An African city – through a neighbor’s lens

Khartoum Exhibit Flyer - Arabic - w logo

I came to Sudan for a photography/storytelling residency as part of the East Africa Media Lab. Initially my plan was to do a follow up to an URBAMORPHOSIS series that we had begun in Addis. I came and realized however that it might not be as meaningful in the context of Khartoum as I had thought. So I struggled to answer that question. What was I doing here and what angle would this project take? What questions of socio-cultural/political importance would it interrogate, if any? How would I, as a non-Sudanese come and add value to a space that had a rich array of storytellers and documenters capturing everyday Khartoum? I felt stuck and anxious.

On one hand, I argued with myself that as a pan-Africanist, this was my city too. I should feel home in any African country. On the other hand, I couldn’t be audacious enough to believe that I could capture and investigate as I had done with Addis. My reference points – cultural, historical, social, economic and political were nowhere near the same and I was just beginning to learn about everything. I soaked in all the tales and viewpoints that were offered to me, making a mental note to cross-check ‘historical’ references to see if they corroborated or contradicted what I was hearing. I asked many that I met endless questions about this city.

I got a range of responses but most were nostalgic references to a more beautiful, clean, green Khartoum that had character and class. Most seemed to want to return to this time and place before the current regime assumed power and war followed, ravaging the country and leaving it split into more than two pieces. Crippled under sanctions that has frustrated but not prevented people from moving forward.

As this residency comes to a close, I will leave with a deeper appreciation for this country and its people who have endured decades of civil war, a separation of their own and yet still manage to maintain a level of warmth and hospitality that is unmatched anywhere in this world.

What I settled on was a story told through my viewpoint  – Khartoum – through the lens of a neighbor. If you are in Khartoum, make sure to come out and experience this one day exhibit that will be taking place at Impact Hub Khartoum on 117 Street in Riyadh from 2-10PM. See you there.

Khartoum Exhibit Flyer - w logo




First time experiences often have sharp learning curves. My first time at the AU Summit was no different. January 2012 marks the 18th Ordinary Session of the AU Summit held in Addis. AU Summits are held twice a year, in January & July (at least the ordinary ones). The January session is always held in Addis, the home of the AU. That is one of the first things you notice-nothing is simple at the AU. Sessions can be both ordinary and extraordinary. Protocol can mean either an instrument, such as the AU Protocol on the Rights of Women which we were lobbying for, or it can mean the team which provides both security and logistical support to local Ministers which I learned the hard way upon insisting to one of the Ethiopian Minister of Foreign Affairs Protocol Officers that we wanted to speak with the Minister regarding the Protocol.

When lobbying and looking out for certain ministers whose countries have not ratified or not signed onto the AU Protocol on the Rights of Women, you realize how important it is to have a quick eye to scan badges. How helpful color coding is, regardless of how discriminating it is. How frustrating it is when a badge is turned around, preventing you from trying to decipher someone from the AU Commission to an observer, to press to a delegate who is often, but not always part of the delegation that arrived with the Minister of Foreign Affairs who we were targeting.

You also realize how important it is to be proactive, to approach individuals and in doing introductions, to scan their badges trying your best to read their countries inconspicuously to assess whether they are someone who you need to lobby. To not dismiss anyone-press can connect you to Ministers-which is how we were able to access the Minister of Somalia-through a Somali journalist who had their numbers on hand. How important it is to know your flags…because sometimes that’s all you see. Patriotic pins with the flag of the delegations’ country. To understand the nuances of accent, dress and mannerisms to place people in certain regions and countries. The importance of timing-being at the right place at the right time. Making sure to be ready to act as soon as the door opens. To be diplomatic and assertive all at the same time. To be confident and humble simultaneously. To be brazen but also understand your limits.

Lobbying is a true hustle. It is not easy to shove your agenda into someone’s face and expect a positive impact. You should be well-prepared for any response and any interrogation. Prepared to be persistent yet respectful. Prepared to be prepared.

TIA (This is Africa)


It’s Cairo, Casablanca & Cape Town
Addis, Abuja & Accra
Ouagadougou, Timbuktu & Antananarivo
Lagos, Lomé, Lusaka & Lalibela

Its peace and turmoil
Order and chaos
Evolution and revolution
Anarchy and regulation
Innovation and duplication
Progress and retreat
Static and constant change

It’s Nouakchott, Niamey, N’Djamena & Nairobi
Monrovia, Mbabane & Maseru
Tripoli, Tunis & Tangiers
Harare & Gaborone

It’s democracy and dictatorship
Youth and elderly
Traditional and modern
Indigenous and imported
Local and foreign
Metropolitan and cosmopolitan
Rural and urban

It’s Bujumbura, Bangui, & Brazzaville
Dakar, Dar & Djibouti
Freetown & Libreville
Mogadishu, Monrovia & Moroni

It’s you and it’s me
It’s him and it’s her
It’s us and it’s them
It’s East and it’s West
It’s North and it’s South
It’s core and periphery

It’s Bamako, Banjul & Bissau
Kinshasa, Kampala, Kigali & Khartoum
Malabo, Maputo & Mombasa
Algiers, Alexandria & Abidjan

It’s scholarly and illiterate
Ambitious and unmotivated
Political and apathetic
Construction and destruction
Truth and propaganda
Scribes and scholars

It’s Juba & Goma
Yaoundé & Yamoussoukro
Victoria & Windhoek
Porto Novo, Port Louis & Port Elizabeth
Sao Tomé, Praia & Cotonou

It’s unpredictable and expected
Unconvential and conformist
Extraordinary and banal
Hope and despair
Riches and rags
Scarcity and extravagance

It’s flaura and fauna
Valleys and mountains
Deserts and waterways
It’s Kilimanjaro and the Denakil Depression

It’s both ends of the spectrum
And everything in between


©Nebila Abdulmelik, May 2011

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