Khartoum, where air conditioning is a precious necessity

There is this general myth that Africa is 'naturally air-conditioned'. Well, it could be true for the bigger part of the continent but not exactly in North Africa and specifically in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum.
Khartoum and the magnificent Corinthia Hotel standing tall. / Athan Tashobya
Khartoum and the magnificent Corinthia Hotel standing tall. / Athan Tashobya

There is this general myth that Africa is “naturally air-conditioned”. Well, it could be true for the bigger part of the continent but not exactly in North Africa and specifically in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum.

Let me rewind a little; I received an invitation to travel to Khartoum for a regional security meeting and normally in such circumstances, the first thing I consider carrying is a sweater.

I was wrong this time!

Before setting off, I went to pick my visa at the Sudan Embassy in Kigali, the First Counselor Ali Sanhouri sat me down in his office for 30 minutes to explain to me what to expect when I arrive and places to visit if schedule allowed.

Ali Sanhouri was quite frank as it could be; “I know Rwanda and Sudan are friendly countries but the weather might not depict exactly that strong relationship.

Mr. Ali Sanhouri. / Athan Tashobya

Besides official wear, carry some light clothes as well because it is a bit hot.” he said.

Similar forewarnings had also been extended by the Sudanese ambassador to Rwanda, His Excellency Salah A.S Elgunied.

In my mind I was like, “don’t worry! This is my second time visiting your country. I will handle the weather part?” How I was wrong.

I insisted to carry a sweater just in case. I was all cozy with my hoody-sweater from Kigali through Addis Ababa…

Tuti Suspension Brigde, connecting Khartoum to Omdurman. / Athan Tashobya

Fast forward, off the plane, we are in Khartoum and things completely changed. It was 8am in the morning. And then this strong humidity struck my “ventilation” that I couldn’t focus anymore.

Thanks to my hosts, a well air-conditioned Limousine (Yes you read Limousine) was on the tarmac to my rescue”.

I guess you are trying to connect the dots here; how Athan—an ordinary journalist gets a brand-new Limousine coming to pick him right at the tarmac? Well, I can assure you that the Sudanese have mastered the power of Five Star hospitality.

Mind you, this is the country that has lived on its own, literally, for the last 20+ years when the United States of American imposed economic sanctions on the government, which were lifted last week.

Sudan and the sanctions

When you are an international visitor, one thing you will hear from almost every Sudanese you chat with is US economic embargo on Khartoum government.

The mineral rich North African State has been accused of so many wrongdoings including supporting terrorism groups and genocide crimes in Darfur, a case they seemed to have lost until this month.

On October 1is when the US announced that it had lifted those sanctions on Sudan. And I surely know how this is a huge relief to the Sudanese friends I interacted with during my visit.

One Mustafa, who was my tour guide during my stay in Khartoum, would go on to accuse the international community for not intervening at their time of need.

He will tell you how the US was wrong at letting the sanctions affect the ordinary citizens yet they were just meant to be against the government.

Author with Mustafa (L) and Hamza (R) who acted as his guides during his stay in Khartoum. / Courtesy

Mustafa talks of all the wrong things about the US sanctions and even convince you how the sanctions could be the cause to the burning climate in his home country.

“But the country has survived nonetheless,” he says, “Our resilience is so unwavering. We have managed to live through hard times; when there has been no medicine in the hospitals, limited travels abroad and trading with other overseas countries but we have survived,” Mustafa narrates in a sad tone.

But he is quick to switch topics…now as we drove along White Nile to the ancient Sudan Capital Omdurman, he stops to brag about how this is a Tripartite city—connecting Blue Nile and White Nile to form the long River Nile that flows to Egypt.

Author standing at Omdurman Bridge where White Nile and Blue Nile meet to connect to Egypt. / Courtesy

We stop to take a few photos, at this time we are a few minutes past Midday, and the temperatures are as high as 42 degrees Celsius. We are as thirsty as camels and off we rush to the rare refreshments.

On the road, we meet a lady selling locally made ice-cream commonly known as Aladeb. They cost only 3 Sudanese Pounds. We ushered ourselves to the full bucket of Aladeb until we dropped, literally.

But it wasn’t enough…we had to rush back to the hotel where AC was as precious as you can imagine. Strange as it may sound, every time one gets into the house, they are welcomed with a glass of tea, served in a glass. But it works well in normalizing body temperature.

This was the last day of my stay in Khartoum and I had to pack bags and head to the airport to return to Kigali.

As I check through the magnificent waiting Ceremonial Lounge of Khartoum International Airport, I learn that I haven’t had enough time to tour the rest of the country. And this is why I plan to go back sooner than later.