Juba working hours – at least for many of us – are six days a week, over 12 hours a day; so I prioritise my Saturday morning nail bar sessions. The nail bar, as I may have mentioned, is a wooden bench on the porch of a pharmacy in the middle of Souk Libya in Munuki, the suburb of Juba that I live in, just opposite the cucumber-and-stock-cube seller and along from the dried fish section.
My Sundays here in Juba are sacred days, despite my embarrassed apologies to my compound-mates and neighbours when I decline their offers of church trips at 8:30am every week. Sunday is my only proper day off every week: it is pool day.
There’s a pool culture in Juba, and has been since the first swimming pool was dug (at the Norwegian Embassy, obviously) post-CPA. I have been a habitué of Nimule Logistics pool for the eight months; one of the oldest hotels in Juba, and located in the warren of Tong Piny by the airport and UNMISS main compound, those who want to look like old hands make sure they refer to it as Logistics rather than Hotel, a name from a previous era.
Poolside, by 11am there are swarms of mostly non-Southerners. The white crowd gets in early, stripping down and maneuvering umbrellas around the sunbeds. A host of old hippie tattoos see the light of day, outshone by the ex-army demining men with their all-over decorations (fewer butterflies). Two of the regulars have tattoos of Africa – as in, the African continent. By 2pm, most people are standing in the pool, frustrating the latecomer serious swimmers by blocking lanes. All hope of swimming evaporates by 3pm, when the Ethiopian, Eritrean and Libyan/Syrian contingents stop drinking and begin divebombing, and the few Kenyan, Ugandan and South Sudanese swimmers take to the shallow – and sometimes the deep – end to learn or teach others how to swim.
UNESCO and the Rift Valley Institute warmly invite you to a public lecture
The Role of Archives in Nation Building
by Dr. Douglas H. Johnson, Rift Valley Institute
UNESCO House, Thongping
Monday 18 February 2013, 6pm
Every government produces new documents daily, and every government needs an efficient archive service in order to preserve and retrieve documents when needed. Despite this, archives in South Sudan have always been given a low priority in national development planning and funding, being seen as a matter of history and the past, rather than the present.
Yet many of the current political debates in South Sudan have their roots in the nation’s political past, and the record of that debate can be found in various archives – such as the manifestos of South Sudan’s political parties and exile movements preserved in the administrative record in Juba.
Questions of national reconciliation can benefit from an examination of the way previous governments promoted reconciliation on a regular basis at the local level. Boundary making needs to review records of past boundaries.
Despite many self-inflicted wounds resulting in the loss of valuable documentation, South Sudan still has a significant body of archival material spanning over 100 years of government to draw on in order to see what worked in the past, what didn’t work, and why. What is needed is a strong commitment to preservation, conservation and access. Otherwise South Sudan will lose the record of its past through neglect.
The National Archives Project of South Sudan is currently implemented by UNESCO, UNOPS and the Rift Valley Institute together with the Ministry of Culture Youth and Sports, generously funded by the Government of Norway.
Most people I meet here in Juba are frantically reading about South Sudan; pretty much anything they can get their hands on. The sheer complexity of living and attempting to work here – let alone run organisations in South Sudan – means that, firstly, people realize that they don’t know enough; then they realize they don’t know enough history; then they realize they don’t have enough time.
Which is why pre-reading is important. Not just the usual suspects – as I mentioned, I think, Douglas H. Johnson is out here working with me on the National Archives project and while we are a terrifying team (I hope), I am constantly reminded that he wrote the seminal book on South Sudan’s civil wars – but the extended, historical pre-reading and thought, the realization that you can’t just read about the CPA period, and the increasingly prevalent and frustrating idea that you can work in South Sudan without trying to understand Sudan.
So this is why I’m going to do a shameless plug. Most of the heads of missions and embassies here in Juba are alumni of the Rift Valley Institute’s Field Courses; I assisted my PhD supervisor, Professor Justin Willis of Durham University, in running the 2012 course last summer. And despite having just spent a year’s worth of time in an excellent library, in six archives, and doing very little work that wasn’t reading, writing and thinking about Sudan and South Sudan, it was extremely intensive and absolutely vital to my understanding of the two countries.
I can’t recommend the Sudan and South Sudan course enough; the other courses I hear from previous participants are just as intensive and worthwhile. (They are also fabulous networking opportunities.) So, despite my RVI affiliation, I’m plugging. Find the briefs and outlines below.
Two reports that have come up recently, that I will present with no comment. The first is an editorial from the New Times from this week, saying:
Many have written and said they are puzzled that the decrees [from President Kiir sacking military generals and the Lakes State governor] didn’t have an explanation of the reasoning behind such far reaching decisions. … Yet, this clamoring for reasons is an impossible urge to fulfill. … Requiring explanation for every naming or firing would require that a leader, instead of spending days and nights governing, would spend weeks and months explaining. It’s impractical… So, let’s shut up and make noise later if the new appointees fail.
And from the new Lakes State interim governor, Major General Matur Chut Dhuol:
He… warned members of Lakes state’s legislative assembly to stop debating politics in parliament, saying he will shut down parliament if political topics continue. … Part of his brief, said Dhuol, was to restore peace and security before the kick-off of the 2015 national elections. He warned against those pursuing a political agenda ahead of that time, saying there was “no room for politics [from] now until 2015”.
So where is the room for politics in South Sudan, then?
We don’t have shelves yet. This means our archive boxes – not the sturdiest of things anyway – are collapsing under the weight of files. So for a sweaty hour yesterday, I persuaded the initially unenthusiastic staff to do a serious re-stacking effort. And we’ve achieved beautiful lines of hopefully less collapse-prone, more consultable rows.