At the launch of Dr Nyaba’s new book, ‘South Sudan: the state we aspire to’, today at the New Sudan Palace hotel in Juba, the panel quite strangely didn’t opt to take questions from the relatively large audience. Instead, we were presented with three speakers: Dr Cirino Ofufo Hiteng, the previous Minister for Culture, Youth and Sports; Professor George Bureng Nyombe, eminent scholar of Bari history; and the Hon. Canon Clement Janda, SPLM member, ECS priest and previous SPLM Envoy for Darfur.
I’ll admit that panels speaking about a book that the audience hasn’t read, in Juba, tend to be paeans rather than solid recommendations, notes or criticisms on the author’s arguments, and I wasn’t expecting to be overawed – although I was keen to get my hands on a copy. I was enjoyably wrong.
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.
The Juba Lectures 2013 have started, and I am exhausted: I organised the speakers and panels in the last three weeks as the local Rift Valley Institute hand here, and have spent most of my time running around Juba on the back of a motorbike trying to meet a variety of VIPs and activists of various stripes to speak on the constitutional process in South Sudan.
Professor Akolda Tier, the chairman of the Constitutional Review Commission and a quiet, academic and conservative man, was our keynote speaker last night, on a panel set up to focus on practicalities: is there the political will to actually create a new constitution, and would it involve a consultative process? Why has the commission still not started, despite it overrunning its mandated period? Is the two year extension a political move designed to put off elections in 2015? Etc.
This is a small aspect of my paper about the national identity process in Juba, South Sudan, presented on Monday at the 9th Sudan and South Sudan studies international conference in Bonn.
In the passport and identity card issuing offices in Juba town, the queues and waiting applicants crowd the courtyard. The gates are manned by suited men with a half-working metal detector and some ambiguous ledgers; the security staff are preoccupied with crowd control at the entrances and exits of the photograph and identification offices, holding back the otherwise orderly queues.
Official staff are therefore relatively thin on the ground in this compound, in comparison to the mass of aspiring citizens. However, this office is at the centre of a sprawling secondary bureaucracy that spreads out around the compound, and has created a form of vicarious officialdom – informal and unsalaried, but part sanctioned (or at least tolerated) and part-integrated into the state process at its centre.
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.
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.
Garang's statue - ready to be unveiled
I’m currently working my way through an essay based on the ‘academic’ publishing of Southern Sudanese ‘intellectuals’ – including, obviously, John Garang.
Reading through his published speeches, pamphlets, letters and essays, I’ve been thinking again about how his political ideas, most specifically his idea of a national, democratic ‘New Sudan’, has been deleted: his quotes edited, speeches deleted, and political aims rewritten.
I’ve no strong feelings about this: Garang was a difficult man and easily criticised, and his political vision(s) contained a good few inconsistencies, were often hazy about their practical application, and were not necessarily reflective of popular opinions.
The one very useful statement Garang made has been quoted everywhere:
No matter that, earlier in this speech, Garang was talking about the primary need for a ‘New Sudan’, and hopes for unity. His statement about ‘second class citizens’ is a widely used phrase, and the more Garang is selectively quoted, the more he’s rehabilitated as the godfather of South Sudan and the leader of the fight for independence.
Although it was Salva Kiir’s face that was everywhere during Independence Day – including on a huge poster that entirely covered the side of the new airport building – Garang’s face is on apparently all the new notes in the first run of South Sudanese currency; probably because he’s a dead martyr rather than a living president.
This was my first summer of being a tourist in Sudan: my first time in Khartoum, and my second time in Juba since 2007. Admittedly I did a bit of work in Juba and a conference in Khartoum, but I was primarily a tourist. I visited museums, went to ‘cultural events’, took a few nervous photos; it was a great summer.
Being a history student here in Juba is highly appropriate at the moment. The phrase ‘historic moment’ is being happily overused across the international press, and people in the bus yesterday morning were talking about a ‘new history’ for South Sudan.
Elf mabrouk to the newest country in the world!
I’ve been in Juba for the celebrations, coming up from Kampala on a bus packed to the roof with returning Southerners travelling from Nairobi. Passports of all colours – predominantly USA blue – were produced at the border, but everyone was excited about becoming, finally, South Sudanese.
The week has been relatively tense in Juba, as concrete and tarmac sets slowly in the baking heat, huge numbers of police and soldiers set up road blocks and machine-gun posts all over town in four rings of security, and public transport shut down. Several arrests of foreign journalists meant I persuaded the Ministry of Information to give me a press pass to try to avoid problems with photography.