribal may be a little different, it's still tribal. Underlying the problems, is the lack of political will to do the right things the right way, without pandering to special interests. But the perception of the politicians, by and large, is that these special interests are the ones that keep them in power. And so the cycle continues, and continues to escallate.
Well, enough of the sleep-deprived commentary... Still another five and a half hours to go before Walski boards his flight back home to KL. And it seems as if Dubai airport never sleeps. It's around 4:30am local time, and it's still as busy as when Walski arrived several hours ago. And pretty much as busy as it was when Walski came through here a couple of days ago.
He'll be back in this part of the world at some point later this year. The opportunities in Sudan, sanctions and all, are just too good to pass up. Despite the fatigue from these long layovers, which end up being more tiring than the actual flights.
Later, folks. Walski's probably gonna crash for a bit. Failing which... shop!