Sudanese students flock to learn Chinese
By Lewis Machipisa
BBC News, Khartoum
Products, companies and restaurants from China have flooded into Sudan in recent years and now the Chinese language has become the latest import.
The Chinese speech competition was well-attended
During a recent language competition, Khartoum University resembled a province in China. Everything became Chinese. The students even laughed in Chinese.
The relaxed mood with which the 100 or so students spoke and joked in Chinese at the Chinese Bridge Speech competition suggests that learning Chinese could be the next big thing in Sudan.
First the students had to compete to see who had become the most proficient in the language. In this category the competition was tough.
Then the students had to prove they could even sing in Chinese - most sounded atrocious.
More than one billion people around the world speak Chinese as their native tongue.
China estimates that 100 million foreigners will soon speak Chinese
With China's economy rising fast, the country's government believes that 100 million foreigners will soon be speaking their language.
Among those will be Ayat, a student in Khartoum.
"China is now a big country economically. There are lots of Chinese companies in Sudan so there is a big choice for us to work for the Chinese as translators,'' she says, describing Chinese as a "beautiful language''.
Tong Xiaofeng, a Chinese professor at Khartoum University, says most of the Sudanese students in his class are motivated by money.
"Chinese is mostly welcome because nearly 100% of students who graduate from the department get jobs with Chinese companies," he says, specifically in the oil industry, telecommunications and as travel agents.
China's oil interests in Sudan, already substantial, continue to grow.
Sudan sells about 60% of its oil to China, while Sudanese imports currently make up 5% of China's oil and the China National Petroleum Corp owns 40% of the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company - the main player in Sudan.
In addition, another Chinese company is constructing a 1,500km (932 mile) pipeline to Port Sudan on the Red Sea, where they are also building a tanker terminal.
Sudanese production and export of light, sweet crude oil - the most easily refined, and therefore most desirable, oil - have risen rapidly in the last few years.
When I graduate, I want to go to China and do my masters there
China concerns over Darfur
Sudan's energy ministry reports production of some 500,000 barrels per day. Sudan has proven reserves of at least 563 million barrels of oil, with the potential for far more in regions of the country made inaccessible by conflict.
It is this projected oil boom, led by Chinese firms, that has caught the eye of many Sudanese students, and there is also a booming telecommunications sector.
The Chinese government is all for using language as a way of spreading its influence around the world.
By 2008, an estimated 120,000 students will travel from abroad to go to college at a Chinese university, up from 8,000 less than a decade before.
It will provide scholarships for good students to go to its universities.
Halid Sulema is one of the students eyeing that chance.
"When I graduate, I want to go to China and do my masters there. I hope to get a good job with a Chinese company in the end."