City Profile: Khartoum, Sudan
This is the second post in a series that intends to examine the ICT environment in large metropolitan areas of Africa that receive relatively little publicity and lack ICT framework. These cities are often overshadowed by Cape Town, Johannesburg, Cairo, Nairobi, Accra, and Lagos but still have a bright future – albeit with a few additional hurdles to clear. In light of the recent elections in Sudan, we follow with an ICT outline of Khartoum, Sudan.
Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, has seen increased urbanization since the 1970′s as a displaced rural population (from Sudan and surrounding nations) moved to the city. Most of these individuals lack sufficient training and are a burden to the workforce, but, thanks to increased oil prices, Sudan’s GDP is steadily increasing. Sudan’s (and Khartoum’s) main challenge will be political stability. In spite of a democratic multi-party election, the nation still faces an unstable political structure and lack of national unity. Southern Sudan is somewhat segregated from the North, and the Darfur region in western Sudan is the site of the century’s worst genocide. On a global level, the conflict in the Darfur region precludes foreign investment and support. On a national level, this conflict is a remnant of decades of civil war and only continues to prevent unity.
First, a look at the most recent population figures for the Khartoum-Omdurman (Umm Durman) metro area:
- 5.17 million (UN World Urbanization Prospects, 2009), some sources say as high as 8 million
- Breakdown by city (conservative estimate): 1 million in Khartoum, about 1.9 million Khartoum North, about 2.3 million Omdurman
- 5th largest metropolitan area in Africa (about 1.5 times the population of Cape Town or Nairobi)
Ideally, this report would focus on both Khartoum and Omdurman. However, an in-depth search of the Internet turns up essentially no reports of ICT endeavors and reports from the city of Omdurman. There are mentions of Internet cafés in the city, but no further information is provided. Perhaps what is true of Khartoum is also true of Omdurman. Fortunately, there are a few (but mostly dated) resources for information on Khartoum’s ICT growth. Out of the limited public information available on the Internet, here are some important points of information to know about Khartoum’s ICT progress:
Sudan as a whole:
- 3.7% Internet penetration in 3/08 http://www.internetworldstats.com/af/sd.htm
- .sd domain is $50 U.S. / year http://isoc.sd/enportal/index.php
- Sudan Internet Society gained government support and kept the government aware of local and international developments. This group is dedicated to the service of the Sudanese community. They provide leadership in addressing key issues about the roles and cultural uses of Internet. http://www.itu.int/itudoc/itu-t/workshop/cctld/cctld050.pdf
- An oil boom led to ICT investment by UAE and Kuwait and has helped GDP growth. http://allafrica.com/stories/200603060945.html
- Five-part national ICT policy in 1999, ICT policy for education in 2002, ICT introduced in secondary education curricula in 2004.
- 2008: YouTube partially blocked. http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article28123
- Although a ban on exports has existed since 1997, U.S. firms are now allowed to export Internet tools, such as services for instant messaging, chat, email and social networking, to Sudan. Hillary Clinton: “We’re supporting the right of free expression,” she said, adding that “in the 21st century expression and assembly are carried out on the Internet as well as in person.” http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,5356083,00.html
- The recent establishment of a Ministry of Investment, plus various economic incentives will help attract foreign interest. http://www.bernard-krief.com/espaceinformation/documentation/ict/Sudan_Country_Profile.pdf
- Sudan Vote Monitor, a crisis mapping site http://sudanvotemonitor.com
- Southern Sudan has reached out to investors and is setting up an ICT forum. This part of the country is ready to provide friendly legislation to ease the inflow of ICT investment.
- However, even in Southern Sudan, a World Bank project failed after experiencing a lack of enthusiasm from within. http://www.un-gaid.org/News/tabid/864/mctl/ArticleView/ModuleId/2247/articleId/21358/Sudan-Is-ICT-all-its-cracked-up-to-be.aspx
- In 2006 South Sudan sought Rwanda as a source for ICT expertise. http://allafrica.com/stories/200610150117.html
- In 2004, Sudan’s first mall opened in Khartoum, as did dozens of Internet cafés, following an agreement to end the civil war. http://www.boston.com/news/world/middleeast/articles/2004/06/04/in_khartoum_shopping_for_future/
- A Google Maps search for ‘khartoum internet’ yields four hotels with Internet (and even WiFi), plus two Internet cafés.
- Some schools, like the Eritrean Refugee School in Khartoum, have computers, but lack the money to afford the Internet. http://www.capitaleritrea.com/insight/world-cup-bound-norwegian-cyclist-teaches-eritrean-refugees-about-the-internet/
- According to the Information Technology, Telecommunication and Media Exhibition held in Khartoum in 2007, there is growing interest in information technology in Sudan, “characterized by the spread of numerous new businesses working in the field. In Khartoum alone there are 45 computer colleges, 216 computer training centers, 545 services centers, in addition to 174 companies working in the field for marketing, and 120 IT data and research companies.” http://www.executive-magazine.com/getarticle.php?article=10847
- University of Khartoum: According to the university ICT plan, within five years starting from 2007, all students will have their own university email and most of the curricula will be available online. Electronic teaching has already started in the Medical School and the Agriculture Faculty. Electronic registration will start in 2009. Most of these projects will be implemented within 4 to 5 years with this new policy started in 2007. 1,500 computers existed at the university in 2007. http://www.executive-magazine.com/getarticle.php?article=10847
- The University of Khartoum has ICT in place (all four campus are linked, WiFi is widespread), but the library is lacking. http://crl.du.ac.in/ical09/papers/index_files/ical-12_63_164_1_RV.pdf
- National Telecom Corporation established in 2001 passed a telecom act to improve the sector http://www.bernard-krief.com/espaceinformation/documentation/ict/Sudan_Country_Profile.pdf
Conclusion: The city of Khartoum is on the brink of great ICT development. There is a large, youthful workforce that is unskilled and currently more concerned with humanitarian and political needs than technological advancements. The University of Khartoum is ready to provide support to this group, but needs the government’s assistance. First, the government must promote peace throughout the country. Historically, ICT growth is only successful under peacetime conditions. Sudan knows this first hand. In 1999, following the Second Civil War, but before the recent Darfur conflict, the nation implemented an ICT policy and was on track for substantial progress. Once these civil wars are memories of the past, the government must collaborate with scholars and professionals in the ICT field to create a new national plan with plenty of internal momentum. The people of Sudan are certainly ready for change and have shown great excitement over the recent multi-party election. Foreign investors will certainly be ready. However, a new hurdle could shift attention away from ICT yet again. Southern Sudan’s independence referendum in slated for January 2011.
- Sudan has previously created a national ICT policy
- Multi-party elections hint at even greater political stability and excitement for change
- Ministry of Investment exists
- University of Khartoum has decent infrastructure and is ready to train a new workforce
- Growing economy with ties to Middle East investors, broader foreign investors once Darfur conflict ends
- Darfur prevents stability and investment, plus the entire region lacks infrastructure
- Sudan (Northern Sudan) and Southern Sudan lack cohesion and common vision (in fact, Southern Sudan may become independent in the coming years)
- Lack of general enthusiasm for ICT and lack of trust in the government who must create an updated ICT policy
- Language and cultural barriers – Arab vs. African influences (perhaps Southern Sudan’s independence would help in this area?)
Final intriguing thought: Sudan must realize its powerful geographical position for collaborating with other nations. Sudan is one of eight nations in the world to have 8 or more neighbors and connects land and sea; East Africa with Central Africa and Northern Africa; Northern Africa with sub-Saharan Africa.