Concerns over Sudan museum artefacts

Sudan National Museum (file photo: Wikipedia)

KHARTOUM / OMDURMAN – June 5, 2023

Civilians and activists expressed fears that the contents of the National Museum in Khartoum might be damaged after the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) took control of the premises and footage of museum raids circulated on social media.

Activists and Sudanese heritage officials have expressed their concerns and pleaded with the RSF and the army to preserve historical artefacts.

The National Museum in Khartoum contains tens of thousands of historical artefacts, including mummies from 2,500 BCE, some of the oldest in the world.

The museum staff was forced to leave due to the ongoing fighting. Its location in central Khartoum means that the museum is located close to the frontlines of the clashes.

Pictures of museum vandalism circulated on social media, but it was confirmed that several photos were from incidents at museums outside Sudan. The Rapid Support Forces reported in a video clip on their official account that the museum was intact and had not been subjected to any vandalism.

Museum Director Ghalia Gharelnabi, however, told the Guardian that staff were “in a state of shock” after seeing a video clip that showed RSF troops in the museum’s bioarchaeology lab, opening storage containers containing mummies and other remains.

“To start with, I did not believe what I was seeing. Now I am worried about where else they might have gone in the museum that no one filmed, and what else they are going to do,” said Gharelnabi, who managed to flee to the Netherlands after her house was destroyed when clashes erupted in April.

‘I did not believe what I was seeing’ – Ghalia Gharelnabi, director of the National Museum

A French archaeological team in Sudan has been monitoring satellite pictures of the museum and already noticed potential evidence of damage to the premises before Friday, including signs of burning, the Guardian reported.

Other heritage

The RSF have reportedly also occupied the tomb of Mohamed Ahmed bin Abdallah in Omdurman. Abdallah is known as El Mahdi [the Chosen One], who led the Mahdist War in the late 19th century to free Sudan from Anglo-Egyptian rule and whose family members have played an important role in Sudanese politics since, and a museum that recently opened in Omdurman in the former home of El Khalifa Abdallahi bin Mohamed, who succeeded El Mahdi.

Both are used as bases by the RSF, which could attract shelling and airstrikes according to concerned experts.