The geographical inequality of income and investment in Sudan is striking. The figure below was drawn by me in the 1980s, based on an analysis of how the Sudanese economy had been restructured in the late 1970s and ‘80s, following the migration of most Sudanese professionals to the Gulf countries, and their remittances sent home, almost entirely to urban areas.
Figure 1: “Economic Map” of Sudan
Source: African Rights, Food and Power in Sudan: A Critique of Humanitarianism, London, 1997, p. 15.
The Sudanese expatriates in the Gulf have huge significance. Their remittances not only fueled the consumer boom in the cities, and sustained urban Sudan during years of recession, but also created a new economic base. And the Islamic banks were able to exploit this, mainly because they were best-placed to invest in the emergent sectors of construction, the import of consumer goods, and the informal sector.
With a Gini coefficient in the mid-30s, Sudan is not one of the world’s most income-unequal countries. The following picture explains this paradox. Where capital flows, people move. So, from the 1970s onwards, there has been an enormous migration of people from rural areas to Khartoum.
Picture 1: Khartoum from the air
In the 1990s, the Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, Abdel Rahim Hamdi, proposed that most investment in Sudan should be concentrated in places within a day’s drive of Khartoum. He mentioned Dongola, el Obeid and Sennar, which gave rise to the concept of a “triangle”, but he could equally have mentioned Gedaref and Kassal, which would have made a square. The “Hamdi Triangle,” and especially Khartoum State, has been the focus of almost all non-oil related investment in Sudan in the last fifteen years.
For example, the World Bank’s 2007 Public Expenditure Review found that Khartoum was the location of 85% of Sudan’s investment.
Figure 2: The “Hamdi Triangle”
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