One of the most depressing places in Khartoum has to be Siba Shopping Mall. The centre opened a few months ago at the Burri end of Gama Street, and I often stop by on my way to work at the university.
The opening of the mall was an exciting time. The facade was brand spanking new and shiny, and like many buildings here, decorated with curtains of neon fairy lights. The interior also looked very promising – it was divided into various departments, from cosmetics and perfumes to clothing, stationary, kitchen and home; there was also a butcher, grocer and dried foods shop. Jam-packed full of interesting products, I spent a good hour poking through their range (some light retail therapy on the way to work is not something I can resist.)
As time went by, I would stop at Siba now and then to pick up breakfast or some toiletries, and was usually the sole customer. This is how I witnessed the shop’s gradual demise. After a while it became clear that management was not planning on restocking any time soon. The grocery section was left empty and forgotten, and the drinks fridges were only turned on mid-morning, and eventually not at all. The dried goods section was arranged then rearranged to make it appear fuller than it actually was, as the shelves were slowly emptied by the occasional customers who ventured inside. The electronic cash register was scrapped long ago and the staff proceeded to instead record the code of every item by hand. There were also fewer and fewer staff members until today there is only one man running the whole place. Tragic. I wanted to ask him what had gone wrong, but it was clear. This ambitious project, the dream of someone, had not been realized as no one came to shop here.
Perhaps it may have done better in a more affluent part of the city where more foreigners live, as most Sudanese do their weekly shop at the souk. Who knows. To me, the whole thing seems like a metaphor for the way most endeavors here face a mountain of obstacles and many people are left banging their heads against a brick wall.