August 20, 2019 – In July, the Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative (WPDI), in collaboration with UNESCO, the Rift Valley Institute, and the South Sudan National Archives, organized a half-day seminar and exhibition to raise awareness about the National Archives at our Community Learning Center in Juba. The seminar aimed to highlight the importance of the historic archival collection in understanding and addressing current issues and provided an opportunity for community members taking WPDI’s free Conflict Resolution Education course to connect with researchers from the University of Liverpool and Durham University.
The event was organized in the framework of the longstanding partnership between WPDI and UNESCO, which has been leading the South Sudan National Archives Project since 2012 in cooperation with the Ministry of Culture, Youth, and Sports, and with the support of Norway. The project is focusing on the preservation and digitization of the historical government records of South Sudan, many of which suffered serious damage during previous decades of conflict. Currently, close to the entire collection has been cataloged and about 25 percent digitized. However, more remains to be done. UNESCO works closely with the Rift Valley Institute, which, as a research institute, brings knowhow in the cataloging and digitization process as well as provides access to its network of international experts such as Mr. Lowry and Dr. Leonardi, who gave short lectures to attendees about the importance and use of archives globally. The South Sudan National Archives project additionally focuses on connecting the archives with the public, linking the history to the present and future generations. As Ellen Lekka, the UNESCO project manager, noted at the seminar, “The youths of South Sudan can particularly benefit from linkages to the National Archives as a unique resource of information and connection to a shared history and heritage.” This is especially important to consider within the realm of peacebuilding, considering how the past informs the present. For exactly that reason, students from WPDI’s Conflict Resolution Education course took part in the seminar and participated in a group activity during which they analyzed and discussed selected documents focusing on conflict resolution case studies dating back to the 1930s.
The students found the activity to be engaging and asked demanding questions that the researchers responded to by informing them of the importance of understanding history so as to avoid future cycles of conflict. Winnie, a 20-year-old participant, noted how “the National Archive seminar taught me a lot of things about our history and why we have conflict today in South Sudan. Although many people think we have conflicts that cannot be resolved, history shows us that many have been. I learned that from the challenges of the past, we can approach conflict today with new methods.” Bior, a 26-year-old, echoed a similar sentiment, and explained how “through analyzing past records and peace agreements, I know what was done in the past, what worked well, what did not work well, and what lessons can be learned.”