MOVING THROUGH THE STREETS OF SUDAN’S SIX MILLION INHABITANT CAPITAL KHARTOUM, ONE SEES THE CULTURAL mosaic spread over these 967,500 square miles of African terrain. The typically 2 meters plus ebony skinned cattle herders from the Southern Nile region, the various shades of Hamitic-Arab admixture, Semitic Arabs from the eastern coastal region where Africa is only 100 miles from Arabia and Turkish stock settled here since the era of Ottoman rule. Greeks, Egyptians, and Western Sudan Hamites, as well as Bantu, converge in this metropolis at the confluence of the three Niles, adjusting to the dynamic cultural diversity, which reflects the composite polity. Most interestingly, the significant cultural and ethnic integration is apparent in the physical features of individuals.
Sudan is perhaps the world’s most profuse melting pot, but ethnic and racial division lines are nonetheless firm, owing to patriarchal lineage perspectives and competition for resources. However, the consumption and production
culture for everything from food and apparel to music highlights the natural eclecticism that occurs here.
Sudan has, perhaps, the richest dairy products industry in tropical Africa, featuring an array of packaged milk and yoghurt brands, as well as cottage industry-produced cheese. Rarely in tropical Africa is cheese part of the common
diet. Dates and olives, typical of the Arabian diet, converge here with cereal-based staples cooked like solid porridge, which is typical of the African tropics. Shawarma (semi-minced meat mixed with tomato and garden pepper),
which is an elite consumer delicacy in other African countries, is as commonly consumed in Khartoum as hamburgers in New York. Sudan, with nearly 120 million livestock heads, has the second largest national herd in Africa.
Wearing apparel is also diverse. The typical Sudanese white caftan is usually tailor-made from various grades of cloth, including pima cotton. Garment factories make well tailored coat suits, fashionable trousers, shirts, and an
assortment of women’s wear. After reaching a peak of 2.65 million pairs in the 1970s, footwear production declined substantially but in recent years has picked up, despite stiff competition from imports. As a leading producer of cotton and animal hides, Sudan has great unfulfilled leather and textile industry potential; yet, domestic production significantly competes in these import dominated markets.
In the artistic domain, one hears music composed of Arabic lyrics with African rhythm and classical European instrumentation, such as violin and accordion. The result is truly an Afro-Arab-Euro flavor that is unique in the
world of music. The Arabesque art forms that exclude images, which are typical of the Arab- Muslim tradition, can hardly be seen in Sudan. Sudanese painting and sculpture, as taught in the faculties of fine arts, focuses mainly on representation of the human personality in local environments. Even religiously oriented art features animated life forms, which is typical of African art. Yet, leading Sudanese artists are often prize winners in Arab world exhibitions;
and with e-commerce possibilities, Sudanese painting has great international commercial potential.
The extraordinary art and food variety complements Sudan’s unique place as the fountainhead of African civilizations and populations to give this country great tourism promise. European archaeologists Jacques Reinold
and Lech Krzyzaniak, who have worked on the important excavation projects in Sudan’s “Land of Kush”, wrote on the prominent place of Sudan in populating the earth, saying: “Located west of the East African rift valley and
thought to be the birthplace of humanity, the Sudan plays a direct role in the earliest stages of human evolution…”
The words in this regard of Hassan Hussein Idris, Director General of Sudan’s National Board for Antiquities and Museums, are a prelude to the country’s phenomenal potential for cultural pilgrimages: “Only recently has the
archaeological exploration revealed that Sudanese Neolithic cultures predate by far their prehistoric counterparts in Egypt. They even seem to provide part of the latter’s formative roots. Looking to the south, we find that the Sudan of late antiquity also spread its influence deep into the African continent.”
Despite the ethnic and cultural diversity of Sudan, historical evidence suggests a common origin of all its peoples from the Upper Nile Valley and ancient migrations southwards and westwards that populated the rest of the country and continent. This rich heritage is prompting increased interests and investment in tourism based on cooperation between local entrepreneurs and agents in other countries.
Sudan is still a country where the majority of population is rural and agriculture accounts for more than a third of the gross domestic product, but urbanization is proceeding at a rapid rate. Today, Khartoum contains almost 20% of
the national population, with other major cities, including Port Sudan, El Obeid, Kassala, Nyala, Al Fasher, and Juba combined hosting another 10%. However, the urban economies are dominated by trade and services with industrialization occurring gradually. The ubiquitous livestock production and trade does take place in the traditional quarters of cities and non-industrial dairy products still enjoy a fair share of the market. Interestingly, Sudan has a world class beverage industry, with an array of brands and products competing in the thirst quenching market of this usually very hot country. In addition to the packaged brands, the urban streets and parks are awash with fresh fruit juice and snack bars.
Sudan’s commercial sector is quite astute at customer satisfaction. Demand is growing increasingly sophisticated, with the rise of education and exposure of Sudanese to other parts of the world, and shoppers can usually find
what they want. Whether you are looking for a well-tailored suit of clothes or the latest information technology equipment, Sudan’s retail sector is keeping pace with the rest of the world. For visitors, there are automobile hire services in abundance, stocked with late model luxury brands. Aside from an array of hotels, including three in the five-star category, there are “convenience flats” in the upper echelon residential areas that can be hired on a monthly basis replete with furniture, a cook, and cleaner. With so many fine artists, there are regular art exhibitions
where one might acquire some of the best paintings and sculpture modern Africa has to offer. Sometimes, the exhibitions are accompanied by music.
Khartoum provides a unique blend of cosmopolitan sophistication with respect for heritage and tradition. It is interesting to see the change of general attire, pace, and mood from the bustling working hours in this sprawling city
to the conservatively sociable evenings. Social life is typically family oriented and there are many parks where families spend the evening enjoying their children’s recreation along with snacks and sweets. Marriages often fill the
evening air in the neighbourhoods with dance music. There are also periodic trade exhibitions and fairs, the most notable of these being the Khartoum International Fair heading for its 23rd edition in January 2006.
Sudan’s cultural diversity has favorable implications for the country’s modernization as productive sectors are rooted in inheritances. Despite expanding urbanization and the hundreds of millions of dollars invested in petroleum refining, agriculture remains the dominant sector. In 2003, sesame exports almost equaled the value of benzene exports, with livestock and hides exports exceeding them both. The strength of Sudan’s livestock and planting sectors warrants appropriate investment in modernization, as they continue to remain the lead engines of economic growth. Livestock is a primary source of wealth in many communities and meat consumption is quite high, apart
from export demand. The bulk of meat exports are in the form of live animals to Arabian Gulf states.
The trading and services communities also tend to be deeply rooted in their fields. This, however, has precarious implications for the future of industrialization, since it is companies from these communities that typically venture into small-scale industries. Given the steep challenge of achieving industrial operation success in Africa– and Sudan is no exception, there is always the risk that investors who are established traders will abandon their industrial products whenever a returns trend of drain rather than profits persists for a few years.
Nevertheless, for certain industries, and especially the beverage and dairy products industries, there appear to be no reversal from the investment and product advances already made. The traditional artisan, medical, educational, and
proletariat sectors are also evolving, giving rise to modern technocrats and contributing to the emerging array of contemporary professionals.
We can envisage Sudan advancing towards the middle of the 21st century, sustaining the 6% plus average growth rate of the past fifteen years, modernizing its traditional sectors, and strengthening the strategic value of its economic diversity. With a 2003 GDP of $17.5 billion, Sudan now has the third largest economy in Sub-Sahara Africa. The phenomenal rise in oil prices portends a remarkable growth record at the end of 2004. Crude petroleum exports in the first quarter of the year, valued at $1.292 billion, earned more than half of the aggregate oil income for the previous year; while other exports had already attained 76% of the aggregate 2003 value. Significantly, the rise of the petroleum industry has not occasioned regression of the agriculture sector. Also of great significance,Sudan’s dinar, though floated, has remained stable for the last five years and inflation over this period has for the most part been contained within a single digit. Thus, businesses can reasonably plan for a few years in advance with real prospects of achieving their projections.