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Politique africaine

2005/4 (N° 100)

  • Pages : 320
  • ISBN : 9782845867476
  • DOI : 10.3917/polaf.100.0302
  • Éditeur : Editions Karthala

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If the city is a text, how shall we read it?


Reading an African city is not an easy task. Reading a city like Khartoum is an even more challenging mission. It is a space which has been shaped and reshaped throughout its pre and post-colonial history by movement, political instability and socio-cultural changes. Its geo-political position in the heart of the African continent, while providing a gateway to the Arabic world, has rendered it the object of many influencing and, in some instances, contradictory dynamics.


One consequence of that situation is that Khartoum’s socio-cultural space has become one characterized with underlying layers of meanings, plurality of signification and, in many instances, ambiguity. At the same time this has given it a distinctly unique cultural appearance, taste and flavor, setting it apart from other Arab and African cities.


My contribution here does not attempt an “academic” objective reading of Khartoum – if such a thing exists. Rather I attempt to give a personalized glimpse of the city by entering it through the gates of its Arabic-written poetry. I choose poetry for reasons that reveal themselves in my account. It is important to note however that other creative genres have made significant contributions in painting the Sudanese cultural scene – the theatre in particular, the fine arts and recently increasingly the short story. I focus in this essay on certain historical and literary stages which seem to me to have been of particular importance in influencing Sudanese poetic creativity. My aim is not to be “comprehensive” as much as to highlight trends that have played a significant role in drawing the poetic map of Sudan’s principal urban centre. I conclude with a brief evaluation of today’s Khartoum as it undergoes fundamental processes of urbanization, internal migration and social evolution, and of the implications these processes are likely to have for the prospect of its creativity as a city.

The Beginning: Cities of the Nile


Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, is a “tri-city” metropolitan area, made up of the cities of Khartoum, Ummdurman [1]  The precise phonetic spelling translates to “Ummdurman”.... [1] and Bahri (Khartoum North). Together, the three cities form the country’s industrial and cultural heart.


Khartoum is situated at the point where the White Nile, flowing north from Uganda, joins the Blue Nile, flowing west from Ethiopia. The merged Nile then flows north towards Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea. The city’s name has been the source of much controversy, but the most popular explanation is that it derives its name from the thin strip of land at the convergence of the two Niles, which resembles an “elephant’s trunk” – khurtum in Arabic.


Founded in 1824 as a military outpost for the EgyptianArmy, Khartoum later grew as a regional centre of trade and became Sudan’s capital in 1934. In the war between Great Britain and the forces of the Mahdi [2]  Muhammad Ahmad Al Mahdi was a Sudanese religious and... [2] , General Charles Gordon was killed there in 1885 after a long siege during which the city was severely damaged. Khartoum was later retaken by H. H. Kitchener in 1898 and rebuilt.


It is not so much with Khartoum itself that we need to begin our account, however, as with its twin city, Ummdurman. Ummdurman lies on the White Nile opposite Khartoum. In the mid-1880s, it was the capital city of Mahdism and today still is popularly known in Sudan as the “national/historic capital [3]  With the victory of Al Mahdi over the British in 1885,... [3] ”. During the condominium rule, which lasted from 1899 to 1955 and saw Sudan ruled by Great Britain and Egypt in tandem, Ummdurman was the vibrant heart of cultural and national activities [4]  In January 1899, an Anglo-Egyptian agreement restored... [4] . It was the meeting place of intellectuals, writers and artists and the birthplace of literary societies which played an influential role in shaping the cultural scene at the time. To this day, the social practices and popular culture of its citizens are guided by the dual influences of historically traditional values rooted deeply in the city’s social structure and Ummdurman’s symbolic significance as the capital of the last “national” State to have engaged in a fierce resistance to colonization [5]  Between 1881 and 1885, the Mahdist State in Sudan defeated... [5] . The latter plays a significant thematic role in poetry and song penned during the period of Anglo-Egyptian rule and increasingly so in the post-colonial period.


A prominent name at that time in the Ummdurman literary setting was the poet and singer Khaleel Farah. He wrote in a language that was a blend of colloquial Sudanese and classic Arabic, which made his work appreciable to both intellectuals and members of the ordinary public. Political symbolism played a significant role in Farah’s poetry. This comes powerfully to the fore in one of his classic poems (also rendered as a song), “Azza”, written in the 1920s. Here, Farah uses the traditional name of a Sudanese woman (Azza) as a literary camouflage for Sudan, clothing his love for his country as love for a woman:

“Azza, in my heartYour magic is sacredThe fire of your loveA healing force.Azza, I have not forsakenThe home of beautyNor have I desired anythingOther than Perfection.
Azza, in your loveWe rise like the mountainsAnd to him who daresDesecrate your purityWe turn into spears
                 From A. Al-Mak (ed.), Diwan Khaleel Farah, Khartoum,...

In simple and yielding language, the poet succeeds in achieving his dual aim: to avoid a direct confrontation with the colonizing authorities and to deliver a covert nationalistic message to his people. Ummdurman’s symbolic significance, on a national level and because it was a centre of political and intellectual ferment, resulted in its emerging as a theme in and of itself in the work of poets and lyricists writing under Anglo-Egyptian rule. However, it is to Khartoum that we must turn our eyes now to see how that nationalistic feeling, born in Ummdurman, crystallized into concrete manifestations and forms.

The Quest for a Sudanese National Consciousness


In 1902, the British colonial administration founded Gordon Memorial College (now the University of Khartoum). The underlying colonial aim was to train Sudanese for junior technical and clerical posts [7]  See M. Saeed Al-Gaddal, Tareekh Al Sudan Al Hadeeth... [7] . Paradoxically, it was the educated elite who graduated from that college who later engaged in national resistance against the existing colonial power. Among them were a number of writers who vastly enriched the intellectual scene of the city and, in the process, despite severe censorship and oppression, actively participated in the emergence of a national Sudanese political consciousness.


It was this intellectual consciousness that later led to the birth of an organization called the Graduate Club in 1918 and, later, constituted the Graduate Congress in 1938. The Graduate Congress was a cultural and political forum which played a pivotal role in Sudan’s independence. Its members comprised intellectuals from a wide range of professions. For these Arabic-speaking thinkers from the North, literature was an important channel to express their views and aspirations. Poetry, for a number of reasons, was the principal literary genre at the time.


The early graduates of Gordon College turned to lyrical traditional poetry, prevalent then in the Arab world. The diction, imagery and even syntax of their texts were heavily borrowed from classical Arabic poetry. The theme which mostly dominated their work was that of reviving the glory of ancient Islamic civilization. It was a romantic notion which called upon Arabs to cast off their apathy, to bring back the greatness and glory of their predecessors and not to fall prey to the heresies of Western civilization. This compelling theme of return to a glorious Islamic past took a strong hold over Sudanese poetry in Khartoum in the 1920s and extended well into the 1930s. Going back to what they defined in their work as their “Arab” origins signified an early attempt for these poets to identify with what they perceived as their cultural and religious roots. Their poetry had tremendous public appeal and is noted for its rhetoric strength [8]  M. Ibrahim Al-Shoosh, Some Background Notes on Modern... [8] .


However, it was the emergence of the second batch of Gordon College graduates in the beginning of the 1930s that marked the emergence of a real Sudanese “national consciousnesses” in the intellectual world of Khartoum. This generation of graduates started establishing reading societies which, in the beginning, were concerned with literary and cultural issues but later assumed strong social and political roles. It was in these societies, designated as Al-Jamiyat al-Adabiya, that the social consciousness and vision on national issues of the time – mainly resistance to colonization – were consolidated in the capital city. Moreover, these societies constituted the seeds for the political parties that emerged in Sudan later [9]  See M. Saeed Al-Gaddal, Tareekh Al Sudan Al Hadeeth... [9] .


Literary creativity at the time was a form of articulation of national consciousness in the enforced absence of other venues of expression. Approaches to the nation called for in this context constituted a break with those expressed by the previous generation of Gordon College graduates. The focus, here, was on an intense quest for the common roots of national culture and on the shared heritage of communal symbols cutting across ethnic pluralism.


The writer Hamazh Almalik Tambal, in the 1920s, was probably the first to attempt to realize in his work the elements of a new “poetry of identity”. His poems, which were published in 1931 under the title Al Tabiyyah (“Nature”), were a departure from the rhetorical style inherited from classical and neoclassical Arabic poetry for a language appropriate to ordinary speech. He called for the intimate involvement of the Sudanese poet in his natural and cultural landscape, and was the first to coin and use the term Al-adab al-Sudani (“Sudanese literature”). His brief book of critical essays Sudanese Literature and What it Should Be was an attack on the poetry of his immediate predecessors for being mere echoes of “Arabic” poetry. Poetry written by a Sudanese poet, he insists, should reflect the Sudanese sensibility and the Sudanese landscape.


The 1930s also witnessed the emergence of a strong cultural phenomenon in Khartoum which took the form of the appearance of a number of literary magazines and journals. Magazines like Al Nahda (“TheAwakening”), Al Fajr (“The Dawn”) and journals such as Hadarat Al Sudan (“Sudan’s Civilization”) were a vibrant forum for intellectuals and represented the cultural voice for the nationalist movement against colonization at the time. These magazines, as well as the literary appendices annexed to the journals, produced much creative writing in poetry, story and drama and an important number of political articles.


It was the beginning of a passion to create a new literature which could express human experience as it took the shape and the character, nuances and contours of a specifically “Sudanese” sensibility. This led to the emergence of new politico-literary vocabulary. Terms such as Al-Thagafa al-Sudaniya (“Sudanese culture”), Al-Shaksiyah al-Sudaniyah (“Sudanese character”) and Al-Adab al-Gawmi (“national literature”) were pivotal in the new discourse [10]  M. Abd Al-Hai, Conflict and Identity: The Cultural... [10] .


A number of articles meant to define the features and contours of this “Sudanese identity” were published in a magazine entitled Al Fajr. “It is necessary”, says Muhammad Ahmad Almahjoub (later to be Sudan’s first Prime Minister after Independence) writes in Al Fair, “that we develop our own national literature which bears our impression and distinguishes us from other nations [11]  Al Fajr, vol. 1, n° 22, 16 June 1935, p. 1040-1045 [11] ”. He and others, he states, envisage a literature written in Arabic but one which is “infused with the idiom of our own land because this [idiom] is what distinguishes the literature of one nation from another [12]  Ibid. [12] ”. For these writers, it was the creative expression of the “cultural” self and its ideals that constituted “national literature”. Publications like Al Fair reflected the gradual consolidation and diversification of Sudanese poetry as a distinct entity.


One would have to wait for the 1960s, however, to see the emergence of movements which voiced an original – and, in the eyes of its creators, authentic – Afro-Arabic identity within Sudanese poetry. One school in particular was key in this regard: Al-Ghaba wa Al-Sahraa, “the Forest and Desert School”. Its founders were the writers Muhammad Al-Makki Ibraheem, Al Nour Uthman Abbakar and Muhammad Abdel Hai. The primary concern of the Forest and Desert school was the cultural identity of the Northern Sudan and the Northern Sudanese individual. The “Forest” was intended to symbolize the African cultural constituent in Northern Sudanese identity and the “Desert” its Arab counterpart. The core of the school’s conceptualization was that Northern Sudanese society was an Arab-African hybrid. Its members sought to reveal, through their poetry, a fundamental “harmony” which, in their eyes, underlies the “identity”, and “character” of the North. Apoem by Muhammad Al-Makki Ibraheem, articulates this vision [13]  A second poem by this author, one of the most prominent... [13] :

 “Oh Creole …You sand-washed tavernYour eyes swimming in kohlEntwined from the hair of a songA flower drenched with colorI am the NectarYou the orange.ArabAnd AfricanAnd some of my testimonialsBefore God.
He who finds youFinds a balm for the woundAn elegy for grief.He who finds youFinds the histories of sufferingAnd the generations of slavery.Oh Creole …Dare I sell my faceAnd testimonials before God?
Promise that you will invite meTo your bed some other nightAnd spread the night of your hairOver my strong armsTill your colorBlends into mine.I am lost in youSo take me
To the gravesOf the equatorial flowersTo the days of suffering.Chain me to the times of slaveryHold my remains to your heartAnd wrap me in your strong arms.
How poignant is your perfumeHow strong you areNaked and BlackArabAfricanAnd some of my statementsBefore God
                 M. Al-Makki Ibraheem, Poetic Works, Ummdurman, Abd...

As the foregoing suggests, it was mostly in the literary mind that the new vocabulary which made it possible to begin to describe a “Sudanese cultural identity” was created. Although the language they employed was Arabic, the new poets fashioned it according to the nuances of their own sensibility, invoking a métissage between Arab and African cultures. A similar sensibility animates songs of the time. Many were written in a blend of classical and colloquial Arabic – a language that one might refer to as “Sudanese Arabic” – which in itself reflects an expression of the search for a distinctive and inclusive Sudanese “cultural identity”.

Creativity and the State


However, as in many other African countries, the euphoria of independence was soon replaced by frustration over political turmoil and economic decline. The situation was aggravated by the ongoing civil war in the South and the vicious circle of military coups interrupting short-lived democracies. The situation deteriorated, in particular, during the period of military rule that spanned the years 1969 to 1985. The regime, till its downfall at the hands of a popular uprising in 1985, hunted down any writers, thinkers, poets or artists whom it considered to be its “enemies”. Many were imprisoned and many more harassed.


Yet another coup in 1989 overthrew the democratically elected government which had taken the leadership of Sudan following the 1985 uprising. In its early years, the new State kept a stranglehold grip over, and imposed censorship on, the country’s writers, university professors, journalists and artists – practically anyone whose “expressiveness” was deemed to pose a potential threat to the regime. Intellectuals who held opposing political views to those espoused by the regime were removed from their jobs or imprisoned.


The “word” in its various manifestations was the most censored medium of expression of all. All voices except those supporting the government were silenced. Hundreds of Sudanese creators left Sudan for different countries, searching for a political and cultural space which could accommodate them. Those who remained lived in a stifling atmosphere dominated by suppression, surveillance and fear. During those times, Khartoum was a desperate city.


The city’s atmosphere in this period is captured in the poet Al Faytouri’s words, which describe an anonymous black city:

 “When the night sets up its trellis of twigsOn the city streetsAnd sprinkles its deep sorrow on them,You see them quietly resignedStaring at the cracksAnd so you think they are submissiveBut – they are on fire.
When the dark builds upOn the city streetsBarriers of black stoneThey stretch out their hands in silenceTo the balconies of the morrowTheir cries imprisonedTheir days wounded memories.You see them quietly resignedStaring at the cracksAnd you think they are submissiveBut – they are on fire
                 M. Al-Faytoori, PoeticWorks, Cairo, Egyptian General...

In short, the situation was dire, but the city still managed to fight back. During the various oppressive regimes imposed upon the Sudanese people, Khartoum somehow continued to give birth to creative individuals. Youth, mostly university students, managed to devise innovative ways of meeting – usually in shabby places, one or two rooms with metal and plastic chairs, sometimes in their university residence, small rooms that they would return to in the evenings when the dust of the day had settled and the ruthless heat had abated. There they listened to new poetry being recited or to a new voice singing. Every now and then in those gatherings a young talent would be born – celebrated only by that inner circle of fellow colleagues.


In these clandestine spaces, Sudanese literature continued to grow. The verses written and spoken there have had a palpable impact on the contemporary poetry scene in Khartoum. I turn now to the latter. My focus in the following pages is on key social changes the city has been witnessing in recent years and the impact have on questions of creativity.

Expanding the Womb: Migration, Diversity and Identity


From the mid-1980s onward, large numbers of internally-displaced people from the violence of the two-decade Sudanese Civil War, the longest-running conflict in Africa, have come to Khartoum. As a result, a significant proportion of Khartoum-dwellers live in informal settlements where they lack proper water, sanitation, electricity and health services. Regime changes and their attendant political pressures have continued to disrupt trends of urban growth. Khartoum has expanded its womb to be able to encompass the newcomers. The process has not been an easy one.


Mapping the different roads via which processes of social change and cultural interaction have taken place in Khartoum as a result of massive internal displacement is a complex undertaking. Generalizations are not possible. However, what can be said is that in their common suffering and everyday struggle to live, and their feeling of a shared destiny wherein immensely difficult conditions for working and living are continuously interwoven, a complex and deep bond has grown among the hundreds of thousands of migrants that Khartoum counts today. A second point that needs to be underscored is that the presence of so many internally displaced persons has had a significant effect on the nature of the concept of “creativity” in the city [16]  Modern conceptions of “creativity” are so diverse and... [16] .


In receiving large numbers of newcomers from a wide range of ethnic and religious backgrounds, Khartoum played the role of an alchemist’s crucible. In doing so, it provided crucial evidence and thus an urgently needed reminder, to the Sudanese people of their ability to socially and culturally coexist. Khartoum has managed to transform itself into a geographical and psychological laboratory, in which diverse Sudanese cultural elements have intermeshed to produce a complex and vibrant mosaic.


Today, Khartoum’s urban space is one characterized by ambiguity, layers of contradictory meaning, unpredictability and a use of spaces for activities that they were not originally designated to accommodate. The city is often chaotic, assaulting our senses with its sights, sounds and smells.

Creativity of Survival and Survival of Creativity


The Khartoum of today practices an unconventional form of creativity, spoken in a language understood best by those living inside the city itself. This creativity realizes itself in diverse and uncommon areas. It manifests itself in localized small trends and innovative concepts developed by its inhabitants in their everyday journey to sustain an increasingly difficult livelihood – and to continue to find life worth living at the same time. It spells itself in women wearing colored robes under trees lining the street and making tea on small stoves, with their teapots handcrafted from empty milk cans. It is articulated by young men selling cool water from white plastic containers in the scorching afternoon to tired commuters, before they climb into groaning buses and vans that carry them to their homes. For the poet Muhammad Al-Makki Ibraheem, this is how the urban landscape looks each morning:

 “And the city wakes up,Shuffles to take refugeUnder the shadows.And with a burning throatCalls for waterFrom the Zeer
                 A porous earthenware container used in Sudanese houses...
                And ends up drinkingFrom the empty liquor bottlesLined up in the last rowOf the house’s fridge (where they stay until a young boy comes and takes them and sellsthem to buy sweets and denies his crime as he is being beaten …)
The city wakes upBrushes its teethAnd stares at the ceilingWilling the day to passTo bring it closerTo another tomorrowTo bring it closerTo the end of the monthTo the salary-dayThe day of importanceFor the shopkeeper’s debtAnd the schoolbooks to be boughtAnd that impossible gatheringOn the sands of the NileUnder the smell of the night,Barbecue and singing stars.”

Khartoum’s creativity today is of a social nature. Despite the dire economic hardships and the everyday struggles, the greater part of Sudanese traditional cultural values is still incarnated in the city’s life. In most of its neighborhoods, a strong sense of community and connectedness prevails. Family relations are exceptionally strong, with the extensive family still the typical societal model. Generosity, material and emotional participation and support in a wide range of social occasions still dominate many aspects of daily life.


Modern Khartoum uses its linguistic creativity to survive its socio-economic oppressive conditions. The city’s creativity is enshrined in the “word” – the sung, recited and written word. As one walks in its crowded streets, one finds oneself drowning in the world of jargon and colloquialism. Satirical political jokes, coined phrases to describe a new social phenomenon, old proverbs given contemporary significations, anger and frustration, are all expressed in a language infused with metaphors and rich with insinuations and allusions. Particularly rich and changing is the street language of its shammasa, the young, jobless and in many cases homeless boys who roam the streets of Khartoum. The term translates as “sons of the sun”. This language represents a largely unexplored aspect of Khartoum’s linguistic creativity with much to interest sociolinguists. Of considerable interest as well, in terms of popular approaches to the written word, is the deployment on the back of transport vehicles of lyrics borrowed from popular songs, old proverbs and newly minted phrases mirroring the everyday life struggle, the beauty of a loved one, or an unfulfilled desire.


Political strife and economic adversity have had a powerful effect on the written word in the city. Awell-known saying, quite popular in Arab-speaking countries in the 1970s and 1980s, had it that “Cairo writes, Beirut prints and Khartoum reads”. The statement reflected a recognition of the fact that Sudanese in general at that time were known to be avid readers and great book consumers. Today’s Khartoum is a city for which reading is a luxury. Books are difficult to come by and to afford given the current average rate of wages and salaries. A frequent sight in recent years in the streets of Khartoum was a crowd of people standing closely in a circle in a corner, their eyes fixed on the first page of a newspaper spread on the ground by its seller, avidly reading the pages because they could not afford to buy the paper itself.


This state of affairs, as one might expect, impacts contemporary poetry in significant ways. Among many writers, the mood is gloomy, as verses by one of the young contemporary poets, Abbakar Adam Ismail suggest:

 “In the city God is an army officerSo don’t trust anythingNot the glittery signsNor the rhythmic poetryNor the contented heartsHave mercy on yourselfDon’t indulge in the stupidityAnd the details of slipping backwardsBetween the awaiting and the unconsciousness.”

Khartoum is a narrative space packed with everyday dramas, untold stories, comic and sad. At the moment, it is living an ongoing process of social formation and deformation, of innovation and change, of growth and shrinkage. Despite the political oppression of its different regimes, and the severe economic hardships it has suffered and continues to suffer, creativity in varying degrees, colors and shades has managed to manifest itself in its cultural landscape in a fragmented and disjointed manner. One can only hope that, with the recent peace agreement that has put an end to the country’s long civil war, legitimacy will be given to the diverse political, ethnic and cultural voices – a legitimacy that will enable difficult questions of citizenship, civic engagement and social justice to be addressed. Only then will the required conditions to unleash the creative potential of the city to the full be met.



J. C. Oates, “Imaginary Cities: America”, in M. C. Jaye and A. C. Watts (eds), Literature and the American Experience: Essays on the City and Literature, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 1981, p. 11-33.


The precise phonetic spelling translates to “Ummdurman”. However the commonly used spelling is “Omdurman”. Being a linguist I choose to use the former.


Muhammad Ahmad Al Mahdi was a Sudanese religious and political leader who raised an army after declaring himself the Mahdi (The Guided and Expected One in Islamic tradition) in 1881 and led a successful war of liberation from the Ottoman-Egyptian military occupation. He died soon after the liberation of Khartoum and the State he founded fell victim to colonial maneuverings that doomed it to re-conquest in 1899.


With the victory of Al Mahdi over the British in 1885, Al Mahdi and his successor, the Khalifa Abdullahi, made Ummdurman their capital. Ummdurman was also the scene of one of the largest battles in African history in 1898, the “Battle of Omdurman”, in which the Anglo-Egyptian Forces under Lord Kitchener fought and defeated the Mahdist forces (see footnote 5, below).


In January 1899, an Anglo-Egyptian agreement restored Egyptian rule in Sudan as part of a condominium, or joint authority, exercised by Britain and Egypt. The agreement designated territory south of the twenty-second parallel as the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan.


Between 1881 and 1885, the Mahdist State in Sudan defeated four British led armies. The siege of the walled cities of Khartoum and Ummdurman by Mahdist soldiers (defended by 7 000 British troops) lasted from October 21, 1884 to January 21, 1885. Mahdist troops then stormed the city and the British leader General Gordon was killed. Despite great public outcry in England the British did not return to Khartoum for another 14 years. When they did, however, it was with extreme violence. The Khalifa Abdullahi was slain and the corpses of 20,000Mahdists transformed the bank of the Nile into a putrid bloody mass grave. The British took control over Sudan. The story of the spirit of massive resistance of theMahdists is recounted in detail inWinston S. Churchill’s book The River War : An Historical Account of the Reconquest of the Soudan, vol. II, Col. F. Rhodes. D.S.O. (ed.), London, Longmans, Green and Co., 1899 [1st ed.], p. 107-164.


From A. Al-Mak (ed.), Diwan Khaleel Farah, Khartoum, Khartoum University Press, 1977, p. 185. Translations from Arabic, in this instance as hereafter, are mine.


See M. Saeed Al-Gaddal, Tareekh Al Sudan Al Hadeeth (History of Modern Sudan : 1820-1955), Khartoum, Al-Amal Press, 1992, p. 331-339.


M. Ibrahim Al-Shoosh, Some Background Notes on Modern Sudanese Poetry, Khartoum, Institute of Extramural Studies, University of Khartoum, 1966, p. 6-7.


See M. Saeed Al-Gaddal, Tareekh Al Sudan Al Hadeeth …, op. cit., p. 322-324.


M. Abd Al-Hai, Conflict and Identity: The Cultural Poetics of Contemporary Sudanese Poetry, Khartoum, Khartoum University Press, 1976, p. 13.


Al Fajr, vol. 1, n° 22, 16 June 1935, p. 1040-1045.




A second poem by this author, one of the most prominent figures of the Forest and Desert School, appears at the end of the present essay.


M. Al-Makki Ibraheem, Poetic Works, Ummdurman, Abd Al-Kareem Merghani Cultural Centre, 2000, p. 216-224.


M. Al-Faytoori, PoeticWorks, Cairo, Egyptian General Corporation for Books, vol. I., 1998 [4th ed.], p. 65.


Modern conceptions of “creativity” are so diverse and extensive that there is no universally agreed upon definition of it. In this article, my view of creative activity is that of a multi-faceted phenomenon that manifests itself in the form of a set of processes that are greatly influenced by “socio-cultural” dynamics. Consequently, it is necessary, in my opinion, to depart from the mere physical manifestations of “city space” in order to be able to “read” Khartoum as a discursive, cultural and social entity.


A porous earthenware container used in Sudanese houses to keep water cool.



How should one apprehend and interpret the poets and narrators of the history of Khartoum? In the multiplicity of this capital city – an urban sprawl whose divisions arise from both historical and geographic contingencies – we find recurrent tensions over the usage of classical Arabic and its dialects. With the laborious rise of the idea of common citizenship came also the exigency for a specific form of expression, distinct from the Arab world and yet the crucible of a plurality of popular Sudanese cultures.


Lire KhartoumComment décrypter dans l’histoire de Khartoum ses poètes et ses narrateurs ? À la multiplicité de cette capitale, une conurbation dont les divisions relèvent autant de l’histoire que de la géographie, répondent les tensions récurrentes sur les usages de l’arabe classique et dialectal. À la difficile émergence d’une citoyenneté commune répond l’exigence d’une expression propre qui se distingue du monde arabe, tout en étant le creuset d’une pluralité des cultures populaires soudanaises.

Plan de l'article

  1. The Beginning: Cities of the Nile
  2. The Quest for a Sudanese National Consciousness
  3. Creativity and the State
  4. Expanding the Womb: Migration, Diversity and Identity
  5. Creativity of Survival and Survival of Creativity

Pour citer cet article

Wanni Nada Hussein, « Reading Khartoum », Politique africaine, 4/2005 (N° 100), p. 302-314.

DOI : 10.3917/polaf.100.0302

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