For those who offered literature in English while in secondary school, I am sure 'A Tale of Two Cities' by novelist Charles Dickens must sound very familiar. My own tale of two cities is different to Dickens' tale but I just borrowed the title for ease of reference. Being a witness to the total collapse of infrastructure in Nigeria and witnessing how the same facilities in other countries are being made to work, I decided to do a comparative analysis of two cities that I am very familiar with to see if what we are witnessing in Nigeria is the rule in the rest of Africa even in countries that are just coming out of long civil wars like Sudan.
Sorry guys, I am not going to bother you with details about Nigerian cities since you know everything there is to know about them already but I will write about Khartoum, the capital city of Sudan and allow you to compare and contrast with Lagos or any other city. I prefer Lagos because it is the first city most visitors to Nigeria see first and from where their impressions about Nigeria and Nigerians in general are formed. Lagos as a cosmopolitan city is the most populous in Nigeria (Forget about the fake census figures) and where most Nigerians head to in order to achieve the 'Dream' whatever that means to them. I came to Sudan in 2006 and I am presently working with an international organization here. I have been very impressed so far with the state of their infrastructure and their attitude to life in general.
Khartoum is the capital of Sudan and has a population of around 7 million people drawn from all the ethnic groups here. Khartoum is also divided into two cities, Omdurman and Khartoum proper. Omdurman is the old city while Khartoum is the new city. Sudan is also an exporter of crude oil and I can say this with authority that their oil is a blessing rather than a curse because the money from oil is developing all parts of Sudan. Old buildings are being pulled down and being replaced by modern and beautiful houses and apartment complexes. There are no GRAs (Government Reservation Areas) because nice houses are sprinkled all over the city.
Khartoum city is very secure, armed robberies are unheard of and you can see this in their attitude to people they come in contact with. They are ready to offer a smile and stop to talk to you. Pick pocketing is not known here and you can leave your wallet in your back pocket and walk in the midst of crowds without fear. Shop owners leave their goods outside shops in the night covered with only tarpaulin to protect it from rains. In fact, Khartoum is so secure that you can buy a brand new car, drive it around at anytime without worries and pack it in front of your apartment complex or right on the street in the night and sleep with two eyes closed because it will be there the following day. The reason for this is not far-fetched. No one buys anything under the carpet or in the black market here. If you want to sell your car, the police have to be informed and you get a clearance to sell after proving beyond reasonable doubt that the car belongs to you. Most Sudanese will not even buy a car from anywhere except from authorized dealers.
Gates are measures of relative security in any city. Most compounds in Khartoum have gates but these are not meant to protect them but for decorative purposes and to show off their wealth. Gates are mostly constructed of steel leaves and glass sheets and decorated with all sorts of accessories. Fences are also not very high but mostly made of decorative bricks with flowers hanging from them. A freshman robber or burglar from Nigeria will be able to climb these fences and gain easy entry but surprisingly, you do not hear of forced entries or armed robberies. I have never seen notices warning people of 'dangerous dogs on Patrol'. There are no electrified fences or security guards patrolling or standing guard in front of the villas here. Most gates of compounds are opened by kids of the house or the owner himself if you knock. No assassinations or kidnappings.
Khartoum city is very clean. The municipal government is in charge of sanitation and they take it serious. The streets are wide, nicely paved and swept every night and water poured on them to control the temperature and make them last longer. Garbage is collected every evening and disposed of by the same municipal government. I have been missing the mountains of garbage in Nigeria since I came here because there is nothing to remind me of home. There are supermarkets with everything and you do not have to fear buying fake products. There are also small scale traders. The only difference is that these traders do not spread their wares on the streets but at designated places and at designated periods.
Khartoum city is dotted with public gardens and parks that are used by everyone. It is a thing of joy to see families sitting together in the evening in the parks. You see Mummy and Daddy sitting down sipping their coffee while the children kick a ball around and have fun with their friends.
There are no MOPOL here. Even the presidential convoy is extremely well-behaved and consists of only three vehicles and a single motorcycle outrider. The traffic is only stopped at junctions for the Sudanese president to pass through and he stops at the nearest mosque to say his prayers on his way home. You hardly notice the regular police because they are not armed. There are no police 'Check-points' anywhere in Khartoum but if need be, the police have the capacity to cordon off the city within ten minutes. Police officers here will not accept 'settlement' as any attempt to bribe an officer is taken as acceptance of your guilt. Maybe the government is hard on the law and order issue but people obey laws here in Sudan. The security police stay at road junctions in the night and are armed but never stop vehicles for any frivolous reason. Vehicle particulars are checked during the day by the regular police and the security police never leave their cars to go and drink ogogoro.
Newspaper reading is still taken serious here. Most Sudanese, even poor shop keepers buy and read newspapers (Arabic mostly but there are English language newspapers). Sudanese do not hang around newspaper vendors' shops and glance at headlines or 'rent' newspapers and magazines.
Electricity is very stable here and affordable. If your pre-paid meter has credit on it, you must have electricity. Remember I said 'must' and not 'might'. You do not need to 'stabilize' any of your electronics because there is just no need for that. Generators are as rare as dinosaurs and you sometimes have to switch off your refrigerator for days when it becomes too cold. I am sure most Sudanese do not know the meaning of generator because they have never had cause to purchase or use one. My excuse on behalf of PHCN is that the Sudanese are lucky that they have the two Niles (Blue and White Niles) meeting in Khartoum to form Greater Nile and so never have water shortages for their hydro-electric dams. Water supply is very steady and it is rare or impossible to open your tap and not see clean water coming out. Not all inhabitants of Khartoum live in apartments but even when they live in mud houses and ride donkeys, they have electricity in their homes and have access to clean water.
Sudanese are very serious about their relaxation and do not joke with their siesta. Once it is time for siesta, stores are closed for two hours to enable them eat lunch, read their newspapers, sleep off or just play with their children or discuss politics with their friends. I wonder when Nigerians will start doing that and stop developing high blood pressure at the age of thirty.
Sudan is not conducive to Area Boys because the conditions that breed Area Boys do not exist here. Even if you drive a Hummer Jeep, they have seen it all and will never come to beg you for anything. Of course, someone might offer to clean your car for two Sudanese Pounds (About one US Dollars) but they will not touch your mobile phone or your laptop if you leave them to wash your car. In Khartoum, you are never accosted by people telling you one hard-luck story or another about how they came from Sokoto, Abeokuta or Owerri to their Uncle and they just discovered that he has been transferred to Maiduguri and therefore need your assistance to pay their transport back 'home'.
Most Sudanese, young and old eat out at least thrice a week. There are nice restaurants that are reasonably priced. Outings to restaurants are family affairs and everyone including newborn babies is taken out in the evenings. After dinner, they move to the parks and relax themselves and also allow the children time to play with their friends.
Sudanese politicians are as poor as church rats and they do not have police escorts because they have nothing to hide or run from. The pride of politicians here is the fact that they are fighting on behalf of the common people.
Living in Khartoum seems like fun (constant electricity, clean water, nice accommodation, low crime rates) but it has its drawbacks. For the beer lovers, there is no beer here; you cannot kiss your girlfriend outside without being arrested and they have no red light areas. If you can live without these luxuries, you are welcomed in Khartoum and lest I forget, Nigerians are very scarce here because of the tight conditions that does not permit the usual sharp practices asociated with some of our brethren back home.