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."This government has a different feeling towards the southerners," Yobu said. "They look at the south as inferior and themselves as superior. If we separate, we'll have more revenue, and more freedom also. The south has oil, and gold. But right now, the money is in their hands."
Sudan, in Mud Brick and Marble
Capital's Extremes of Poverty and Wealth Symbolize Nation's Wider Rifts
By Stephanie McCrummen (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."
In Soba Aradi, people see little difference between the conflict in southern Sudan, the current conflict in Darfur and their own treatment in Khartoum.
Though the war in southern Sudan had a religious dimension in that it involved an attempt by the government to impose Islamic law on a population that is about 30 percent Christian, the primary grievances of the rebel movement there had more to do with access to resources and power. The conflict in Darfur also largely comes down to a struggle for resources.
"It's all the same because it's the same government," said Emmanuel Agrey Lado, a physician's assistant from southern Sudan whose home has been bulldozed twice in two years.
U.S. diplomats, however, have mostly treated southern Sudan and the conflict in Darfur separately.
After intense engagement by the Bush administration, the Sudanese government in 2005 signed a U.S.-backed peace agreement creating a semiautonomous region in southern Sudan, just as government troops were intensifying their onslaught in Darfur.
Last year, the government signed a separate peace agreement with one Darfur rebel group, but fighting between government-sponsored militias and an increasingly fragmented rebel movement has continued.
Since the conflict in Darfur began, as many as 450,000 people have died there from disease and violence and 2.5 million have fled to camps in the area or across the border in Chad.
In recent months, the humanitarian situation in Darfur has worsened, as aid workers have been targeted in the violence and many relief groups have pulled out, leaving hundreds of thousands of people without food, medicine or clean water. President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has consistently rejected a proposal to send in a force of several thousand United Nations peacekeepers to supplement a beleaguered African Union force of 7,000 troops currently deployed in Darfur.
Meanwhile, the peace agreement in the south is faltering, with southern Sudanese officials accusing the government of shortchanging them on oil revenue and failing to implement power-sharing arrangements.
Increasingly, leaders in the south say the fate of their region is very much intertwined with that of Darfur, a notion that hearkens back to the vision of John Garang, the widely popular and iconic leader of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) who died in a helicopter crash in 2005.
Under his leadership, the SPLM had strong ties to rebel groups not only in Darfur, but also in the north and the east, as Garang came to realize that the suffering extended beyond his own region and that the only way to achieve a more just order in Sudan was through a unified movement. After his death, those relationships languished.
In recent weeks, however, the current president of southern Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit, has been reaching out to Darfur rebel leaders.
"We have similar grievances," said Deng Alor Kuol, a southerner who became a minister in the national government after the 2005 peace agreement. "Marginalization and neglect."
As Charles Kalisto, a resident of Soba Aradi, put it, "When I see all these tall buildings" in Khartoum, "I ask, 'Why am I staying under a plastic sheet?' "
Kalisto, who has lived in Khartoum for 22 years, has watched the city become clad in scaffolding and layers of new asphalt. He has tried to get a construction job there, to no avail. Kalisto, like many southerners, said it is difficult to get a job if you are not well connected, and even harder if you are not Arab.
So he is leaving, along with hundreds of thousands of others who have returned to the south in the past two years, by truck or a treacherous barge journey down the Nile.
In Soba Aradi last week, he was among a handful of residents who showed up at a big white tent to register for a U.N. program that is helping 150,000 southerners return home in organized bus convoys before the rainy season starts in May.
Kalisto said he and his family have no hesitation about leaving Khartoum, even for all the unknowns of southern Sudan, where villages, farms and nearly every scrap of infrastructure were destroyed in the war and most people are living in tents.
When he arrives, the government will give him seeds, some sticks and a tarpaulin. Still, Kalisto said, "If tomorrow there is a train, we want to go."
Suzanne Yobu will not be far behind. In 2011, there will be a referendum in the south on independence from Sudan, an option she seems to find attractive.
"This government has a different feeling towards the southerners," Yobu said. "They look at the south as inferior and themselves as superior. If we separate, we'll have more revenue, and more freedom also. The south has oil, and gold. But right now, the money is in their hands."
Originally appeared in Washington Post.