DUBAI (Reuters) - Middle East ride-hailing firm Careem said on Sunday it had started a service in Sudan, one of few international companies to enter the country since U.S. economic sanctions were lifted last year.
Sudan is grappling with an economic crisis as a foreign currency shortage and an increasingly expensive black market for dollars weakened its ability to import and made prices soar.
Careem, which said its services were now available in Sudan’s capital Khartoum, has hired 10 Sudanese employees and signed up hundreds of drivers to its app to launch operations.
The company expects to have as many as 30 employees in Sudan and be present in at least one other city in the northeast African country by the end of the year.
“My goal and aim is to cover as many (cities) as possible in the next one or two years,” Careem’s Managing Director for Emerging Markets Ibrahim Manna told Reuters by phone.
Sudan has the potential to be one of Careem’s biggest markets in terms of number of trips taken due to the population size and demand for transportation services, he added.
Careem will compete against several local ride-hailing apps, such as Tirhal, but not Uber Technologies itself, which does not operate in the country.
Dubai-based Careem is Uber’s main Middle East rival, competing in most of the region’s major cities including Cairo, Dubai, and Riyadh. Last year it became the first ride-hailing firm to operate on the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Careem plans to reinvest revenue earned in Sudan back into the country over the next two to three years as its grows its business there, Manna said.
Remitting cash from Sudan can be difficult due to the country’s hard currency shortage.
International banks remain cautious about doing business with Sudan which remains on the United States list of state sponsors of terrorism - alongside Iran, Syria, and North Korea - despite the U.S. lifting economic sanctions.
Reporting by Alexander Cornwell; Editing by Keith Weir