Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, is situated at the confluence of the Blue and the White Nile. Settlement at this location dates back millennia, but urbanisation accelerated with military fortification by successive governments, beginning during the colonial period. Since Sudan’s independence in 1956, Khartoum has grown from a privileged settlement for high state functionaries and dominant traders, to a metropolitan melting pot that attracts people from across Sudan, the region and beyond.
The city has been central to political and economic developments in Sudan, yet it has also grown in ways that have precluded many of its inhabitants from participating in decision-making and sharing in the city’s growing wealth. Exclusionary politics and economic inequality are deeply rooted in the history of Khartoum and the rest of the country, and have contributed to political instability. Sudan’s economy has also been disrupted by numerous shocks, most notably the loss of oil revenue following the independence of South Sudan. The overthrow of Omar Al-Bashir’s authoritarian regime in April 2019 unfolded dramatically on the streets of Khartoum, and it raised hopes for politico-economic change. However, the transition from a political economy centred on resource extraction and rent-seeking to a productive economy built on distributive justice has been slow. In Khartoum, the challenge is to address blatant inequality and the inefficient – and often corrupt – distribution of resources and urban services.