China-fuelled phone boom reaches Darfur's camps

Tue Feb 23, 2010 10:53am EST
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By Andrew Heavens

ABU SHOUK CAMP, Sudan (Reuters Life!) - Scores of Chinese-made phone charger cables snake across Abubakr Ali's Darfur market stall, one of the furthest outposts of a telecoms market that is booming in the face of a seven-year conflict.

Sudan, like most African countries, has seen a massive expansion in its telecoms industry in recent years, focused on its main towns and cities.

Now, a combination of cheap Chinese imports and demand from an influx international peacekeepers, itinerant businessmen and aid workers has pushed the market on into a much wilder area, Sudan's strife-torn Darfur.

The country's main mobile operators -- Zain of Kuwait, MTN of South Africa and Sudanese Sudani -- are leading the charge, upgrading their networks to keep up with rising demand.

But a collection of more obscure brand names is behind the move into some of Darfur's poorest corners, the refugee camps where more than 2 million people have taken shelter from the violence.

"Mobile phones used to be too expensive for many of us. Then the Chinese handsets started arriving," said Mohammed Abakar Mohammed, owner of one of a row of phone stalls in Abu Shouk camp, a dusty grid of mud-walled shacks on the outskirts of North Darfur's capital El Fasher.

"The network is good. Zain works in all the areas covered by the government. Sudani covers all the areas, even the rebel ones."

In Abu Shouk, most people want a Nokia but settle for lesser known names -- Sunys (pirated knock-offs of cutting edge Sony Ericssons), the dual SIM card Youshi or, most widespread of all, the snappily titled G'Five Gompolla T33+.   Continued...

<p>Mohammed Abakar Mohammed mends a Chinese mobile phone at his stall in Abu Shouk Camp in Darfur February 11, 2010. REUTERS/Andrew Heavens</p>