Sudan National Museum in Khartoum (photo via Flickr)

As fighting between rival military factions intensifies in Sudan, a report published at the end of last month by the International Council of Museums (ICOM) raises alarm that the country’s cultural institutions and their extensive collections are at risk of irreparable damage. 

In the report, Sudan Natural History Museum Director Sara A. K. Saeed warns that some of the country’s most treasured museums, located in the capital city of Khartoum, are “caught in the crossfire of battles between the two conflicting parties” with nothing to “protect them from looting and vandalism.”

Specifically, Saeed points to the Sudan National Museum, the Museum of Ethnography, the Republican Palace Museum, and the Sudan Natural History Museum as primary targets for damage. These institutions all run along the Blue Nile River in the center of the city, where the fighting has been concentrated since mid-April. She also mentioned the Military Museum, which is located slightly north.

The war in Sudan broke out last month between the de-facto military ruler Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a paramilitary group led by General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, after the alliance between the two men broke down last year. 

The fighting — which has been centered in Khartoum, Omdurman, and other cities around the country — has had devastating consequences for civilians. Before the conflict, Sudan already had 3.7 million displaced people in the country. Now, an additional 334,000 people are estimated to have been internally displaced, and another 120,000 have fled to nearby countries, according to reports from the World Health Organization. As of May 1, officials say that at least 550 people have been killed and over 4,900 injured, though tolls are likely higher.

Due to the heavy fighting in the area, there have been no confirmed reports so far detailing the extent of the damage.

“The problem with the museums and the main museum, the National Museum, is that they are located in the heart of the capital, which is exactly at the center of where the fighting is happening between the two groups,” Sudanese journalist and political cartoonist Khalid Al Baih told Hyperallergic

The Sudan National Museum is the largest museum in Sudan. Constructed in 1955 and established in 1971, the two-story building and its surrounding gardens are home to the most extensive Nubian archaeological collection in the world, with objects spanning the Paleolithic through the Islamic period from all across the country.

“No one knows how bad it is, inside or outside, and what’s happened to the artifacts,” Al Baih said. 

He explained that one artist who had gotten stuck inside the museum for two weeks after the fighting began, communicated over the phone that there was “a lot of damage done” inside the National Museum, but details regarding the extent were unclear.

“People have been in that area trying to get out since the beginning of the conflict, 23 days ago,” he continued.

The museum’s collections, Al Baih told Hyperallergic, tell a larger story about Sudan as a whole, as a country that struggles to unite over one national identity.

“One of the main issues in Sudan is the identity crisis,” he said. “Because of colonialism and neglect from people in power, we have a lot of stolen history; we have a lot of history that we don’t know of; and we have a lot of artifacts that are not being taken care of in the right way. And now it’s going to be even worse when 6,000 years of the country’s history will be literally erased.”

Maya Pontone (she/her) is a Staff News Writer at Hyperallergic. Originally from Northern New Jersey, she currently resides in Brooklyn, where she covers daily news, both within and outside New York City....