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Tuesday, 19 March, 2002, 20:20 GMT
Sudan port revival dreams on hold
Grain Mill in Port Sudan
The grain mill produces 1,000 tonnes of flour per day
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By the BBC's Jim Corrigall
Port Sudan

The biggest grain mill in Sudan stands on the waterfront in Port Sudan, looking out over the Red Sea.

This large, high building, in the city of a million people, is owned by the oldest company in Sudan, the El Sheikh Mustafa El Amin Group.

Its general manager in Port Sudan is Mohamed El Faki Mustafa, grandson of the founder of the large agri-business conglomerate.

He showed me round the mill, which produces 1,000 tonnes of flour a day from imported wheat.

A huge fleet of trucks then transports the flour to all parts of Sudan.

Idle machines

I then visited other company plants in their sprawling complex. Here, the machines lay idle with only the sound of crows breaking the silence.

Mr Mustafa explained that these edible oil plants with their huge crushers had not been much used over the past five years.

He blamed this on government taxation policies, which he said had badly hit agriculture in Sudan.

But these taxes have now been reversed, and he was looking forward to the plants starting up again.

Revival project

This is believed to be part of the Islamist government's large scale revival project for Port Sudan, after 19 years of Africa's longest civil war coupled with political and economic isolation.

Port Sudan
Port Sudan handles Ethiopia's imports and exports
But, observers agree, prospects for peace in Sudan are better than they have been for years, and the United States is considering whether to take a lead in the peace process.

The economy is looking up, with crude oil being exported from a terminal just south of Port Sudan.

Neighbouring Ethiopia is due to start routing most of its exports and imports through the port from March this year.

Water problems

But Mohamed El-Faki Mustafa told me the city is far from ready for this expansion.

Like many industrialists he has to power his own plants because the local electricity supply falls well below requirements. And water is very scarce.

However, when I spoke to the Governor of Red Sea State, Hatim el-Wassila, he told me of several water and electricity projects under way to remedy this.

The most ambitious of these is to pipe water from the Nile, through hundreds of kilometres of desert and semi-desert.

Mr el-Wassila said construction could be completed in three years, and his administration would soon be ready to put the contract out to tender.

See also:

19 Mar 02 | Africa
Top al-Qaeda man 'held in Sudan'
12 Mar 02 | Africa
Monitors set for Sudan
15 Mar 02 | Africa
Sudan lets Uganda go after rebels
05 Mar 02 | Africa
Bright future for Port Sudan
07 Jan 02 | Africa
Sudan rebel groups merge
24 May 01 | Middle East
Timeline: Sudan
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