Visa plans to offer credit cards in Sudan after U.S. sanctions end

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Visa Inc. is working with three banks in Sudan to introduce its payment products, the latest Western brand seeking to enter the North African country after the lifting of U.S. sanctions and the overthrow of its long-time dictator.

Electronic Banking Services Co. Ltd, which runs an e-payment network for Sudan’s central bank, said the Bank of Khartoum, the local unit of Qatar National Bank and United Capital Bank have all recently been granted licenses to work with Visa.

Sudan’s first Visa cards may be available within a month, with only minor technical issues still to be resolved, EBS’s general manager, Omer Hassan Omerabi, said in a phone interview.

A Visa spokesman said Monday the company “is pleased to be building new partnerships that will bring the benefit of Visa’s world-class payment technology to help support financial inclusion and economic growth in Sudan.”

He didn’t give more details. Attempts to reach the banks named by Omerabi in Khartoum weren’t immediately successful.

Sudan, where President Omar al-Bashir was ousted by the army in April after mass protests, is scrabbling to reverse its pariah status and rebuild the economy shattered by decades of mismanagement and the loss of much of its oil wealth with South Sudan’s 2011 secession.

Over the past year, a trickle of Western names have appeared in the capital, Khartoum, most notably local franchises of Yum! Brands Inc’s Pizza Hut and Kentucky Fried Chicken. Meanwhile, hard times have continued to bite, with shortages of foreign currency hitting the Sudanese pound’s value on the black market and long lines reappearing in the city for fuel and bread.

Sudan’s international isolation began in 1993 when the U.S. labeled the nation, then ruled by Bashir, a state sponsor of terrorism and later imposed crippling sanctions that lasted until 2017. Africa’s third-largest country, Sudan has a population of 43.1 million and more than 80% of its residents are employed in agriculture.

Visa doesn’t permit financial firms domiciled in countries subject to Office of Foreign Assets Control sanctions to issue cards on its network. The company in November said that list still includes Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Syria and Crimea.

Sudan is still designated a sponsor of terrorism by the U.S. The transitional government is campaigning for the listing to be dropped, saying it’s preventing any large-scale foreign investment.

Omerabi described the plans as a “huge step toward the reintegration of Sudanese banks with the global financial and banking system.” It proves that at least some Sudanese banks “are eligible and compliant with international standards,” he said.

Bloomberg News