Heritage Policies in Sudan

January 5, 2009

Here is the  powerpoint presentation of a conference given in the Biannual conference (ECAS) of the European network of African Studies (AEGIS) in Leiden 2007.

It covers one of my favorite topics:

heritage policies in the “post-conflict” Sudan.


This paper is an abstract of the communication given in the ECAS, the second biennial conference of AEGIS (Africa-Europe Group for Interdisplinary Studies) in Leiden, on the 10th of July 2007. This article presents the results of my fieldwork research in Sudan in April-March 2006 and January-April 2007. A complete version of this article will published in Egypte/Monde arabe 5-6 on Heritage policies in Egypt and Sudan (forthcoming, first semester 2008).

This paper aims at reconsidering the evidence of national identity construction through a reflection on heritage-making and its institutional mechanisms in the Sudanese context.

The fifty-years civil war of Sudan has been considered by many analysts as a war of competing identities [1]. Since the signature of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005, the reconstruction of the country is presented as the priority of the authorities, but the internal context remains very conflictive (e.g. Darfur) and the national integrity is still problematic (referendum on the autonomy of Southern Sudan in 2011). However, cultural heritage is being promoted by national authorities and international agencies according to the CPA implementation agenda. Heritage is used as a resource to develop cultural diversity as well as a national identity.

Heritage as a major issue for the conciliation of identities

The stake of the reconstruction process is to challenge the negative effects of identity by valorising the cultural diversity as a national positive resource. The first chapter of the CPA (according to the Machakos Protocol signed in 2002) states the following principles [2] : “The people of Sudan share a common heritage and aspirations and accordingly agree to work on : Establish a democratic system of governance taking into account the cultural, racial, religious and linguistic characteristic and gender equality of the people of the Sudan[…]”

museums opened and planned (2007)

museums opened and planned (2007)

Through a linkage between identity and heritage, the promotion of cultural heritage is one of the focusing points in the reconstruction and the reconciliation processes in Sudan. In accordance with the Joint Assessment Mission for Sudan of the United Nations and the World Bank assertions and priorities, the UNESCO “contributes to addressing the root causes of the conflict and reshaping the future of the country in line with the CPA” [3].

The potentials of heritage :

An official policy of decentralisation and reconciliation

With the encouragements and the financial support of the UNESCO, the Sudanese authority for heritage, the National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums (NCAM), launched a plan of (re)structuration of the museums network in 2005. This plan includes i) renewal of existing museums ; ii) creation of museum educational programs for schools and children ; iii) creation of museums in the federal states. Museums are now being constructed and planned in ten state capitals of the federation (see map). It is interesting to note that all the chosen cities are capitals of the most conflictive regions during the war.

On the other hand, UNESCO is implementing a program to develop intangible heritage, i.e. enforcing the recognition of minorities considering the lack of materials and, sometimes, of knowledge.

A “weapon of the weak”[4]

The heritage-making policy became the mark of a change in the country towards recognition of the “minorities” or the “marginalised” regions. The effective appropriation of that heritage by local populations can eventually constitute a threat of uprising against the central government. Recently, the official discourse on heritage is being subverted by local groups in order to get some national and international visibility for their causes. Such is the case of the local populations affected and displaced by the construction of a large dam (Hamadab/ Merowe Dam) being built in the Northern region of Sudan. The dissident group in the Merowe Dam area is thus using antiquities and its potential power as a mean of resistance to the “sudanesation” and centralisation of peripheries. This article provides analytical insights on Heritage policies. Cultural heritage is being promoted as a mean of reconciliation and pacification by the UNESCO, but as heritage becomes a political mean, it is also being transformed in a “weapon of the weak”.

Keywords : Sudan, CPA, cultural heritage, diversity, museums

Jean-Gabriel Leturcq PhD researcher EHESS, Paris – CEDEJ, Cairo

[1] Deng, F., War of Visions : Conflict of identities in the Sudan, Washington, Brookings, 1995. For a critical point of view, see Johnson D., The root causes of Sudan’s civil war, Oxford, James Currey, 2006 (3rd edition).

[2] For a complete view on the CPA see : Amani Mohamed El Obeid, Sudan Political Chronicle 2005, Le Caire, Cedej, 2006.

[3] UNESCO, 75/EX25, Report By The Director-General On UNESCO’s Activities In Sudan, 2006

[4] Scott, J., Weapons of the Weak : Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance, Yale, Yale University Press, 1985


3 Responses to “Heritage Policies in Sudan”

  1. […] A suivre: patrimoine et restitutions, patrimoine et violence […]

  2. […] my plans to get a research position in Sudan are postponed. I don’t give up with working on heritage, identity and violence. I’m dreaming already of a postdoc somewhere in the US. I will have to explain all this here, […]

  3. […] and ethnic diversity? How to understand the complexity of cultural diversity? These questions lead my research (and projects) in Sudan and Ethiopian borderlands. I have studied diversity through the angle of […]

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