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Pole to Pole

Day 69: Khartoum

Michael Palin - Pole to PoleAfter a weekend of recovery from the journey into Sudan it's now time to investigate how we are going to get out. This necessitates a visit to the Ministry of Information. We drive out along what was the Corniche and is now El Nil Avenue, beneath majestic mahogany trees and alongside colonial remnants like the Grand Hotel and the People's Palace - a much restored version of the building where General Gordon lost his life in 1885. Khartoum seems to be a city without an identity. It grew up in the 1820s on a curved spit of land between the White and Blue Niles which resembled an elephant's trunk, khartoum in Arabic. It prospered as a centre of the slave trade, a gateway to the vast human resources of central Africa. In 1885 the local hero, the Mahdi, took the city from Gordon and the British, but was defeated by Kitchener in 1898, after which Khartoum was rebuilt in the Western style - even to the extent of laying out the streets in the form of a Union Jack. A pleasant, easygoing way of life was ensured despite the enervating climate, and the centre of the city still resembles Greece and Rome more than Africa or Arabia. Since the pedantic but house-proud colonialists left, no one seems to know quite what to do with Khartoum. There are not the seething millions here to energize the city by sheer weight of numbers, as there are in Cairo, and the present government, supporting Saddam Hussein and the Generals' coup in the USSR, is not much interested in international appeal. All this, combined with a comatose economy (inflation is currently running at 240 per cent), leaves the capital city lethargic, a junk shop of the past, lacking any internal dynamism.
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  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 69
  • Country/sea: Sudan
  • Place: Khartoum
  • Book page no: 148

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