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.
There are a few places in the centre of Juba Town where returned, destitute Southerners have put up tents and shacks, often strung from the eaves of other houses and businesses, on the sides of the road. Most of the inhabitants of these street villages are old women and very young children in the daytime, with younger women returning and cooking in the evening, as well as some older disabled men.
So today, passing the crossing with the rubbish dump that houses several well-established families – including one tent that has been there for at least a year – I was surprised to see a bulldozer, no tents, and groups of people sitting, visibly angrily, by the side of the road, holding folded burlap and rolled bed matting.
I’ve written about Central Equatoria State/Juba Town Council’s happy go lucky policies of ‘kasha’ – land clearance – and their blind eye to land clearance done by ministries and other powerful people. I had been wondering when Juba Town would pull a Khartoum on their poor residents; apparently it’s started today.
The National Archive of South Sudan has had (and still has) an unglamourous life. Collected by Douglas Johnson in two years before conflict restarted in 1983, left to rot in its own dust in the basement of a girls’ school in Juba for twenty years, and then shunted from one place to another since the peace deal – sustaining a metre’s worth of water damage, termite infestations, rats eating into the sacks of damaged papers, and bad handling in the process: the documents are possibly the least important, least loved but longest lived development project in Juba.
There are a lot of names in the new South Sudan archive. This is because these files are the historical jackpot for Southern history; they are the local, daily and everyday files of administration, financial dealing and political organising. While there are many repositories of archival material on Sudan in the world, not least in Durham, most of the documentation is larger-scale: from administrators, governments and political movements, and from bishops and priests.