Jean-Jacques Cornish

Beat the world to Sudan

It is one of the great sights on a great continent. In fact, you have not seen Africa until you have seen the confluence of of the White and Blue Nile.
Laying eyes on the meeting of the churning White and the smooth Blue gives meaning to the word arteriaL
A lone angler sits on the aquatically busy corner gently dipping his line into the water where the rivers converge, probably grateful that the Sudanese authorities have not done must to embellish this attraction.
An eight arch bridge nearby joins the capital with Omdurman across the White Nile. The troika of these two cities plus Bahri resemble a giant elephant with the river forming the trunk.
That is what Khartoum means in Arabic: elephant.
The island of Tuti fits in here somewhere – although residents of what amounts to the capital’s vegetable garden are legendary misfits.
Their antiquated water pumps thump noisily. They have refused government offers to replace them with new devices because they are suspicious that there might be strings attached.
They did not like the building of a bridge with the mainland – a gift from Turkey – which brought the first cars onto the island. So they fiercely oppose building hotels and villas.
They say: bLet the residents of the capital have their giant orange-squeezer shaped, Libyan-built Burj, the Hall of Friendship, which is one many Chinese expressions of gratitude for accessing virtually every drop of oil this country can pump, and other impressive pieces of cutting edge architecture. They will keep growing greens.
Sudan is still on Washington’s list of terrorist-sponsoring countries and subject to some US sanctions.
But like Cuba and Iran it is coming in from the cold.
The conventional wisdom is one should get into Cuba and Iran now, before the world does.
The same applies to Sudan.
My advice is take this Madhi-Kalmis-Ter-I tour before the marketing buffs get in.
Arabic is essential for business but English more than gets one buy in this country with a strong British colonial background .
Before you say: ah cricket! remember that the Brits were not here long enough to instill an appreciation of willow on leather.
The Mahdi rather spoiled things by sending his troops from Omdurman just across the river to fetch Gordon who was under siege in Khartoum trying to evacuate British troops and citizens.
The Mahdi’s men went totally off message and removed the British administrator’s head.
There is a brass plaque on the steps of the Presidential Palace indicating the site of this slaying.
I was not able to see it this time because chez Gordon has become the old palace – replaced by an impressive Chinese-built replica. Both old and new are now under security lockdown.
My rambling, slightly-foxed hotel on the banks of the Blue Nile was the first five-star establishment in Khartoum.
It has the same architect as Singapore’s famous Raffles. Don’t try walking into the bar and ordering a Sudanese Sling though. There is no bar is this very dry country.
And don’t trying walking into the fancy hotel next door because that is the headquarters in Sudan of the China National Petroleum Company.
My hotel has housed Queen Elizabeth II and Winston Churchill.
It has also accommodated Thomas Cook which is ironic because foreign credit cards are not accepted in sanctions-hit Sudan.
My source on the famous guests is the editor of Sudan Vision. It is one of three English-language newspapers in this country.
Navigating the convoluted contents confirms the harsh reality that because the King’s tongue is indeed the second most spoken language on the globe does not mean it is always delivered as she should be.
This piece first appeared on

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Jean-Jacques Cornish is a journalist and broadcaster who has been involved in the media all his adult life.

Starting as a reporter on his hometown newspaper, he moved briefly to then Rhodesia before returning to South Africa to become a parliamentary correspondent with the South African Press Association. He was sent to London as Sapa’s London editor and also served as special correspondent to the United Nations. He joined the then Argus group in London as political correspondent.

Returning to South Africa after 12 years abroad, he was assistant editor on the Pretoria News for a decade before becoming editor of the Star and SA Times for five years.

Since 1999 he’s been an independent journalist writing and broadcasting – mainly about Africa – for Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape
Talk, Radio France International, PressTV, Radio Live New Zealand, Business Day, Mail & Guardian, the BBC, Agence France Press,
Business in Africa, Leadership, India Today, the South African Institute for International Affairs and the Institute for Security Studies.

He has hosted current affairs talk shows on Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape Talk. He appears as an African affairs pundit on SABC Africa and CNBC Africa.
He lectured in contemporary studies to journalism students at the Tshwane University of Technology and the University of Pretoria.

He speaks on African affairs to corporate and other audiences.
He has been officially invited as a journalist to more than 30 countries. He was the winner of the 2007 SADC award for radio journalism.

He’s been a member of the EISA team observing elections in Somaliland, Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Egypt and Tunsiai.

In October 2009 he headed a group of 39 African journalists to the 60th anniversary celebrations of the Peoples’ Republic of China.

In January 2010 he joined a rescue and paramedical team to earthquake struck Haiti.

He is immediate past president of the Alliance Francaise of Pretoria.

Jean-Jacques is a director of Giant Media. The company was given access to Nelson Mandela in his retirement years until 2009.
He is co-producer of the hour-long documentary Mandela at 90 that was broadcast on BBC in January 2009.