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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 April 2007, 10:54 GMT 11:54 UK
Khartoum booms as Darfur burns
By Joseph Winter
BBC News, Khartoum

New Libyan hotel
Khartoum's low-rise skyline has already changed
As middle-class Sudanese couples wipe off the dust to inspect new bathroom suites for sale by the roadside in central Khartoum, they can see a new vision of the city's future rising in the distance.

A massive Libyan-financed five-star hotel, shaped like a boat's sail, has already changed the city's low-rise skyline and work is well underway to transform parts of the sleepy city centre into a bustling, gleaming 24-hour metropolis.

The oil-fuelled construction boom may also lead to social changes, although the government shows less sign of loosening its grip here than the economy.

Under Islamic Sharia law, alcohol is banned and unlike most African cities, hardly any music can be heard on the streets, or even in the markets.

But businessmen are revelling in the new opportunities opening up, now that there is peace in the oilfields after the end of the 21-year conflict between north and south.


"This is the best situation we have had for 20 years," one Sudanese businessman told the BBC News website.

Less than a decade after the oil came online, Sudan is already the third largest producer in Africa.

The Americans will miss a great opportunity in Sudan
Amir Diglal, al-Sunut
Even better for business, the government, which used to tightly control all economic activity, has passed a host of reforms to make international trade much easier.

"I used to have to queue for ages to buy a packet of breakfast cereal," a hotel owner says.

"Now I have a choice of 20 brands".

The big question, however is whether ordinary Sudanese will benefit from the oil wealth, or whether it will be kept by a small elite, as in countries such as Nigeria and Angola.

Taxi-drivers like Omar, however, prefer home-grown beans and lentils to imported cornflakes.

"Oil, what oil? I haven't seen any oil," he complains, as he drives his battered old yellow cab.

"Ask the government, they've got the oil."


Nevertheless, the International Monetary Fund has praised Sudan's reforms and expects the economy to grow by 11% this year - one of the highest rates in Africa.

And a massive project is taking shape in the heart of the capital, where the Blue Nile meets the White Nile.

Some are calling it Africa's Dubai, as the al-Mogran development is hoping to mop up some of the billions of petrodollars being generated both domestically and across the Middle East.

It is still a vast building site but developers say $4bn will be invested over the next few years, generating 40,000 permanent jobs directly and many more indirectly.

The impressive plans show gleaming new shops, huge office blocks, 10 top-class hotels and a huge residential hinterland of 1,100 villas and 6,700 flats.

Amir Diglal, from the al-Sunut company behind the project, says the first of several international banks is due to open its doors later this year, with the entire project to be completed by 2014.

The United States is threatening to impose sanctions on Sudan because it has blocked UN attempts to boost the numbers of peacekeepers in Darfur, where at least 200,000 people have died in four years of conflict.

But Mr Diglal is not concerned.

"The Americans will miss a great opportunity in Sudan," he says.

Model of al-Mogran project at night
Hotels: 10
Jobs: 50,000
Cost: $4bn
Residents: 61,000
Sudan is already under US sanctions, because of previous ties to Osama Bin Laden.

Sudanese companies cannot use the US dollar - a huge obstacle to international trade.

One German businessman complained that his goods destined for Sudan from South America had been impounded when the ship carrying them made a brief stop in the US.

But this does not seem to have prevented the al-Mogran development.

Companies from China and Malaysia, which are closely involved in pumping Sudan's oil, are among the biggest investors.

Cultural change

Mr Diglal hopes the project will do more than just provide an economic boost.

"The challenge is not money or engineering but changing the culture."

Cranes at al-Mogran site
Al-Mogran remains a vast building site
He paints a picture of, no-doubt wealthy, Sudanese people strolling along the banks of the Nile from a top class restaurant to a cinema showing the latest releases.

Sudan's first 18-hole golf course is also planned, along with at least two marinas, for yachts stopping off on their Nile tours.

Some go even further.

"One day, we might even have nightclubs," says one of those involved in the project.

But that looks like being a distant dream - the man who suggested this insisted that his name was not used in case it led to problems with the authorities.

Khartoum residents believe that state security agents recently paid a warning visit to a cafe serving ice cream and patisseries, where young Sudanese men and women were mingling a bit too freely.

Signs have now been put up warning patrons to "observe respectable behaviour and appearance".

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