Assessing stakeholders’ perspectives towards the conservation of the built heritage of Suakin, SudanInternational Journal of Heritage Studies


Katherine Sarah Ashley, Mohamed Osmani, Stephen Emmitt, Michael Mallinson, Helen Mallinson
Tourism, Leisure and Hospitality Management / Geography, Planning and Development / Museology / Cultural Studies / History / Conservation


Assessing stakeholders’ perspectives towards the conservation of the built heritage of Suakin, Sudan

Katherine Sarah Ashleya*, Mohamed Osmanib, Stephen Emmittc,

Michael Mallinsond and Helen Mallinsone aCentre for Innovative and Collaborative Construction Engineering, Loughborough

University, Loughborough, UK; bCivil and Building Engineering, Loughborough University,

Loughborough, UK; cDepartment of Architecture and Civil Engineering, University of Bath,

Bath, UK; dMallinson Architects and Engineers, London, UK; eSir John Cass Faculty of Art,

Architecture and Design, London Metropolitan University, London, UK (Received 6 August 2014; final version received 4 November 2014)

The conservation of built heritage is recognized as a vehicle for sustaining local identity and a powerful instrument for urban regeneration. The problem of how to engage local culture in this process, however, has received comparatively little attention, despite the recognition of ‘stakeholders’ and the importance of their involvement. This research examines how collaboration between stakeholders might be established to conserve and thus help regenerate the historic and largely abandoned port town of Suakin. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with representatives of Suakin’s stakeholder groups and supported through archival analysis and observational studies. The intention was to explore the stakeholders’ views of the ‘conservation drivers’, ‘conservation practice’, and ‘conservation challenges and enablers’ affecting Suakin. The stakeholders’ response provides a preliminary status to the various perspectives concerning the conservation of

Suakin’s built heritage. The findings identify a number of major issues impacting

Suakin’s conservation and reveal a potential for implementing a comprehensive and inclusive conservation approach. The research establishes the case for further research to determine best methods to enable stakeholders to collaboratively address the issues impacting Suakin’s conservation. This approach to stakeholder involvement represents a new step towards the conservation of Suakin and a new contribution towards the conservation process.

Keywords: conservation practice; integrated approach; stakeholder engagement;



The conservation of built heritage is now widely recognized as a vehicle for sustaining local identity (Lin and Hsing 2009; Salama 2000) and a powerful instrument for urban regeneration: conservation initiatives can promote physical and environmental sustainability and economic and cultural development (Mangeli and Sattaripour 2009; Rypkema 2008). There has been a corresponding shift from ‘static’ conservation approaches, involving the preservation, maintenance and possible enhancement of existing built heritage (Salama 2000), towards a dynamic integrated approach that considers built heritage within its historic, cultural, social and physical contexts *Corresponding author. Email: © 2014 Katherine Sarah Ashley, Mohamed Osmani, Stephen Emmitt, Michael Mallinson and Helen Mallinson

International Journal of Heritage Studies, 2015

Published with license by Taylor & Francis.

Vol. 21, No. 7, 674–697, (Bianca 2007; Orbasli 2008; Vehbi 2008). The idea of an integrated approach towards the conservation of built heritage has been almost universally accepted for over thirty years (Salama 2000); however, it has been acknowledged more recently that to achieve an integrated conservation approach, it is necessary to include stakeholder participation and coordination (Bianca 2007; Ercan 2010; Yung and Chan 2011). How this might be done is less established. The means of enabling local involvement are poorly understood, and in practice, local stakeholders are often excluded from the conservation of their built heritage (Chirikure et al. 2010; Cueni 2007; Lin and Hsing 2009).

In the developing and Middle-Eastern realm, a number of ‘pioneering’ conservation projects utilizing integrated and participatory approaches have been attempted.

Such interventions are highly experimental due to the novelty of this approach within such regions, the unique context of individual sites (Bianca 2007) and a number of specific challenges. Included within these challenges are rapidly emerging urban environments, causing the destruction of historic structures to make way for new developments, and the deterioration of historic structures whilst agendas are focused towards new development rather than conservation (Bianca 2007; Boussa 2010). Inadequate local administrative structure, appropriate legislation and policy often prevent the identification and collective organization of stakeholders’ interests to enable participation within conservation initiatives (Daher 1999). Approaches, practices and legislation that guide the conservation of built heritage are often developed within a developed western context and often do not translate to local realities and values elsewhere (Assi 2008; Orbasli 2008). Specific developments associated with the conservation of built heritage, such as restoration, world heritage status and the cultural tourism this can bring, are driven by western investors; therefore, the results achieved through such efforts are often directed towards a foreign market, without bringing much benefit to the local communities removed from this process (Assi 2008). Collectively, these challenges suggest that an integrated conservation approach that works with the local culture needs both encouraging and substantial effort. Suakin, a once thriving port city on Sudan’s Red Sea coast that was abandoned in the early part of the twentieth century, faces these challenges to the conservation of its built heritage in specific ways.

The conservation of Suakin, Sudan

At its height, Suakin was Sudan’s major port, providing a gateway between Islamic culture and Eastern Africa on the pilgrimage route to Mecca, and facilitating a unique crossroads of Islamic, Sudanese, Ottoman and other cultures (Mallinson 2012). The historic town is made up of an island of approximately 400 by 600 metres within a natural lagoon harbour, a larger mainland area joined to the island by an artificial causeway (Figures 1 and 2) and a number of outlying fortifications.