An appeal for support for the students and residents of Khartoum and the Sudan
Mariam Mohd. AbdAllah and Amira Osman 28.04.2016
MARIAM MOHD. ABDALLAH is a Doctoral Candidate at Boku University, Vienna and Planner at the Ministry of Planning & Urban Development, Sudan, Marfa_1998@hotmail.com; AMIRA OMER SIDDIG OSMAN is a Sudanese/South African and an Associate Profesor at the Faculty of Arts, Design and Architecture (FADA), University of Johannesburg, email@example.com
WHY NOW? WHY WE ARE TARGETING THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT PROFESSIONALS AND THEIR INSTITUTIONS? UNIVERSITY OF KHARTOUM PROTESTS
In September 2013, Sudanese students and youth took to the streets protesting austerity measures and general hardships of life. The protests were met by brutal force. Amnesty International put the total death toll at about 200. Many of the students were killed execution style, “shoot to kill”; many were very young in age. It was a tragedy that went relatively unnoticed by the international community; no one has been held accountable and no investigations have taken place.
It seems likely that a similar situation will erupt. A student from Kordufan University was killed mid-‐April 2016, and another from Alahliya University was killed on the 27th of the same month. On the 23rd April a large group of University of Khartoum graduates gathered in a silent protest at the entrance to the campus – they were roughly gathered by security forces and taken into detention and questioning. Some of them are still in prison on the date of this document (29.04.2016).
Most of these protests have been triggered by, as yet unverified, claims that the historical premises of the university campus on the Nile Avenue in Khartoum had been sold off to private developers for tourist and recreational purposes and that the campus would be relocated to the south of the city – bearing in mind that the heritage buildings of the campus have been in this location since 1902. Having studied the highly controversial Khartoum Structure Plan of 2008, the disruption on the city of Khartoum seems imminent. This is therefore a much bigger problem! While the University of Khartoum is a precious part of our city, it has become evident that all heritage buildings along the Nile are at risk and the repercussions of these plans will be harmful and will lead to more inequity, lack of access to public space and opportunity – and will therefore further reinforce the historic spatial disadvantage that the vast majority of Khartoum residents are subjected to.
SPACE IS POWER – PLANNING IS POLITICAL: KHARTOUM CAN BE CONCEPTUALISED AS A CITY OF HOPE AND EQUAL OPPORTUNITY
Cities, space and the built environment have incredible power that may be harnessed in positive or negative ways. The built environment professions (architecture, planning, engineering, etc.) have a major role to play in supporting humanity to emerge from the political and social adversity evident in many parts of the world. The fact that a built environment issue has triggered this current wave of protests in Khartoum reinforces the power and impact that the built environment has over the daily lives of people.
These debates and actions needs to be actively facilatated and supported through political will and civil society participation. It also needs support through collaborations between educational institutes, professional councils and practitioners in the public and private sectors. Yet, Khartoum planning interventions have been haphazard, erratic and the consequences have been dire for the city and its people – and will continue to be so… The approach has been top-‐down, there has been lack of proper consultation.
KHARTOUM SPATIAL PLANNING INFLUENCES THE QUALITY OF DAILY LIFE AND ACCESS TO OPPORTUNITIES
AIMING FOR SOCIAL EQUITY IS KEY!
Neighbourhoods in Khartoum are categorised as “classes” based on the incomes of residents and this is then used to determine coverage, materials, methods of construction and provision of infrastructure and services (according to the Site and Services Housing Policy). This is highly problematic and perpetuates till today, and this approach will continue to create stigma around traditional neighbourhoods, material and methods. These policies produced poor neighbourhoods that lack the most basic necessities of decent housing and urban services, isolated completely from consolidated urban areas; this situation increases their vulnerability and burden of everyday life. Many neighborhoods also originated informally due to an influx of people from other parts of the country as a consequence of wars, drought and desertification, as well as the concentration of capital funds and services in urban centers. These informal neighbourhoods comprise more than 50% of Khartoum. This reality is also another reason for the vulnerability of the urban poor.
PROTECTING THE ENVIRONMENT IS KEY!
Much urbanization happens at the expense of agricultural, public land, green areas and floodplains. The densification and expropriation of land is highly problematic when it impacts severely on the ecological and environmental conditions of the city as a whole – impacting some neighbourhoods more than others.
SENSIBLE DENSITY STRATEGIES ARE KEY!
High densities in Khartoum have been pursued “at all costs”, including the stripping away of public open spaces, government reserves and land that is socially, culturally and historically valuable.
PUBLIC PARTICIPATION IS KEY!
The Khartoum Structure Plan does not clearly explain the public participation that has been carried out and it does not list any details of process, dates or future processes; consultation most often happens with professionals, or according to the desire of the political system, claiming inauthentic legitimacy by involving select representatives of the population who are often loyal to the regime. Public participation should rather involve diverse stakeholders and should be an intrinsic component of any city plan.
THE CONTROVERSIAL KPP5: THE PLAN THAT STARTED THE CURRENT WAVE OF PROTESTS IS NOT NEW!
An invitation to tender for the Khartoum Planning Project-‐05 was issued in 2005. However the secrecy that then followed as well as various irresponsible statements made in the media meant that the plan and its consequences became evident to people only recently. There plan and its linked documents are not readily available to the public. It does not seem that the official planning departments were not directly involved or fully informed about the plan and they do not seem to have had access to all the documents. The process has clearly been lacking in transparency and openness. Perhaps this latter point explains the current flux of protests and anger, protest and violence; people are responding to rumours and lack of information and the plan being disseminated in fragments through media.
While it implies that there are intervals when the plan is to be revised, it does not clearly state the processes for this. Considering experience in other cities processes for public awareness and consultation, lodging of complaints, requesting investigation and legal action are part and parcel on plans and the implementation process. Lack of transparency and openness could perhaps explains the current flux of protests and anger; people are responding to rumours and lack of information and city plans being disseminated in fragments through media.
KHARTOUM IS AT RISK! UNIQUE CITY HERITAGE, NATURAL, SOCIAL AND CULTURAL IDENTITY IS BEING DISRUPTED THROUGH POORLY CONCEIVED URBAN INTERVENTIONS
Greater Khartoum has some key characteristics. Does the KPP5 acknowledge and respect these characteristics? Does it allow for the conservation of what adds human dignity and spatial and physical
value to the city? Does it allow for equal access to public space and opportunity? Or will the KSP5 disrupt lives and livelihoods? Will it lead to displacement and stripping of rights to education, to healthcare, to cultural and social facilities and “breathing space” in the form of recreation and sport facilities? Below is the list of these characteristic features and the risks linked to each:
Housing and urban poverty: Despite the fact that the vast majority of the city’s population falls within the low-‐income group, we find that KSP did not submit any proposals to alleviate urban poverty in Khartoum, and the fact that many residential areas and houses do not comply with the standards, some of which are outlined by UN Habitat, of what is considered adequate housing. The structural plan also neglects to provide solutions to the recently planned residential areas that are located in the Nile floodplains. The populations of these neighbourhoods have been subjected to severe annual losses and it was ill-‐conceived planning decision that has led to the increased vulnerability of the urban poor in the city. This situation is getting more serious through poor planning.
Old neighbourhoods: The disruptions to old neighbourhoods are the consequence of various planning decisions taken without proper consultation processes. Changes in land use and building regulations allowing for residential neighborhood to be converted to commercial, and services or multi-‐uses areas has been done with no thought to the loss of the public open space and with no consideration for practical issues like adequate parking or services and the displacement of the original inhabitants. Being led by the desire to increase revenue and create a legal basis for the collection of fees for land use changing. This spatial injustice bears its burden a new social group due to a gradual change in the social structure of the residents.
The Rivers, Tuti Island and the Mughran (meeting place of the Niles): It seems that much of the land along the Niles is being densified in the form of high rise buildings, “viewing towers”, private villas; will these “breathing spaces” for the residents of Khartoum still be freely and publicly accessible? Are the plans appropriate in terms of scale, form, social and climatic relevance and access? Or will they further claim valuable land for the benefit of a few, “pushing out” small business people and the thousands of people that benefit in various ways by having free access to he Nile banks? Tuti’s cultural heritage seems likely to be eradicated again in favour of those who can pay having access to prime land and the displacement of all others.
The city centres: It seem very likely that the city centres will be disrupted in major ways –the imagery linked to these centres in the KSP5 will also lead to the displacement of small
business owners in favour of big capital. In this process, the spatial and formal qualities of the markets will also be adversely affected.
Heritage Buildings (colonialism and modernism): The lack of special consideration for heritage buildings in the plan is demonstrated in that they are planned to be taken over by cultural, recreational and tourism functions – relocating the existing government ministries to other peripheral sites to reduce congestion in the city. However, no clear strategy is identified for preservation of these buildings. The University of Khartoum is not specifically mentioned and remains as an ominous “gap” in the plans.
URBANISATION CHALLENGES: LACK OF CREATIVITY, LACK OF CAPACITY AND CORRUPTION
The reasons for excessive horizontal expansion of the city, the current ill-‐considered densification plans (in the form of policy and regulations) and the expropriation of public land for residential lots is due to a lack of creativity, lack of professional capacity and the fact that the system is highly prone to corrupt activities: using land as a source of national income in the Comprehensive National Strategy 1992-‐2002 since the mid-‐nineties and so far most of the vacant spaces, land reserve
for future uses, and even some open spaces within urban consolidated areas were sold.
Causes of this situation related to the poor performance of the institutions in charge of urban development in Khartoum, represented by the Ministry of Planning and Urban Development and its various departments may be attributed to the random changing of land use from residential to multi-‐purpose, which demonstrates the lack of professional capacity in government institutions and how this leads to planning decisions being taken without adequate knowledge of the consequences and without proper guidelines for redevelopment. The fact that the Buildings Department also makes decisions without proper development guidelines and without consulting with the Urban Planning Department shows clearly the lack of coordination between the Departments of the Ministry of Planning.
The available KPP5 documents have clear professional weaknesses in terms of the lack of clear definitions and the implications, e.g. What is meant by “investment zone” which seems to define a large segment of the city? Is this land being sold off to private developers? Is it the expropriation of land from the current users/owners? No text accompanies the plans to explain this.
The imagery in terms of architectural character, infrastructure, massing, materials and implied materiality is highly problematic and lacks sensitivity to climate and context. The lack of a scientific and academic theoretical basis, the lack of international precedents and various other weaknesses reduce the validity of this plan.
THIS MAY ONLY BE THE START! PLEASE HELP RAISE AWARENESS OF THE SUDANESE PEOPLE AND THEIR STRUGGLES BEFORE MORE LIVES ARE LOST
The anger triggered is only the start of what might happen in the next few days. The Khartoum Structure Plan is only one reason out if many that may drive people to the streets; as more people are injured or hurt, this will escalate into additional protests and more loss of lives. Life in Sudan is difficult and the youth are angry yet they continue to peacefully demonstrate, chanting “silmiya” which
means “peaceful” in Arabic – describing their rejection of violence. This has not prevented the authorities from hitting back with violence, spraying them with coloured dye and pitching groups against each other leading to additional injury and violence.