Sudanese Bureaucracy I: Tenacity
The entry stamp at the border, along with the paperwork that goes with it, is not the end of the paper-trail one must accumulate upon arriving in Sudan. Nor is the immigration process in Wadi Halfa. Arriving in Khartoum, another page in the passport must be claimed by one final stamp.
As the city is heating up in the morning sun, I walk across central Khartoum to the Aliens’ Registration Building, as marked on a photocopy of an old Lonely Planet map. Passing the supreme court, numerous ministries and approaching the Republican Palace, police presence is high, and they tell me that the office is no longer housed here. Some sketchy directions later and I am walking back across town, eventually locating the (unsigned) building in a small dirt street.
I obtain & complete the relevant form, photocopy it, and queue again to obtain my stamp. An ageing, uniformed man sat behind a pane of glass tells me that I need a guarantor to be here, without which I cannot register. My supplications lead nowhere, despite having already registered sans-guarantor in Wadi Halfa; I am faced with an impasse. A letter from my hotel would suffice, except that I have none as I am staying in a private residence; what’s more, my host is not Sudanese.
More leg-work, passing-by my initial port of call, and I enter into the office of the manager of the Blue Nile Sailing Club. In this city of high-priced hotels, it is reputed amongst over-landers as the place to camp in Khartoum, and thus the cheapest. The office is located on the beached gunboat of Lord Kitchener, the leader of the Anglo-Egyptian army who defeated the Mahdists at the end of the 19th century, thus returning Sudan to British colonial rule for over fifty years. This boat was now the location of a sole, British traveller fighting Sudanese bureaucracy and it is here that I obtained the required letter; a small battle won.
Crossing the city for the third time that day, it is 41°, and the aforementioned uniformed bureaucrat tells me that I should now go to a different office, seemingly unwilling to cede defeat. I follow increasingly vague directions to find a square, grey, concrete building, where I am met by puzzled looks. They send me to a neighbouring construction, where I am told that here, they only deal with Sudanese applicants.
Cue the vaguest directions of the day, and I am walking down a street where the tar is melting beneath my sandals, leaving its black, viscid marks on my feet. I walk into the “Investment Building” — a strange name for an office dealing with immigration.
I am dehydrated, tired and my patience has long since evaporated as the official inside tries to charge me the registration fee again. I explode, exclaiming in something resembling Arabic that I was told in Wadi Halfa that I should not have to pay again, and that I am adamant that I will not do so. His colleague tries to coerce me, saying “just give this man the money…” — my refusal sees me sent to the office of his superior. With a stack of Chinese passports on his desk — presumably oil and construction workers — he takes a harder line, saying that I’ll get nowhere in Sudan, not even to the border, without this registration. So be it, I retort.
Eventually, he tells me to sit down, takes my passport and disappears with it. Ten minutes later, it is handed back to me with the registration stamp and I am told khalas — finished. My battle was over, for now.