Developing Sudan's Tuti Island

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JEB SHARP: When you think of Congo's neighbor to the north, you probably think of conflict. But the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, has been witnessing an economic boom over the past decade as a result of oil and foreign investment. Skyscrapers have been popping up in recent years. But some parts of the city have remained more like a farming village. Take the Island of Tuti, along the blue and white Nile Rivers. It's been relatively isolated for hundreds of years. But a year ago the city built a bridge linking Tuti to the mainland. Now developers want to transform the island into a luxury resort. But the islanders themselves aren't so sure about that. Hana Baba has the story.

HANA BABA: On a breezy Sunday afternoon Sawsan Adam and her friends sip black cardamom tea. The students bought it from a woman selling hot drinks in the shade of Tuti Island's new suspension bridge. Although their university is only 15 minutes away, this is their first time in Tuti.

INTERPRETER: Look at the view. It's relaxing and beautiful. I can't believe we've never been here before today.

BABA: Before the bridge, rusty overcrowded ferries were the only connection with Khartoum. Over the years, Tuti Island remained isolated and under-developed. For many islanders here, that was just fine. This song is sort of Tuti's unofficial anthem. It tells the story of the Nile flood of 1946 when the islanders refused to evacuate. Khartoum historian Yusuf Fadul says they rolled up their shirt sleeves and sandbagged the river banks around the crescent shaped island.

YUSUF FADUL: So they have that spirit of being a solid group against whatever other danger that comes, including modernizing Tuti itself.

BABA: About a ten minute drive from the bridge lie Tuti's lush fruit groves. Seventy-year-old Siddeeg Hasabarrasul grew up around here. He says Tuti residents did agree to the construction of the bridge, but they're still wary of what it will bring.

INTERPRETER: Nobody is against development. We want better roads and a better place to live. But the investors want more than that.

BABA: The investors he's referring to is actually one main developer, a Khartoum businessman named Elfatih Abbouda. Abbouda set up an office in a shiny blue glass building, a short walk away from the new bridge on the Tuti side. He shows me a map of his plans for the island. He points to pictures of office towers, a golf course, restaurants and sleek condos. But first, he has to win the support of Tuti's land owners. Siddeeg Hasabarrasul says Abbouda didn't start off on the right foot.

INTERPRETER: He put up this huge sign that said Tuti Tourism Project. We tore it down and threw it in the river.

BABA: Then an enraged mob stoned Abbouda's glass building. He says that's when he knew he had to initiate a dialogue.

INTERPRETER: I felt we had to prove that we share the same values, so we set up a committee with the elders and influential personalities to talk about how to develop Tuti in a way that can benefit and be acceptable to everybody.

BABA: That committee of elders includes Siddeeg Hasabarrasul. He advised Abbouda to avoid using the word tourism, because it brings to mind a liberal western style beach resort.

INTERPRETER: It sounds like a place where men and women are frolicking around in their bathing suits all over the beaches. He says he wants to build the resorts like in Lebanon. This is Tuti, not Lebanon.

BABA: Back at the bridge, it's later afternoon and the sandy beach is dotted with beach-goers, fully clothed, of course. If you look up you can see a steady stream of young people strolling across what's now called Sudan's Golden Gate Bridge. So, whether residents like it or not, it looks like tourism is here to say. For The World, I'm Hana Baba, Tuti Island, Khartoum, Sudan.