This project forms the basis of my habilitation and builds on 15+ years of research in Sudan: from post-war economy and development in the Nuba Mountains, to humanitarian-military complexes there and in other war zones (e.g. Darfur), to the more specific case of gold mining spreading throughout the country in the wake of the global financial crisis of 2008. The latter occurred often in the same areas coming out of armed conflicts, and relates them to regions where mining has greater historical depth (e.g. Nubian desert).

This research interlocked variably with other aspects ‘on the way’:

  • historical narratives and how they relate to political discourses on issues such as belonging and land rights;
  • development projects as social sites that are intended to induce changes to supply situa-tions while struggling with contradictory aims and practices of participant actors, and with the tensions inherent in the global development industry;
  • borderlands as complex landscapes of exchange, oscillating between border-crossing social relations and border-confirming national politics of territory;
  • and acceleration of shifts in gender relations by war and modernized gold mining alike.

Arguably, the underlying issue is resource distribution and how societal practices of organising this distribution reflects how it handles the most basic political economic problem: how to negotiate and define when a resource is considered to be ‘scarce’ and how to decide who is to benefit from this ‘scarce’ resource. In the wake of a broader understanding of what a resource is (e.g. Bourdieu’s forms of capital), this can include such valuables as virtue, behavioural conformity or the size or boundaries of one’s social group. In fact, an extended-case view on each of these themes informs that they present variations on this basic topos, on what can be called political ecology.

Accordingly, the aim of the habilitation is to benefit from a long-term view on interconnected conflicts over resources in Sudan to develop a multiscalar, intersectional analysis that can show how macro-political dynamics and concerns translate into location-specific (‘local’) political interactions and vice-versa. This is facilitated by the circumstance that the focus period of the research informed by fieldwork (2005-2020) is framed by three major events: a Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005 that ended 22-years of civil war – parallel to the climax of violence in Darfur – and that led to the separation of South Sudan in 2011, followed by a steady economic decline of northern Sudan until the collapse of the 30-year military regime under Omar Al-Bashir in 2019, starting an embattled transitional period whose outcome is still very much uncertain.

An in-depth analysis of this period through the lense of resource conflicts is not just intended as contribution to regional political history. Apart from its tremendous implications for questions on the conditions under which political change can take place in the region, the focus on envi-ronmental governance keeps observations necessarily linked on several scales, e.g.:

  • the rise of the former regime was linked to how the emerging oil economies in the Gulf countries projected Sudan as their breadbasket, financing export-oriented merchants from Islamic movements in the process;
  • the radicalization of conflicts in several areas was underlined by the experience of the Sahel drought in the 1980s and other subsequent crises of resource scarcity but was pushed over the edge by the distributional injustice resulting from centralized distribution of land property and mineral revenues fuelling an export-oriented economy;
  • a large, impoverished segment of the population was torn between internal displacement to camps or towns, emigration, joining armed movements, going gold mining etc.;
  • the environmental effects of sprawling cities and artisanal mining led to new conflicts with older residents there, while the main beneficiaries of gold mining were export-oriented traders, many with links to the now former regime.

While many of these appear as ‘classical’ conflicts, summarized in such conventional terms as resource curse, cycle of poverty or proletarisation, the combination of macro-economic and macro-political with location-specific, ‘ecological’ observations promises to yield insights into political processes of negotiation and transformation between the broad lines, so much, indeed, that occurring changes – such as the largely unpredicted December revolution of 2018/2019 – can both be related to each other and qualified concerning their structural resilience and local relevance. Different from layered concepts of scale, however, I endeavour to relate to concepts that allow concomitantly for continuity and ‘leap-frogging’, intent and serendipity, routine and improvisation while benefitting from the rich debates on human-nature relations that go beyond a purely instrumental understanding of resources.

Ultimately, these conceptual considerations will lead back to the observational issue at hand: how do different permanent or temporary residents in Sudan’s most conflicted areas define what they ‘have’ around them, if and how it should be extracted and put to use, and who should be allowed to do that. Given the nature of conflicts as outlined at the beginning, a differentiated insight into this issue can contribute not only to a more embedded discussion if and how a transition to less violent and more just distributive dynamics is achieved. It also represents an overarching attempt to bridge the more ‘illustrious’ ecological debates and artefacts with the gritty details of struggles over dust and rocks and what they may allow to extract; in other words, a political ecology informed by economics, science, philosophy and art.

Key publication