My list of favourite African cities wouldn’t be long. Africa is more about its villages. That’s where the history, the stories and the culture are to be found. Too many of its cities are dull collections of 1970s buildings that were too often modelled on the gloomy eastern European utilitarianism of the Cold War.
Not so Khartoum. For a moment it seems as if Africa has been left behind in a cloud of incense and spices. Like North Africa, the city’s coffee sellers, markets and mosques seem more Middle East than Africa. For my money the Arab world does cities better than African Africa. Mogadishu’s Italianate villas along the coast and the souks of Tripoli are enchanting places to explore (briefly, and in the company of an armed escort in the case of Mogadishu).
This is my third trip to Khartoum so far this this year. And it always manages to be fun and frustrating at the same time. I’m staying with Meskel Square and his missus, and tomorrow my fixer Al Siir (of whom more later) and I will breakfast on fresh, fried fish in Omdurman as is our tradition.
So for those of you who were wondering, I have decided to take a chance on Khartoum’s red tape, searing heat and congestion in an attempt to nail a juicy story with no guarantee of a decent return on my time. I get my first indication of whether it’s going to work on Saturday. Already I have been advised that my idea is feasible and at other times that it is utterly hopeless – in some cases by the same person. But then that’s what I’ve come to expect in this city of minarets and mobile phone masts.