Home | Comment & Analysis    Monday 27 September 2010

Greed and corruption breed poverty: Dream Land case revisited

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By Ahmed Elzobier

September 26, 2010 — Let us step back to where we were four years ago. Kofi Anan was on a high profile visit to Sudan in July 2006 and agreed with the government on a plan to protect civilians and disarm the Janjaweed militias in Darfur. The political atmosphere in the country was highly charged as Omer al-Bashir rejected the deployment of any UN troops in Darfur and declared to his followers, “I would prefer to be a leader of the resistance in Darfur than the leader of an occupied country”. These words would come to haunt him three years later when he was charged for war crimes in Darfur by the International Criminal Court in 2009. However, while all eyes were focused on the Darfur stage a tragic sideshow was taking place near Khartoum in August 2006.

The appalling eviction of Dar Al Salam community, mostly from Darfur, was buried under other news and headlines. Few journalists or human rights organizations noticed or realized its consequences. On 16 August 2006, heavily armed police units had begun –without warning– demolishing the houses of some 12,000 individuals residing in Dar Al Salam, located 35 kilometers south-east of Khartoum near the highway that links Khartoum and Madani. The population was forced to move to a new site located eight kilometers from the highway, as result two children were reported dead and many others were injured. The people were literally thrown into no man’s land and denied any humanitarian assistance and remained for long period without access to basic facilities such as water, health and schools. Their 22 years of hopes, dreams, suffering, and perseverance came to a tragic end. More importantly, the eviction decision violated all national and international legal standards as well as agreements that had been undersigned by the authorities and the community in January 2006.

Dar Al Salam’s story could easily be described as one of the most disturbing documented cases of the struggle between the urban poor and the forces of corruption in the country. Their anguish has been allowed to continue for more than three decades and across three different political regimes. This case starkly displays the gross decadence that has crippled the post-independence Sudan state. A despicable web of hopeless bureaucracy, incompetent officials, corruption, greed, nepotism, racism, totalitarianism, class discrimination, and sheer selfishness combined with a complete disregard for human suffering.

What Dar Al Salam’s residents have wanted all along is very simple – a secure housing settlement for them and their families. And why not? They are hard workers, contributing immensely to the economy of this country in the textile industry and other factories in the Al Bagier region. However, they have been consistently lied to and manipulated, promised and denied, and then finally in June 2003 their promised land was sold secretly to the highest bidder who turned out to be a foreign investor wishing to build, ironically, a so-called “Dream Land”. The unfortunate people of Dar Al Salam were the last ones to know about this deal. Manipulation in this case has no moral boundary; in early 2003 the same commissioner visited Dar Al Salam to celebrate a National Anniversary in the village. He promised the people that all services would be provided and that the confiscation resolution was only a rumor, and in his words, “This land now belongs to you”.

From 1983 to 2006 more than five surveys were conducted by the local authority, the regional government, and the central government. Most of these surveys suggested the suitability of plot 775/1 in Al Bagier as a residential area for the Al Bagier factory workers. The valid question lingering in everyone’s mind is, why have all these suggestions and recommendations have never been taken seriously or implemented over the past 22 years?

Before 16 August 2006 Dar Al Salam had a very interesting ethnic composition; 70% of the population was from Darfur, 20% from Kordofan, and 10% from the rest of the country. People’s lives started to take the form of a vibrant and thriving community with more than 69 tribes living in harmony in the village. Services started to gradually become available; they had a school with ten classes, a borehole, a health centre, a mosque, two markets with more than 162 shops, eight grinding mills and two bakeries. The average income of Dar Al Salam’s workers was around 8 SDG ($2.5 per day), with the majority of residents working in the factories or on nearby farms.

Now, in its place stands the Dream Land Project. Four years later the land remains abandoned, the developer built a few houses and sold some of the land at a price 30 times higher than what he paid for it. The Egyptian investor, who had paid 13 million dollars for the land, including sizeable kickback payments to the state officials, and hoping within six years to transform it into a lush oasis of shopping centres, villas, pools and golf course, lost interest in the whole project. The Sudanese company that is a partner in the project is no longer answering its phone, their main offices are empty and its workers were dismissed.

As a result of the relocation decision the population is now experiencing a shocking level of poverty. In 2006 access to water used to cost the family about 2.5 SDG per day, in 2010 the cost of water is now around 6 to 8 SDG per day. In 2006 the transport cost was only 2 SDG to Khartoum, now it’s about 6 to 8 SDG. In the first six month of their relocation about 250 women aborted their babies for all kinds of reasons but mostly for lack of medical resources in the new area. With only one health centre with no drugs or doctor, in cases of emergency people had to travel to hospitals in the Suba area (20 kilometers) or to Khartoum (35 kilometers) where the cost of transport ranges between 50–60 SDG.

In old Dar Al Salam the school class size was about 50 to 60 students, now the average class size is 100–120 students. The primary school rate of success in the final exam has dropped from 80% to 25%. This year, out of those who passed the final exam, only 15 managed to secure places in a nearby secondary. Parents complained that the high cost of transport and the school fees are major factors behind these dismal results. Since 2006 only one student has graduated from university, while before 2006 the rate of graduation from universities was five per year. Most young people who failed the final exams have joined the masses of the unemployed, took up manual labor or joined the military. The level of unemployment has drastically increased to 90%, meaning only one in ten is employed. As nearby factories went bankrupt transport costs prevented most workers from travelling to Khartoum. Those who were lucky to find work in nearby factories were paid 6 SDG (US$2) per day. Many families eventually abandoned the new, failed Dar Al Salam and moved somewhere else.

To make a bad situation even worse, the old community sprit was broken; people become more divided along tribal and political lines. The appointed local committee, working against the community interest, usually implements the harshest aspects of the policy that is proposed by the local authority with impunity. In a nutshell, the decision to relocate these people has condemned them to abject poverty; they have paid the ultimate price for the corruption and greed of others. No one seems interested in their plight, locally, regionally, or at a national level. All the compensations promised by the Dream Land Company have evaporated into thin air. The sense of helplessness and despair, and the deep feeling of injustice is overwhelming, and you can see it in the eyes of the children as much as in the faces of all the men and women trying to live a dignified life in such terrible circumstances.

The author is a Sudan Tribune journalist, he can be reached at ahmed.elzobir@gmail.com

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  • 27 September 2010 14:28, by Paul Ongee

    Ahmed,

    To Khartoum this "Dream Land" case is never a decadence but a failed attempt to utilize the land for commercial development. The IDPs, of course, paid high price. Last year Khartoum lost almost 26.8 b SDG just within 6 months. It appeared in one of the news papers here in the capital but nobody got handcuffed or thrown in jail for the laundering. It only rumored that some bank managers would end up in jail. We later learned that the major commercial banks (unspecified) contributed to the disappearance of the money.

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