Speech of H.E. Ambassador Jean-Michel Dumond,
Head of Delegation of the European Union to Sudan
on the occasion of Kerma Expo
Friendship Hall – 8:30 am
European Union Ambassador with Charles Bonnet, archeologist in Kerma
It is my great honor to be here today, and to share with you all and our guests from abroad, the launching of a project that was planned already a long time ago, and that will hopefully leave lasting and sustainable trace.
I would have wished, of course, that circumstances would have been different, and that we would not be deploring the recent loss of many human lives, in the current crisis. I want on this occasion to pay tribute to all victims, and when I say all, I mean all. We are therefore not in a festive mood today. We are not in any ways celebrating but we are taking part to a very important professional event. The reason of our presence here today to this expert meeting is that we believe one needs to look beyond. Our goal is very concrete. We want to contribute to build a better future for Sudan and for the Sudanese people. And when I say “build”, it is not only a metaphor. We believe it is possible to build buildings better adapted to the conditions prevailing in Sudan. We also want to contribute to a better knowledge of Sudanese identity by people abroad but also by Sudanese and to support the promotion and preservation of Sudanese heritage.
The European Delegation in Sudan has decided from the beginning to support this initiative of the Sudanese Architecture Forum towards a better understanding of Sudan’s vernacular heritage but also to support a renewed vision of the potential of earth architecture in contemporary Sudan, and more generally of the potential of an architecture rooted in the traditions and culture of this country, more adapted to the challenges of climate change.
There are many reasons for the support the EU has decided to bring to this initiative:
Looking at the history of earth architecture, it is obvious that it has always been an essential part of the sudanese cultural richness. If one reflects on how people from all over the world relate to Sudan’s history in cultural identity, earth architecture is a major asset. Thanks to the work of many European archeological missions in Sudan, the public gains, year after year, a better knowledge about civilizations such as the one in Dukki Gel, that are gradually emerging into the light. In fact, much of Sudan’s vernacular architecture is earthen based from the ancient kingdom of Kerma (2500- 1500 B.C) to the clay brick town of Al Khandaq. In 2015, the Sudanese List of World Heritage was reviewed to include the Kingdom of Kerma and Al Khandaq.
Those two essential milestones in the history of sudanese heritage are all unique earth architecture. They yet deserve to be better known. And they deserve to be better preserved. We hope, in the next few days, to help raising the collective awareness of the community (experts, professionals and authorities) about this technique and it’s glorious past, about the immense value that it represents. We are hopeful that this will actually change the representations, and reinforce the conviction that it needs to be preserved and better shared. We also have to draw lessons in order to improve our modern techniques.
Today, in developing countries, more than one half of the human people live in earthen houses. It has proven impossible to rely on industrial building materials, i.e. concrete and steel alone to fulfil the requirements for shelter in countries such as Sudan. However, with modern living requirements and the influence of industrialization and foreign culture and technology, Earthen Techniques have taken the back seat in the construction industry.
Earth buildings are environmentally friendly. They constitute economic solutions particularly for public buildings and rural areas as earth is considered a local material to almost every part of Sudan. Earthen technologies can also provide much needed feasible shelters while providing labor skills and job opportunities, including to the many internally displaced people displaced by wars and environment changes around Sudan.
Beyond the earthen architecture, we have to build, theoretically and concretely, on the past successful architectural experiences in Sudan which can help us tackle the present challenges. Too often, we claim to be modern (Senegal) - but what is to be modern as the French thinker Bruno Latour was asking – we want to appear fashionable but we are maybe not inventive enough, we are not audacious enough. We use the same architectural patterns all over the world. While countries are so different one from the other, while conditions are different, climates are different, while challenges are different. We forget that by using lessons which we can draw from vernacular architecture, without of course neglecting new techniques, we can build nicer buildings, more rooted in the history and culture of Sudan, more linked with the people of Sudan, more adapted to the dry, hot and dusty climate but also cheaper and creating many skilled jobs while maintaining a long and remarkable tradition of arts and crafts and last but not least using local products rather than imported ones.
We are convinced that this workshop will persuade all stakeholders that glass and steel architecture is not the only solution.
Increasingly, the EU in the past few years has been supporting culture in the context of development cooperation, and the preservation of cultural heritage is at the core of this emerging policy.
At the core of EU’s action, as you all know, is the commitment to promoting a global order based on peace, rule of law, freedom of expression, mutual understanding and respect for fundamental rights. Cultural diversity is an integral part of the values that the European Union is promoting. This action is thus one of those actions serving this same overall goal of preserving cultural diversity.
Interventions in the field of culture have not only cultural benefits. They also bring economic benefits. Global trade in creative products has more than doubled in the past ten years, whilst culture is a central element in the new economy driven by creativity, innovation and access to knowledge. Cultural and creative industries represent around 3% of the global GDP and 30 million jobs. In the EU alone, these industries account for over 7 million jobs. Likewise, in developing countries, the cultural and creative sectors contribute to promoting sustainable development and inclusive growth. Culture can therefore help promote job creation and competitiveness. It is therefore another very good reason to invest in the promotion of cultural heritage. We think that there is a chance for Sudan.
We hope that the presence of many experts, and let thank them deeply for their commitment, coming from various parts of the world, will help spread the message here in Sudan, and comfort those who are convinced, like we all are, that this cultural asset should be reactivated. As I said, we hope to create a lasting momentum in favor of this potentially very beneficial and sustainable approach to building, so that eventually a renewed interest will pave the way for a meaningful change.
Finally, allow me to thank and recognize all the partners of this project: the Sudanese Architecture Forum, who has managed to maintain this high level international symposium in difficult circumstances, with the support of the Ministry of Culture, the SEFAS, UNESCO, the Swiss Embassy, for their various precious contributions.
I trust those two days will be very fruitful and will help place Sudan on the map if not at the center of an
international network of professionals.