- Investors chase the scent of oil -

"We're at a turning point for Sudan, both economically and politically," says Abdelgadir Mansour, managing director of the Bittar Group of companies. "A change has been effected in the economy, firstly by privatisation and, secondly, companies that were failures but still taking subsidies from the government have been disposed off. These were the first, correct steps to triggering this change," he says.

The Bittar Group began as a family business, trading in gum arabic. Established in 1921, it is old enough to have 'PO Box No 1' as the address for its registered office in Khartoum. There are now eight companies in the group, making soap and detergent, edible oils, cement and mosaic tiles, industrial salt, office and home furniture, MANSOUR 'This is the time to come to Sudan or it will be too late' glycerine, aluminium doors and windows, roasted sesame, and plastic and tin containers. It is also an importer of a range of goods, including engineering machinery, office and electronic equipment, industrial and agricultural vehicles, foodstuffs and basic chemicals. "We used to produce soaps under the Unilever name, but now we have our own brand name," says Mr Mansour.

Bittar has its own brokers and agents for exports and warehousing at Port Sudan where its latest project is a 100,000 tonnes-per-year capacity salt farm. Mr Mansour says the group is not planning any new projects at the moment. "We are now in the process of consolidation, shifting from the style of a family-run business to a more professional management system. It is not easy to attract good new management, but since the discovery of oil in Sudan we have been contacted by many Sudanese living abroad.

"One company, of which I am a director, wanted to appoint someone to a key position and we advertised in The Economist, and we received applications all the way from America, Asia and Europe," he says. Mr Mansour says investors have started arriving in greater numbers. "For example, the Chinese have already begun to move into Sudan. This is the time to come - otherwise it will be too late."