Getting into Sudan When There's A Coup in Khartoum
With immaculate timing the army has staged a coup in Sudan, just as I am leaving Eritrea for Addis, en route to Khartoum. They immediately shut the airport. I pass on this information to the desk clerks at Addis, when I arrive, but everyone keeps insisting the flight is still scheduled to leave. Until they finally cancel it one hour after it is supposed to depart.
Dealing With Ethiopian Airlines
Cue bedlam, as the Ethiopian Airline officials try to dispatch everyone to hotels. Somehow, I manage to weave my way out of immigration very quickly, losing everyone else in the process. I’ve no idea how to get to my hotel. There’s no bus. Eventually, a customer service agent on his way home takes pity and drops me at a different hotel. He also, amazingly, manages to alter the airline paperwork, so that I can stay there.
I try to take stock, which is difficult, as my brain isn’t functioning. The hotel in Addis has no soundproofing whatsoever. It’s very close to the airport runway and groups of noisy passengers arrive all night. So, I haven’t had much sleep. There is no information about when flights will resume. Do I still want to go? I’m trying to find out how safe Sudan is. The FCO advice now says they advise against all but essential travel. Not a total ban then. Ethiopian Airlines say it will cost £750 to amend my ticket if I decide to go back to London. That’s not a great incentive. And my flat is booked by Airbnb guests.
Technology is against me. The Wi-Fi in the hotel crashes, closely followed by the landlines and my mobile signal, so I can’t gather any more information or take advice. It’s just a tad stressful. At midday I’m told the flight will go at four, so I decide that if it actually departs then I will make the journey. The plane is a Dreamliner, big enough to hold all the passengers from the two delayed flights in addition to today’s manifest. It takes an extra hour to load all the wayward passengers and even then, we sit on the runway for what seems ages. I’m convinced that a cancellation announcement will be made at any moment. But, no, we’re just sitting out a storm.
Flying Into Khartoum in Coup Time
It’s a bumpy flight: ‘Rough weather ahead,’ announces the captain, to my consternation. But we make it to Khartoum, the first plane to land after the airport re-opens. The Sudanese leap out of their seats to much jollity, cheering and flag waving, the second the plane hits the tarmac. To my relief, I’m welcomed at immigration, met with no difficulty and escorted to my hotel. The streets are quiet. A policeman pours a dozen locals onto my mini-bus for a lift across town. They’re not allowed to walk the pavements.
The hotel is welcome luxury – hot water and decent food. But I’m rattling around. There are only two other people eating dinner. One of them tells me that everyone else has just left as I've arrived. Am I mad or adventurous?
Why is There a Crisis in Sudan?
An estimated two million people died as a consequence of disease, famine, and war during the Second Sudanese Civil War from 1983-2005. Children from all sides involved were enlisted to fight. The United Nations has described the Sudan/Darfur conflict fighting between rebel groups and the government one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. Between 2003 and 2008, at least 300,000 people were killed, and three million displaced. In 2010, President Omar al-Bashir was charged with genocide by the International Criminal court, but remained in office. Following months of pro-democracy protests against President Omar al-Bashir, he was ousted by the military and arrested after 30 years in power. But the military took over government leading to ongoing conflict between them and pro-democracy civilians.
A Brief History of Sudan
Sudan has only taken its current geographical form relatively recently, combining the lands of several ancient kingdoms. I’ve written more than I usually do about the history of the country here, as it’s such a crucial aspect of visiting Sudan.
The Kingdom of Kush
- The fledgling Kingdom of Kush, located along the Nile region in what is now northern Sudan, was, (driven by gold in Kush and the need for more soldiers), subsumed by the rulers of ancient Egypt into the Middle Kingdom. around 2000 BC. This era was brought to an end by the invasion of the Hyksos nomads around 1720 BC .Eventually, a culturally distinct indigenous Kushite kingdom emerged at El Kurru, near present-day Dongola.
- Egyptian power revived during the New Kingdom (c. 1570–1100 BC), and Kush was once more incorporated into ancient Egypt, this time under the New Kingdom and governed by a viceroy.
- Eventually the Egyptians withdrew again and in the early eighth century BC, Kush emerged as an independent kingdom ruled from Napata. The Kushitesin their turn – the so called Black Pharaohs, slowly extended their influence into Egypt culminating in the Twenty-fifth Dynasty and an empire that equalled the size of Egypt at its height. This Nubian empire terminated in the end because of defeat by the much larger Assyrian empire.
- The Kushite court was forced to move south to Meroe near the Sixth Nile Cataract to escape successive Egyptian invasions. For several centuries thereafter, the Meroitic kingdom was able to grow independently of Egypt, though. Egyptian-influenced pharaonic tradition persisted. The rulers erected Nubian pyramids to contain their tombs. However they developed their own, Meroitic alphabet This empire was finally brought to an end when it was conquered by neighbouring kingdom of Axum. (350 AD)
- The three Nubian kingdoms Nobatia, Makuria and Alodia were Christianised in the sixth century.
- The Nile Valley did not undergo formal Islamization until the fourteenth-fifteenth century, following the decline of the Christian kingdoms.
- The kingdoms were succeeded by the Sultanate of Sennar in the early 16th century, which controlled large parts of the Nile Valley and the Eastern Desert, while other kingdoms controlled Darfur and the south.
- During the 1820s both regions, were seized by Muhammad Ali of Egypt
- An ongoing struggle for independence culminated in the modern Republic of Sudan formed in 1956, inheriting its boundaries from Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, established in 1899. For times predating 1899, usage of the term "Sudan" for the territory of the Republic of Sudan was somewhat anachronistic, and may have referred to the more diffuse concept of the Sudan.
- Since its independence in 1956, the history of Sudan has been plagued by internal conflict, leading to the secession of South Sudan on 9 July 2011,
Facts and Factoids
- The name Sudan is short for Bilād as-Sudan, which in Arabic means “Land of the Blacks.”
- Sudan was the largest country in Africa prior to the secession of South Sudan in 2011. It is now the third largest, after Algeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
- The Blue Nile and White Nile rivers meet in Khartoum to form the Nile, which flows northwards through Egypt to the Mediterranean Sea. The Blue Nile's course through Sudan is nearly 497 miles. There are several dams on both rivers to provide irrigation (to the annoyance of the Egyptians.)
- Otherwise, central and northern Sudan is dry, semi-desert, with the Nubian Desert to the northeast and the Bayuda Desert to the east; in the south, there are grasslands and tropical savanna.
- 97% of the Sudan’s population are followers of Islam, and most of them embrace the Sunni form of Islam. The Sudanese base their legal system on Islamic Sharia Law. Women in the Sudan can be whipped in public by police officers for public indecency. Public indecency can entail getting into a car with a man they are not related to, or not dressing conservatively enough. Another legal, judicial punishment is stoning, usually for women for adultery. People can be sentenced to flogging for various crimes. In 2001, 53 Christians in the Sudan were flogged. In the Sudan, crucifixion is legal as a punishment. Alcohol is forbidden. When Sharia law was first enforced in 1983, the whole country’s stock of alcohol was poured into the Nile River.
- The official languages in Sudan are Arabic and English.
Is Sudan a Poor Country?
46% of people live under the poverty line, however, Sudan is not eligible for sorely needed debt relief, due to still being on the United States list of State Sponsors of Terrorism. Negotiation is ongoing.