We started our first week of archiving with an impromptu and relatively unexpected press conference in the Ministry of Culture (and youth and sports, obviously); this is apparently in the pattern of the South Sudan archives, where there is no interest (or funding) for a year until a short flurry of interest happens, prompted by something small.
This weekend, it was International Archive Day on Saturday 9th – not something I knew about until two guys walked into the archive in Munuki bearing posters and a happy-go-UNMISS (UN Mission in South Sudan) attitude. They are apparently archivists at UNMISS – and gave me posters as my first souvenir (geek-out!). They also brought journalists from Miraya FM (a UN-funded radio station, and listenable online), and I was interviewed for a snippet on Saturday morning.
The problem with archives, though, is that while there are real treasures in them – particularly in un-dug files like those in Juba, which haven’t been used for research projects since the 1970s and 1980s by a very few academics – they’re hardly immediate news. Speaking to a journalist at Free Voice, a Netherlands journalism NGO, today, it was hard to make the case for immediate news-worthiness. We found the original trial transcripts of the 1955 mutineers in Torit, who are now seen as the originators of the several civil wars in the South! Not new news. We found lists and lists of demobilised guerrilla fighters’ names from the Anyanya rebellion movement! Not new news – even if they’re a lot of people’s grandparents.
Archives are rarely marketable; that’s not their purpose. It’s just that until they are housed safely, in a good building, with as open access as possible, and working as a national resource for education and politics, they need publicity, funding and commitment.