With its panoramic views of the Nile but also of mud homes sinking into flooded swampland, Sudan’s flashiest hotel brings the flair of Muammar Qaddafi and Italian luxury to a capital struggling to keep up.
Burj al-Fateh Hotel — 18 floors of steel and glass shaped like a sail — is a nine-year Libyan dream turned architectural icon that cost US$190 million.
Financed by Lafico, the Libyan Foreign Investment Company, and designed by Italian architects, its 230 rooms, conference facilities, mall, restaurants, sports center and spa set new standards of luxury in Sudan, staff say.
“The high quality hotel is a landmark which is able to inject new economic and social life into the local community and, in particular, the service sector,” Lafico project director Emhemmed Ghula said in an e-mail.
The hotel has already been dubbed Qaddafi’s ball by bawdy Khartoumites — it has the same double meaning as in English — after the Libyan leader known for his wacky Arab nationalism.
That nickname is not appreciated by Ghula, who distanced Libya’s state-run Lafico from one of the longest-serving leaders in Africa.
“There is no connection whatsoever with any member of the leader’s family with this company,” he said.
In the nine years since Libya first dreamt up the project for its oil-rich north African neighbor, relations between the Qaddafi regime and Washington have undergone a seismic shift of the sort many would like Khartoum to emulate.
In 2006, the US dropped Libya from its list of state sponsors of terrorism — Sudan is still listed — two years after Qaddafi announced he was abandoning efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction.
The final obstacle to full Libyan-US rehabilitation came just days before the Burj inauguration ceremony, when Tripoli and Washington on Aug. 14 signed a compensation deal for US reprisals and US victims of Libyan attacks.
Libya’s wings of foreign investment have spread wide, and the hotel’s management describes the Burj as a “gift from the government of Libya to the government of Sudan” to strengthen ties between the two.
It stands adjacent to the Chinese-built Friendship Hall, another Nile-front gift from another government, controversial in the West but intrinsic to the Khartoum boom.
Sudan is on the cusp of a potentially turbulent storm, however. Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir, who cut the ribbon at the hotel opening, faces a possible international arrest warrant for alleged genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur.
Such a development would ensure his regime is treated as an international pariah, and Beshir warned last week that any International Criminal Court proceedings against him would deter foreigners from investing in Sudan.
But the hotel’s executives are not letting such matters dampen their prospects.
“We are so certain we’re going to make so much money out of this. There is definitely a risk — a risk in the political stability — but those risks are calculated,” US-Lebanese marketing manager Wissam Khalek said.
Sudan has been exporting oil since 1999, and for now at least there is little outward sign of a slowdown in a construction boom fuelled by Arab, Chinese, Indian and Malaysian investment.
Lafico has already begun work on a new tower of luxury serviced hotel apartments with an upscale family leisure center and revolving restaurants budgeted at US$66 million.