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PhD Project in Sudan

PhD Project (finished): “Projections, plans, and projects. Development as the extension of organizing principles and its consequences in the rural Nuba Mountains / South Kordofan, Sudan”

This thesis discusses the conditions of social interaction in development projects in the rural Nuba Mountains (Sudan) between 2005 and 2011. Above all, the study examines conditions of structural instability in the region, which are also reflected in processes of planning and implementation supposedly technical in nature. The concepts ‘problematization’, ‘translation’ and ‘organizing principles’ are used in order to grasp the complex relation between political and technical problems. The analysis is based on the results of overall 12 months of fieldwork (participant observation, narrative interviews) at different places in the Sudan (Khartoum, Kadugli, Heiban, Abol, Kubang). Beside relevant regional studies, the written sources included historical documents (letters, reports of the colonial administration) from the Sudan Archive in Durham, recent governmental documents, as well as documents of national and international development organizations.

The Nuba Mountains, situated in the state of South Kordofan in the Republic of Sudan, have throughout history been a ‘remote’ area: a stage for moving and removing in different ways. Viewed as a region, one of its major characteristics has always been a certain unsteadiness, which contrasts with the steadiness of its defining physical feature, the mountains themselves. Although some of its hill communities remained more or less untouched for extended periods, documented traces of its history are full of movement: inter-communal warfare, slave raids, militarily enforced ‘peace’ and resettlement, civil war and flight, with the addition of religious missions, labour, educational and professional migration, and occasional tourism.

The specific area under discussion, nowadays known as rīfī Heiban, lies in the eastern region of the Nuba Mountains. Before a recent war (1987-2002), the rural town of Heiban had been an area of touristic quality. With the war and the dismantling of public buildings by armed forces, the population became concentrated and movement in the area was placed under close control. Large scale fighting stopped here only after a Ceasefire Agreement was signed in 2002 by the major antagonists, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement / Army (SPLM/A) and the Government of Sudan (GoS), based in the capital Khartoum. This was followed by extensive peace talks conducted in Kenya, which resulted in a Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), signed on January 9th, 2005.

During and after the war, the provision of food and water has always been a matter of concern in the region, as its population and leaders failed to establish stable arrangements or non-violent contest. The fragility of both previous and present arrangements left room for substantial improvement, which was attempted, for instance, through development projects.

In reference to this situation, this thesis discusses the implications of development projects as emerging social sites in Heiban between the promises of a signed peace agreement (2005) and the restart of an old war (2011). The analysis starts with the preconception that ‘development’, as an organizational field, is formed of intertwined political and technical processes. ‘Political’ in this context refers to the act of defining ‘problems’; in other words, the process by which it is decided that something either is or is not a problem. ‘Technical’ here refers to the finding of solutions to these defined problems. In the course of the argument, prioritization is proposed as the element that makes their co-existence inevitable: Various decisions about what is more or less important define courses of action in both.

Because this decision-making process cannot be reduced to a set of simple, single organizing principles, its analysis requires various flexible perspectives. In consequence, the chosen textual strategy works with different points of view, in order to produce an analysis that is simultaneously both linear and cyclical – linear in its transformation of fieldwork-based anecdotal observations into a successive narrative; cyclical in the sense that it employs successive different perspectives in the process of doing so. Thus, rather than suggesting ‘the’ reading of ‘the’ situation, the text presents several different readings of situations and their context. To reflect this, the text is therefore organized in a particular form, reflected in the organization of the contents as a table displaying both rows and columns.

The rows in the contents represent case-studies based on specific issues, namely food production, water supply, extension of infrastructure, and processes of information. Each row, then, can be taken to indicate the unfolding of a particular ‘cycle’ of interpretation, each corresponding to a specific issue, or identified ‘problem’. The argumentative logic of the rows is thus problem-oriented: How to increase the output of agricultural production? How to increase the availability of water? How to connect rural areas? How to know what rural areas have and need?

The rationale of the columns is to focus attention on the particular perspective underlying their chapters. Two sets of perspectives are thereby developed. Columns 1 and 2 combine ethnographic observations and their analysis. Column 1 concentrates on narrative approaches to the raised issues by asking: What issues are of concern, and to whom, in situations that I, as fieldworker, have encountered? Column 2 contains systematic analyses related to these issues, yet also highlights the existing heterogeneity of epistemological practices.

Columns 3 to 5 relate form and content in a different way. The elements ‘situation assessment’, ‘definition of objectives’, ‘planning’, ‘implementation’, and ‘monitoring & evaluation’ are the basic phases in many cyclic models of development project management. They are used here to indicate the various interrelated perspectives employed to analyse the implications of development projects on different scales: Column 3 discusses how the future is problematized in international and national development discourses by pointing at disparities between ‘probably will be’ and ‘should be’, referred to in this text as projections. Several models and practices of projecting scenarios of the ‘future’ are presented in their relation to ongoing development programmes in Sudan, especially in South Kordofan.

Column 4 examines documentation relating to planning activities, such as governmental five-year plans, strategic maps, and programme outlines of international development organizations. It also offers a critique of the plans’ assumptions and their political implications. Finally, column 5 follows narrative accounts and the author’s own observations of resulting practices in specific projects.

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