Khartoum: The city I fled; the city I love


The White Nile Bridge crosses the river from Omdurman to Khartoum, Sudan, April 7, 2013. White Nile Bridge by David Stanley on Flickr, (CC BY 2.0).

This piece was first published by Raseef22, on May 24, 2023, and was written by Mohammad Najeddine.  An edited version is republished here, under a content-sharing agreement.

I never imagined that I would long for Khartoum one day, despite being the one who had incessantly complained about feeling trapped between its two Niles, unable to break free. The city's towering walls are tightly constructed, almost suggesting that journalism and politics are “centralized crafts” tailored solely for the city, while the surrounding regions were mere recipients without the power to influence or make an impact.

Despite my occasional travels to the surrounding regions for social and work-related reasons, it was only a few weeks ago that I embarked on my first journey as a displaced person. Fleeing with my family, carrying small-sized bags and personal belongings, I left behind my house and a depleted old car, along with some meagre household items, all of which have been left to the chaos of senseless wars and thousands of escaped prison inmates.

My relentless efforts failed in convincing my family to leave me behind, to continue my trouble-seeking profession and my duty to guard the house. Every conversation ended with a phrase reminiscent of military leaders in Hollywood war movies: “We will depart together, leaving no one behind.”

As the echos of gunfire and artillery drew nearer to our home near the Halfaya Bridge that connects Khartoum and Omdurman, a prime target for the warring factions, the final decision was made: “We will all leave.” We were fully aware that the road is fraught with dangers, requiring us to traverse the blazing Khartoum from its northernmost point to its southern end before reaching the state of Gezira.

The journey

Khartoum. Screenshot from ‘Sudan's conflict, explained’ by Vox, May 23, 2023. Fair use.

We distributed canned food and leftover vegetables from our home to a few neighbors who chose to stay behind, despite a significant decline in food supplies and the severed access to drinking water. We asked them to keep an eye on our house as much as they could. My wife recited verses from the Qura’an, seeking protection and hoping it would still stand tall when we return.

After bidding our farewells, we embarked on a journey on foot towards the bridge, which had transformed into a hub for evacuating residents out of the capital, a stark departure from what we had always known it for: a center for transporting passengers between the cities of the capital: Bahri, Omdurman, and Khartoum.

Amidst the chaos and the frantic rush, alongside hundreds of others seeking to flee, we managed to secure three seats on a passenger bus bound for Madani, the capital of Gezira State.

Our foremost challenge at that moment was to pay the cost of the journey. The banking system had stopped, rendering it impossible to access the modest savings that remained from my March salary, which had evaporated between Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr.

Following a prolonged discussion, my wife reluctantly sold our wedding ring, rejecting the notion of selling my phone or laptop, both of which were indispensable for my work and communication with the outside world.

The ticket price for the journey to Madani skyrocketed to SDG 30,000 (50 USD) a significant increase from the previous cost of SDG 3,000 to 4,000 (5 to 6.6 USD) until 14 April. The vehicle owners justified the price hike by citing fuel scarcity and unsafe roads. However, all the passengers knew that this was the “business of crises.”

The exchange rate for the 1 dollar reached SDG 600 in official bank transactions on Thursday, April 13, only 48 hours before the outbreak of the war.

The bus, alongside dozens of public and private vehicles, maneuvered through the asphalt side roads within the city of Bahri. The streets were littered with burnt cars and bloated corpses. Hemedeti‘s soldiers could be seen wandering on foot or riding in armored vehicles.

As we traveled, we observed the desolate streets of Al-Halfaia and Shambat, devoid of any signs of life, except for a few passersby. Fear was palpable on their faces as they focused on securing water for their families because the damage had affected water and electricity networks.

The most harrowing sight I witnessed, even darker than the war itself, was when we traversed the industrial area that housed prominent local factories and branches of commercial banks. Widespread looting and extensive destruction had ravaged the area, leaving behind a landscape of utter chaos and despair.

As the fires continued to rage, we witnessed cars, motorcycles, carts, and people — men, women, and children — scrambling to carry whatever they could. Belongings, furniture, cooking gas cylinders, and even empty barrels were hoarded in the absence of any government presence and amidst an unprecedented state of chaos.

It is undeniable that Sudan has endured a significant depletion of food and medicine supplies. Essential grain mills have been destroyed, and food production factories are out of service. It is highly probable that owners of these establishments will refrain from reopening them, fearing additional losses due to the military's reckless actions and fascist criminal behavior that has unfolded.

As we ventured into the region east of the Nile, we encountered a heavy presence of Rapid Support Forces (RSF) patrolling the main streets. Surprisingly, a number of citizens moved about, visiting bakeries and shops as if it were an ordinary day.

Throughout the journey, there was a notable absence of government or army presence. We only saw the RSF and their checkpoints set up on the main roads. The checkpoints displayed a significant level of leniency, merely inquiring about the drivers’ destinations before allowing them to pass. At least that was the case during our passage. However, horror stories circulated about incidents of car thefts, stolen phones, and even killings occurring at security checkpoints.

When we arrived in Soba, southeast of the capital, we met the last military presence. RSF vehicles were positioned at the entrance of the city's main bridge over the Blue Nile. A deep sense of joy washed over us, akin to the joy that one can imagine engulfed members of the US diplomatic mission upon leaving Iranian airspace during their successful escape from the occupied US embassy in Tehran in the 1980s.

A glimmer of hope

We left Khartoum in search of security, but we were burdened with profound concerns for the future of a nation shaped by the military, where criminals and profiteers roam freely.

The grim image etched into our minds remains unrelieved, even with the sight of villagers gathering between the states of Khartoum and Gezira.  They selflessly distributed food and drinks to those fleeing the war, offering their homes, especially to those lacking money or relatives outside the capital.

State crises

Sudanese states, including Gezira, are witnessing a notable influx of migrants from Khartoum, resulting in a substantial rise in apartment and housing prices. This situation has created fertile ground for opportunistic brokers who seek to profit from the plight of displaced individuals.

Brokers have also made an appearance in the fuel and commodity trade, queuing up with their vehicles at operational stations to buy gasoline, a strategic commodity, for less than SDG 3,000 (5 USD) per gallon only to sell it on the black market for SDG 30,000 (50 USD). As a result, transportation fares have surged within the region and between states. Furthermore, all food products have experienced a substantial price hike in the markets due to growing demand and limited supply.

The issues extend beyond the economic realm, with a severe shortage of electricity and frequent disruptions in the internet network.

Love despite all the ruin

Previously, I had yearned to escape Khartoum, burdened by the overwhelming presence of armies and armed factions. The city's population was brimming with politicians, looters, thieves, and crisis merchants. However, now I find myself longing to return to it, driven by nothing more than the realization that I love this city, even in its recent state of ruin.


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