This autumn marked a deep change for archaeology in Sudan. Its name is Qatar-Sudan Archaeological Project.
The traditional channels of funding for fieldwork, research and museum works have been coming from the Western world – where one should also include Japan from where funds came in the 1990s reaching as far as the publication of the 17th volume of the N.C.A.M. journal Kush.
But just like in the rest of the world, so in Sudan too, the new source for investments have become the Arab countries with their endless (?) monetary resources thanks to the extraction and export of oil. Leading state in cultural, scientific and humanitarian benefactions has been Qatar.
The Qatari museums, conference venues, and resorts have attracted the attention of the entire world. Almost everyone who is working within Sudan archaeology applied for the ‘big money’ promised and the outcome seems to fulfill the expectations of our colleagues.
But we abstained. Or rather we would abstain even if we were invited to ask the Qataris for money. Do not misunderstand us. We do not wish the Western world to monopolize the ‘cultural’ market in Sudan. The sort of development that we wish for the Nile Valley has nothing to do with the dimensions of the projects that the Qataris fund and the Westerners are so eager to implement. Nor with the way we see the reality on the ground in regards with the involvement of the locals in the ‘exploitation’ of their natural and cultural landscape.
We do not support big ownerships of agricultural land or built plots. We do not wish to see the archaeological research ‘ready and done’. We do not want to forget that the only viable development for the future of the Middle Nile Valley is the one measured by the Nile himself…
We want a state-run control of land resources and cultural heritage. But perhaps not a state run by those who use such violent means of repressing the people’s wishes and dreams for a better future. Isn’t it eloquent for the argument that we try to make here that the government of Qatar supported the government of Sudan with huge sums of money in order to stabilize the economy amidst the toughest protests that the Bashir-regime has seen since 1989, caused by the financial cuts that the Sudanese state had to implement?
At the same time, no funds from Qatar are being used for the salvage projects in view of the construction of further dams. No funds from Qatar – or elsewhere – are invested in alternative means for producing energy, for increasing the agricultural output, for creating sustainable development projects, improving health, sanitation, education of the local people. No! Things aren’t as we’d like them to be.
Against this background, can there be any windows of hope?
Well, that’s what the waiting for a New Year seems to always be: hope for a new start, a start for something better. And in our context such improvements are related with different types of intervention in the way archaeology is used and conducted in Sudan, with different policies in the management of cultural heritage and the natural and human landscape in the Middle Nile Valley…