Although the Sudanese government legally owns the land, it has been castigated for the hasty, forced removal of squatters and the demolition of their homes.
The UN Mission in Sudan in August 2006 expressed "deep concern" over the forced removal of 12,000 internally displaced persons from the western region of Darfur who fled famine in the 1980s and settled in an area of Gezira state they called Dar El Salaam, or "house of peace."
Dar El Salaam had the unlucky distinction of sitting right in the middle of the Dreamland project.
Residents told the United Nations that "thousands" of heavily armed police officers tear-gassed and beat civilians before shoving them into police cars and razing their homes.
Esam El Khawad, whose El Khawad group has partnered with the Egyptian Bahgat group in the Dreamland project, called the accusations lies.
"There were only 300 police officers there that day," Khawad told IPS during an interview in his offices in Khartoum's wealthy Amarat district. "You are telling me that 300 police can round up 4,000 families violently?"
Najla Al Mahi Khalifa, a human rights lawyer, is suing the government of Gezira state, demanding compensation for possessions that were destroyed during the demolition.
"These people had a life in Dar El Salaam," she told IPS. "They lost everything when their homes were demolished."
Khawad vigorously defended the decision to relocate the residents of Dar El Salaam -- in particular because residents had signed a memorandum of understanding with local government authorities agreeing to be relocated.
The only condition was that they agree to the new location, a plot of land some 7 kilometers from Dar El Salaam, called Block 7.
Khawad pointed out that the families were then given titles to the land in Block 7, raising them from squatter status to landowners.
"I negotiated with these people," Khawad said, "but every day they wanted more."
In cooperation with the Sudanese government, prior to the relocation, Khawad built a school, clinic, mosque and two water points in Block 7.
But four years after buying the land, Khawad said he began to lose money after facing further demands from Dar El Salaam residents.
"I was worried that next they were going to ask for Madonna (the American pop star) to come and sing," Khawad said sardonically.
Those who have been relocated say they were forced into Block 7 and complain of a host of problems with the land, which they say has been polluted by the Axsa car-oil recycling factory situated 3 kilometers from their new home.
They charge that waste from the factory has been dumped into the ground and pollutes the air.
"The children are coughing all night," community leader Yahya Mohamed told IPS. "The women and the goats miscarry. Everyone here is suffering from diarrhea."
The claims have not been independently verified. Residents of Block 7 say they cannot afford to have an expert inspect the land.
In March 2006 a Sudanese government team inspecting the site to determine its suitability for habitation concluded that Axsa was producing toxic wastes.
In a memorandum to Gezira State Governor Abd Rahman Sir El Khatim, the team recommended that Axsa be given one month to "change its environmental practices," but did not specify what measures should be taken.
Community leaders said nothing was done to follow up on the factory's actions but Sudan's Ministry of Environment later deemed Block 7 suitable for habitation.
Governor Sir El Khatim declined repeated requests from IPS to comment on the charges that Axsa is continuing to pollute the land.
At present, Block 7 is an arid eyesore of a setting where the parched earth receives no shade. Some residents have built brick homes, but most still live in shacks cobbled together from tarp, sticks, burlap and plastic.
Pools of greenish water surround much of the encampment and the site's two water points are only turned on for two hours each morning. The school does not have enough desks for all of the children and has fallen into ruin. Residents report that the doctor who runs the clinic rarely reports to work.
The United Nations assessed Block 7 in mid-December 2006 and found several problems.
Barbara Manzi, a senior humanitarian affairs officer with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told IPS that water and sanitation facilities are sufficient for only about 10 percent of residents, and women have been refused titles to their plots even if they can prove they are the heads of households.
What's more, men in the community complain that the new location, which sits 3 kilometers from the nearest public transport, has forced them so far into the hinterland that they are unable to make it into Khartoum to find work.
Khawad, who said he will hire Block 7 residents to work at Dreamland, is optimistic that residents will come around.
"Now, no one can force them from their land," he said. "They can sleep and dream. Their future is secure."
Struggles for land in and around Khartoum are expected to become more complex as land values rise.
Observers blame the chaos on a shoddy, informal land registry system. Before the land values rose, people often marked their boundaries with a single brick or stone.
"The colonial era is responsible for this," said Paul Ainscough-Brown, a director of Parkheath Estates, the first British real estate company to enter Sudan. "We set up a land registry but didn't give (residents) the tools to use it. We have made short-term problems into a massive, long-term problem."
Developers will break ground on the Dreamland complex this month, and Khawad said he is certain much of the terrain around Khartoum will undergo a similar transformation from dusty ghettos to lavish-gated communities.
"I have a dream, and in 100 years I want them to remember me as the first person to have done this," he said.
Others suggest he temper his optimism with concern for the people who will invariably be displaced by progress.
"We understand that development is good," Khalifa said. "But the government has to balance its own interests with the interests of its people."
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Albion Monitor February
11, 2007 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
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