The success of a western-style radio station in Sudan, where 60% of the population are under 24, offers a sign that young people are embracing the glimmer of hope offered by improved relations with the west
A decade ago it was possible to count the number of radio stations in Sudan on one hand. The north African country was flush with oil money; its capital, Khartoum, was enjoying a property boom; and investors from China, India and the Gulf were flooding in. But for young Sudanese it had little going for it. “They were all just leaving the country,” recalls Taha Elroubi. “All the smart kids wanted to get out of Sudan.”
Elroubi, a Sudanese-Iranian, himself left for the US during Sudan’s troubled 1980s. First in Egypt, then in Britain and the US, he became a DJ and record producer, eventually returning in 2005 to a country that was almost unrecognisable to the one he knew as a young man. It was now autocratic, strictly conservative, and under US sanctions that aimed to dislodge the military regime of Omar al-Bashir, who would soon be wanted by the international criminal court for alleged genocide in Darfur. Pop music – along with western clothes, cinema and consumerism – had long gone, swept away by the Islamist “revolution of national salvation” which followed Bashir’s coup d’etat in 1989.