I arrived in Juba on Saturday, with Douglas Johnson (Dr Douglas, as he seems to be known) to re-start the Juba Archives project with the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports in the South Sudan Government.
We came from Nairobi – after the very successful and brain-filling Rift Valley Institute Sudans course, which I was lucky enough to be helping with – and landed at the old terminal, the new one rumoured to be finished in six weeks (I remember hearing that six weeks before independence last year, but hey). We’re at a guesthouse next to the anglican cathedral, which is fine – once we sorted out the politics – and has friendly chickens and staff.
South Sudan has a really good archive. You wouldn’t know it: a huge pile of interesting and often important information from the 1940s to 1990s is buried in mouldering, termite-ridden files under miscellaneous poo, mould, sacking, a collection of spears, Enid Blyton books and an oil painting of Nimeiri in a USAID tent in Juba.
I present a montage of photos from 2008, 2011 and today. Firstly, photos from my first visit to the Juba archives in the tent in 2008:
Then the still-standing tent in 2010:
And the archives today.
Since 2009, the surviving intact files from the provinces – the main legislative divisions – that have survived (the Wau archives in Bahr el Ghazal were burnt during the second wars, for no clear reason, by the then governor) were transferred to a house in Munuki, an area of Juba. The Upper Nile province files have been boxed and mostly catalogued in a paper handbook.
The plan for the next six weeks is as follows: to inspire the archive staff to carry on with the boring, detailed, and above all dirty work with no clear end in sight; to catalogue the remaining Equatoria Province; to clear out the tent (which is leaking) of the remaining district files and whatever else can be saved; and to start digitizing priority files, like on borders and boundaries, and possibly on local conflicts.
A further priority, a personal one, is to find as much useful information for my PhD as possible. Who says I can’t be selfish, when I’m having to swipe dead spiders off files all day?