By Alison Bate
The capital of Sudan feels a little lost and empty these days.
The distinctive Dinkas – the impossibly tall, thin Southerners – and their fellow compatriots have mostly left Khartoum for their new homeland and the deadline for the rest to leave is just months away.
After April 9, 2012, any southerners remaining will become stateless or, if they are lucky, have to get work visas like other foreigners.
The new country of South Sudan, born on the 9th of July, has taken with it the biggest chunk of Sudan’s oil revenues and Khartoum seems totally unprepared for the loss of all that money.
It will have to find new ways to make an income and meanwhile the residents of Khartoum and its sister cities of Omdurman and Khartoum North are hurting as prices shoot upward.
“Everybody want to leave Sudan. Why you come to Sudan from Canada?” asked one resident, only half-joking.
The price of a sheep shot up to between 400 and 700 Sudanese Pounds (SP) for the Haj earlier this year – the religious occasion when every family buys a sheep.
Translating this into US dollars is not even easy, as there’s a huge gap between the official exchange rate and what you can get on the black market.
Officially, $1 US equals about 2.75 SP but on the black market, $1 US will buy you more than 4SP. That’s a huge slump compared with four years ago, when I last visited Khartoum, and $1 US was worth 2 SP.
So, oil has gone, the southerners have gone, and the UN has also largely left town. The massive bureaucracy of the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) has shut up shop in Khartoum and there are fewer fancy white SUVs with their monster UN logos charging around town, and fewer well-paid jobs for the Sudanese: about 4,000 Sudanese who worked for the UN in Khartoum have lost their jobs.
In the process, UNMIS has morphed into UNMISS and headed south to Juba, the capital of South Sudan.
Paradoxically, Khartoum itself is full of new gleaming buildings, roads and bridges built with oil money. But it seems like a shell city.
Whether this is the end of an era of new growth or simply a lull before the next wave comes in remains to be seen. But right now is certainly not a good time to be a resident of Khartoum.
(Posted Dec.16, 2011 by Alison Bate/pix updated Nov. 2020)