Sudan, in Mud Brick and Marble

Soba Aradi is one of a dozen camps housing 2 million displaced people on the fringes of Khartoum. The city's boom
Soba Aradi is one of a dozen camps housing 2 million displaced people on the fringes of Khartoum. The city's boom "benefits probably 1 percent or less" of its people, one critic said. (Stephanie Mccrummen - Twp)
By Stephanie McCrummen
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, February 26, 2007

KHARTOUM, Sudan, Feb. 25 -- On the desert edges of Sudan's capital, Suzanne Yobu, who has a business degree and a decidedly proper manner, lives in a mud-brick house in a sprawling squatter's camp called Soba Aradi.

Sometimes, though, she attends church in the city, a place booming with oil money that comes mostly from her home region of southern Sudan, which she fled during a civil war that ended in 2005.

In a clankety bus, she passes the airport, where travelers can buy Gucci perfume these days. She rolls along smoothly paved boulevards, some lined with potted geraniums, and past scores of new buildings such as the swirling, white El Fateh Tower, a wildly futuristic hotel that symbolizes the government's vision of Khartoum as a kind of Dubai-on-the-Nile.

Seeing it all, though, Yobu thinks only about how soon she can leave.

"I don't like Khartoum particularly. All this money, the government brought it from the south. They are using our money to build their city and for this war," she said, referring to the crisis in Sudan's western Darfur region. "That is what is happening."

In Sudan, successive rebel movements -- first in the south and now in Darfur -- have voiced similar grievances against the government. The ruling party in Khartoum, they say, hoards power and wealth at the expense of the rest of the country, physically the largest in Africa.

And in the past several years, the new oil wealth and investment pouring into the city of 6 million have sharpened the contrast between center and periphery.

These days, Khartoum has palm trees wrapped in lights, new Toyota dealerships and an outdoor cafe where patrons can sip lattes under a delicately refreshing mist spray. This week marks the opening of Khartoum's first five-star hotel, Al Salam Rotana -- a swank, $300-a-night palace of marble and haute cuisine for the jet set.

At the city's edges, however, is the detritus of power struggles dating back decades -- a dozen or so squalid, off-the-map camps, most without running water or electricity, and filled with more than 2 million people. Most of the residents are non-Arab Africans who fled the conflict in the south. More recently, people have come here to escape the conflict in Darfur, now in its fourth year.

For people in the camps, the economic boom has had the perverse effect of further undermining their already precarious existence. With land at a premium, the local government of Khartoum state periodically sends police and bulldozers into the camps to plow under swaths of mud houses, pushing people even farther out into the desert, and then sells the cleared land to developers.

The technique, called kasha, was first used by the government in the mid-1980s to force out southerners who had fled the civil war. The current ruling party has "perfected" the technique, said Alfred Taban, editor in chief of the Khartoum Monitor newspaper and a frequent critic of the government.

"They are trying to say, 'You are not welcome here,' " he said. "This boom, it benefits probably 1 percent or less."


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