Green citizenship. Urban experiences in the treatment of nature

In these times of climate change and its increasingly visible consequences for the environment and societies, we investigate citizens’ actions to treat, conserve and manage nature in African cities, especially in the context of political and/or economic crises.

As is the case with many other urban contexts in the Global South, Sudan’s capital city of Khartoum is often described as unsanitary and overcrowded. Environmental degradation and an acceleration in the deterioration of its quality of life have been reported (Ille and Steel, 2021; Pantuliano et al., 2011). At the same time, with its particular ecology, and its location in a sort of oasis in the Sahel desert at the confluence of the White Nile and the Blue Nile (Lavie et al., 2021; Babiker, 1971), Khartoum has inherited a history of urbanisation that is marked by a great diversity of colonial and postcolonial projects (Assal, 2008; Davies and Abu Sin, 1991). The city is currently experiencing a political and economic crisis – which has worsened in the course of the past decade – that is weakening the social fabric and increasing the vulnerability of the urban population. In a context such as this, environmental issues are subject to political and economic crises and come in second place after existing public policies, international aid, the media and academic research.

There are therefore important gaps in the data needed to establish the state of urban ecosystems and their degradation with precision, and to design the actions that must  be taken to address them, despite the fact that we now know that urban spaces have an important functional role to play in broader environmental dynamics (Muller et al., 2018).

The aim of the GREEN CITIZENSHIP survey is therefore to address the local environmental practices of urban dwellers in Khartoum. Private gardens open to the public, neighbourhood collectives for the preservation of green spaces, protected spaces and public or private reserves, are among the local practices that weave urban ecosystems in their own fashion. They are related to a variety of management logics (including religious beliefs, neighbourly ties and the marketisation of the environment) and contribute to the maintenance of life and the preservation of nature in the city.

With this survey, it is our intention to explore the environment-related actions that contribute to the construction and practice of citizenship by focusing on the opportunities for action available to individuals and collectives that relate to their immediate everyday environments. At the same time, we seek to question the notion of ‘nature’ by stressing its social and cultural character, and by considering it as a historical construction.

This project is designed to include three main components, the aim being to gain an understanding of the social, historical and physical factors that determine the sustainability and stability of the city’s green spaces.

The first is a multi-sited ethnography to inventory, describe and analyse the uses and management practices of a sample of Khartoum’s green spaces.

The second aims to quantify, characterise and map the status and evolution of a sample of the city’s green spaces.

The objective of these first two components is to contribute to the recognition of the systems citizens of Sudan have developed to protect and treat with “nature” in Khartoum.

The purpose of the third component is to facilitate spaces for discussion (conferences and debates) and training (workshops on scientific drawing, cartography and scientific dissemination), and to develop devices for disseminating the ongoing reflections developed during the project (podcast, maps, scientific drawing) in order to expand the debate on ecological emergencies and imagine forms of action on different scales.

Key words 

Green spaces, city, nature, citizenship, crisis

Project coordinator: Luisa Arango, Coordinator, CEDEJ Khartoum, MEAE – CNRS USR 3123 and MCF in Anthropology at the University of Strasbourg, SAGE – UMR 7363.

Partner Institutions: CEDEJ Khartoum, MEAE/CNRS USR 3123, Laboratoire SAGE UMR 7363.

Funding institutions: CEDEJ Khartoum, MEAE/CNRS USR 3123, Laboratoire SAGE UMR 7363,  l’Institut Français.

As part of this project, an internship is proposed by the CEDEJ Khartoum, the UMR SAGE 7363 and the Institut Français

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