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Source: The Social Science Research Council Blog

Author: Munzoul Assal

Posting Date: January 29, 2008

Sudanis one of the fastest urbanizing countries in the world. Population figures show that the country was already 40% urbanized in 2005 and that figure excludes the displaced of Darfur and the large numbers of unregistered migrants and squatters in Khartoum. Darfurtoday is approximately one third urban, one third rural and one third displaced. Even with the most optimistic scenarios for peace and stability, the majority of Sudanese including Darfurians will soon be living in cities. This is a pathological urbanization it is occurring without social integration. This essay asks, what does this entail for the future of Sudan?

Despite decades of war, Sudan's population has been growing at about 2.8% per annum. That population growth is fastest in a few urban centers, with Khartoumhaving the biggest share. The capital's population grew from just 250,000 on the eve of independent to an estimated 2,831,000 in 1993 a year when the census estimated Sudan to be 25% urbanized. By 2005 Khartoumwas estimated at 4.5 million officially and more than 7 million unofficially with 40% of the country urbanized, and fully half the urban population in the capital. This makes Khartouma primate city, not only in terms of absolute figures, but also politically, economically and socially, as large as all the other urban centers combined.

Migration to Khartoumstarted after independence. For some years, migration was seasonal, and migrants often returned to their areas of origin. But since the 1970s, most migration to Khartoum has been a response to natural and man-made disasters and the inequality of resource distribution. Most of Sudan's economic capital and social services are concentrated in Khartoum. Just as economic resources flow to the center and not the peripheries, so too do people move to the metropolis. The long civil war in southernSudandestabilized communities and pushed millions of internally displaced persons (IDPs) northward. Today, more than 2 million IDPs live in Khartoum---almost one quarter of the population. This can be seen elsewhere too. Nyala now has a population of 1.2 million, plus 300,000 IDPs, making it contend with Port Sudanas the country's second largest city. More than one in five Darfurians live in and around Nyala. But it is in the three towns of Khartoum, Omdurman and KhartoumNorth that we see the most extreme and significant urbanization, and it is here that the country's political future will be decided. Hence this essay focuses on the national capital.

What is the implication of urbanization for the prospects of democratic transformation in Sudan? Will we see urban polarization, poverty and squalor, with resources and services failing to match the demands of urban inhabitants? Khartoumis marked by extreme socio-economic inequality. Rich and upper class residential areas co-exist side by side with squatter settlements and IDP camps. There is a widening gap between the rich and the poor. Khartoumis witnessing a remarkable real-estate development including residential complexes, infrastructure and foreign investment projects that are mostly run by Asians. It is becoming one of the most expensive cities in the world. Yet, these developments do not benefit half of Khartoum's population living in the peripheries of the city. The city provides few if any services to this vast group.

For the full essay and comments by Alex de Waal, please visit the Social Science Research Council's blog at: