Quick update on the South Sudan National Archives, from the African Studies Association conference in Baltimore.
A few months ago, the Ministry of Culture staff, with Dan and me from the RVI, moved the final load of loose paper from the USAID tent where they’d been housed since 2006, their first post-war home. These were the last of the damaged pages from burst files, which are now waiting for someone who enjoys serious puzzles.
Three weeks ago, when passing, I saw that we were right to get out of the tent. Temporary in the Juba climate really does mean temporary.
- What is South Sudan reconciling from? According to the first page of the working paper, independence was attained as “a united people”; while (finally) Southern internal divisions and fighting during the first and second civil wars is acknowledged on page 4, these are noted as “artificially created”. If the Committee cannot recognise serious, politically- and socially-based divisions in the ‘struggle’, and cannot break out of this standardised ‘we-all-fought-together-for-independence’ dominant narrative, then how is it going to be able to let people speak on these divisions – the “community narratives of the war” that they want to uncover, on page 6? Continue reading
A hat made of a plastic football, in Juba.
I’m re-starting my PhD properly on Thursday, after six months of working on my Arabic, which is still only shweya, and on the South Sudan National Archives, which is also shweya, although a little less of a mushkila than when I arrived. I’m leaving Juba for Aweil – after my previous trip, I think it’s a good enough place to start work – on Thursday, with no real fixed plan after that.
Aweil is very beautiful, in a completely different way. I really like Central Equatoria, particularly now the rains have started in earnest and everything is bright, fluorescent green, but northern Bahr el Ghazal has something otherworldly about it.
Peace, national healing and reconciliation have been discussed as fundamentally necessary agenda items for South Sudan since independence nearly two years ago. These ideas are steeped in South African post-apartheid and Rwanda post-genocide legacies, and there is no shortage of people and organisations wanting a piece of this psychological restitution game – or proposing ways (or more often, the problems) of doing it.
The key issue for a while has seemed to be a lack of political will for such a huge and complex project. If anything, government understandings of the war have been going the other way: there is a well established, government propagated single historical narrative. ‘We’ fought together, died together, bound by the same united ideological desire for an independent ‘South’; internal divisions were the product of machinations from the evil North; the war, peace and finally independence were all won by ‘bullet and ballot,’ and nobody voted against independence in 2011.
A quick update. I’m back in Juba after a quick trip down south to Nimule National Park; I’m now tied up in a week’s worth of meetings on the designs for the future South Sudan National Archives building, and on fire safety and pest control in our current location (which is conveniently full of bugs and dodgy wiring, with rains coming). I’m also trying to keep the flagging staff motivated, while looking for key files for digitisation (see after the cut for a good historical find), and organising staff meetings and teams on future protection issues in the medium-term before we get our beautiful shiny permanent building in 2015.
This is probably not the advised method of moving archives around a town; but we have too much paper and we’re trying to resort 2000 files from Equatoria Province in a small house with no air con. Give us a break.