Leaving Khartoum


This trip was a bit of a punt. We knew the ICC decision was coming, but no-one knew when. George Clooney and Nick Kristof took a gamble and were a week or so too early. Others in Nairobi left it too late and couldn’t get a visa in time. My advantage was that I came to Khartoum to work on my book and was prepared to sit tight until the ICC judges made their announcement.

I’ve been lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time on several occasions with Sudan. The fact is I love the place. I’m content to take my time here. After sub-Saharan Africa, Khartoum has a totally different feel. It is a desert capital, where the sand is never far away. Men sit on corners sipping tea. And ceremonial swords are taken to demos. This is an Arab city in Africa – with all the contradictions and confusions that entails.

The stories are generally ones of human misery, which is a shame because there is so much more to this place. The souks of Omdurman are filled with Colonial-era bric-a-brac. There are historic battlegrounds and one day I’ll seek out Kitchener’s gunboat. Last year I was lucky enough to meet the country’s Olympic hopefuls for a rare good news story.

This is a beguiling country and I am always sad to leave. Once again it’s difficult to know what will happen next. Sudan is looking increasingly like an empire built on sand, with little holding it together. The ICC ruling has left President Bashir’s hold on power looking rather less firm. When will the Darfur rebels make a move? Is the Comprehensive Peace Agreement dead?

All I can hope is that one day this place sorts itself out. But then I guess the mess is part of the reason I’m drawn to such a fascinating place.