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Saturday, 25 November 2017

Issues in Development: Khartoum State Public Transport Problems; Is it Really Difficult to Solve

A Letter to Khartoum State Governor: In the early days of this present government Officer Yousif Abdel Fatah (Rambo)

was in charge of Khartoum governorate. He was located in the old building which is now occupied by the Council of Ministers. I happened to be passing by to the Grand Hotel on foot when I saw him standing in front of the old building  talking in a loud confident and strong voice to some citizens .I became  curious and stood to listen since he was an important person at that time. He was telling the silent citizens about what he hoped to do for Khartoum State. I listened and when I found myself nearer to him I asked him as why not reintroduce the Tram once again as a cheap means of transport to make it easy for the majority of citizens of Khartoum. He looked at me and said in strong words that we a ‘civilized’ nation (dawla hadaria) and that we should not go back to old outdated means of transport! I did not ask him as to what he meant by civilized.  He went on to say that trams had a history of injuring many who take to it and that, moreover, there is no electricity. I replied that those who had themselves hurt were because they used the tram in the wrong way. Then I asked him what about a country like Switzerland which holds the wealth of the world and still uses the old Tram system in its major cities and whether it was not civilized? He insisted on his argument and I walked away surprised and thinking in my mind about such strange logic!! I was sure that Abdel Fatah did not know the wisdom why the British administration introduced the Tram in the first place.
The British administration followed a very strict policy as far as the foreign exchange element is concerned. The trading policy was to export as much as possible and import the minimum requirements of the colony and always secure a trade balance. If the colony was allowed to import all its requirements necessary and unnecessary and a deficit occurred in the trade balance, who will be responsible for financing the deficit? This used to be a real headache for the Financial Secretary as well as for the Governor of Sudan, because the colony was to stretch its legs in line with its means. That is why all through the years before independence there was always a surplus maybe except for one year. The surplus foreign exchange used to be deposited in Britain’s central bank and utilized by it for the sake of the Empire. This practice was applied to the surpluses of Britain’s colonies around the world and that is what made the Empire  rich and strong! The good thing is that such surpluses were returned to these colonies after they became independent.
That is why the British administration resorted to introducing the Tram as a substitute for importing private cars which would have used   a lot of foreign exchange. Without mentioning the advantages of the Tram, it was a logical substitute which served the majority of Khartoum State population .The objective was to make the people happy in their movements whether to their offices or to visit their relatives in the three towns. The system connected three towns with an efficient and cheap means of transport and also insured the proper attendance of the government employees to their offices. After independence Britain gave back to Sudan (and also all the other colonies) the accumulated foreign exchange resulting from less importing  (known as the Sterling balances).What happened after independence? We sold the Tram without looking at its basic logic and very quickly utilized what was given to Sudan to import what we were deprived off including private cars. Since then no one government or anyone with feeling and  vision stopped to think about how to solve the transport problem and make life easy for the citizen whether in Khartoum or the rest of the Sudan except by allowing importation of private cars, buses ,trucks, vans etc. Some were new and some second hand a practice which still continues until today. This neglect of a public transport system and the sort of mercantile trading policies adopted after independence led to the continuation of freely importing private cars, buses, vans etc. specially so after Sudan became an oil exporting country and the adoption of an open door policy. Therefore, the policies continued to favour the few who were able to acquire their own means, rather than to favour the majority of the population in almost every aspect of life. Maybe it is this reality that pushed the Governor  of Khartoum to  declare that if we all become bald headed as he is the problem shall not be solved! This is very true no question but is the solution to sit back and see how it is deteriorating and just do nothing? No with all my respect to our Governor he has to understand that the problem is not restricted to him alone and that it is an overall macro problem involving all the government machinery not Khartoum State alone. Was it his responsibility that these millions of cars (and even the latest models) were imported and continue to be imported? Has there been a master plan to coordinate between the capacity of Khartoum State streets and the numbers of cars roaming the State? Has there any plan to cater for those who cannot own private cars?  Or is it that the system follow was to serve the interest of those who have and completely neglect those who do not have.
The problem can be solved if there is a serious will and determination to solve the problem of the less fortunate members of not only Khartoum State but all Sudanese in what is left of the Sudan. Instead of talking about the impossibility of solving the transport problem in Khartoum State, I would sincerely suggest that the Governor to immediately pay a visit to our neighbor Ethiopia and see how they were able to establish in about three years a Metro system that made movement of people in Addis Ababa pleasant, easy ,safe and cheap with a service typical to that of Ethiopian Airlines!!!!It was built by a Chinese company supervised by the Ethiopian engineers. Not to forget the direct connection between Addis Ababa and Djibouti (175km) which had relieved Ethiopia from depending on Sudanese port facilities? It was also built by the Chinese with a service similar to that of Ethiopian Airlines!! If after such a visit our Governor comes and tells us that the problem of transport in the State of Khartoum cannot be solved even of we become bold headed like him, I will be ready to apologize to him and never talk about it  again!!
(2-4) will follow.