How safe is Khartoum?

It is a good question – and one that is being asked more and more frequently these days.

Look at the headlines about Sudan that have seized British interest over the past twelve months.

26 November 2007: British teacher arrested and charged with blasphemy, neigh, sedition.

1 January 2008: Yank shot dead in the middle of the night.

11 May 2008: Darfur rebels attack Khartoum for the first time in living memory.

14 July 2008: Omar Bashir formally charged with crimes against humanity.

From all angles, it must appear as if I need my head examined to even think about going back to such a nutty place. And now I hear that the UN has suggested that it might be wise if some of its own people leave the country, for their own safety (were it not for the negative affect that this would have on the economy, one might be tempted to breathe a sigh of approval here).

But how safe, on the ground, is Khartoum? This is actually a very important question for us, since we have just written a Sudan guidebook and encouraging everyone to leave would do us no favours whatsoever.

Trawling through the Lonely Planet travel forums, as I regularly do, I came across the following posting:

Hi People..
I was hoping to go to Egypt and Sudan, following the Nile, in a couple of months.
But the development of the situation in Sudan has left me a bit depressed.
Should I go on or cancel the trip?
Anyone in that area now? or last couple of weeks with any advice?

This is not the only such posting I have recently found. Then, this morning, my own family hinted at my deepening insanity for wanting to return to a country with so many problems.

The fact remains, nonetheless, that Khartoum is an inherently safe place to visit. Certainly far safer, in terms of violent crimes, than London or New York. It’s true that there is a very discernable hostility towards the West from certain eschlons of Sudanese society, but then countries such as Britain and America aren’t exactly all that good at making friends in the Arab world.

I spent an hour this evening trawling through the Metro, as I was returning on the train from London to Wiltshire, and noticed the depressing amount of space given to knife attacks in our great capital. The Telegraph – admitedly a paper given to hyperbole – claims that there are 60 knife attacks a day in Britain at the moment.

This kind of mindless violence – where the usual motive seems to be “er, he was looking at me weird” or “he had a nice new mobile phone I wanted to nab” – just doesn’t occur in Khartoum or, indeed, any other Islamic country I have been to. Sure, they have other nutty things they do – killing someone for apostacy can’t be right – but murder for no reason is not one of them. Other things that are out are child abuse and rape. They just do not happen in Khartoum.

Plus many folk in Khartoum are wholeheartedly welcoming of the khawaja, even one that comes from a country run by a bunch of primates. They can usually distinguish between politics and the person. Of course, as I said, you always get the exception – but, in general, Khartoum is very safe at the moment.

Of course, things can all change, and the most likely catalyst is likely to be an attempt to remove President Bashir from power. He certainly will not want to go without a fight.

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3 Responses to “How safe is Khartoum?”

  1. Cherly Oseka Says:

    What did you mean by “a bunch of primates”? Did you mean monkeys or priests? I am also rather concerned that you refer to Khartoum in Sudan as an Arabic country. Sudan is an African country. The Arab settlers there are a minority. The majority of Sudanese are Africans of course. I appreciate your mentioning that Khartoum is a safer city than London. That shouldn’t be attributed solely to Islamic or Arabic culture. Though to you a Blrit, you tend to see Khartoum as an Arabic city, your very exclusion of the possibility that Africans had influenced that cultture contributes to your denial that African cultures have the audacity to influence the Arab culture to produce what is in Khartoum now. Did you not know that American culture and American English are today what they are because of the influence of African Americans even if they are a minority?

  2. blakerig Says:

    I need to respond to this comment, I think. My use of the word ‘primates’ did indeed refer to monkeys, and was a deliberate insult towards the British government (which I think I am qualified to insult). I take particular issue with the way that Britain, and American, have behaved towards the Islamic world. Just to clarify: primates did NOT in any way refer to the Sudanese government. I hope that the structure of my sentence made this clear. As to your other point, you have picked me up on a certain linguistic ambiguity which made it look as though I was labelling Sudan as an Islamic country. I did not mean to – I am fully aware of its multi-ethnicity. But I don’t think that anyone who knows Khartoum well, as I do, can deny that Khartoum is an Islamic city – and that certain factions in the government would like to impose the Islamic belief system on the rest of the country. One could argue that, with the recent flood of refugees into the city, Khartoum’s make-up has shifted. But, if you look closer, you will see that southern and Darfuri regugees still remain on the fringes of mainstream society, do not shape the laws and are probably still a very small minority (reliable statistics are, of course, impossible to come by). But thanks for your post – very interesting to read.

  3. Buses, white men and UN paranoia « Blake Evans-Pritchard’s Weblog Says:

    […] In the wake of the JEM attack and the ICC inditement of President Omar Bashir, I blogged about how safe Khartoum is, in a bid to persuade more cautious travellers not to abandon their plans to visit the country. […]

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