Culture and Nation Building in South Sudan
Exactly a year ago, South Sudan became the world’s newest nation. In the midst of the challenges that the young state is facing, culture is at the core of its considerations. Managing the country’s rich cultural diversity in search of national belonging is considered to be one of the main challenges to peace and social stability, while recognizing that this cultural richness and shared history also holds a key to finding a sustainable solution for building a common future.
As stated by South Sudan’s Undersecretary for Culture and Heritage, Mr Jok Madut Jok: "To forge a collective national identity, so that the citizens are able to see their citizenship in the nation as more important than ethnic nationalities, it is important to view cultural diversity as an asset that must be put to use for building a colorful nation in such a way that each citizen sees him or herself as part of the body of politics. To do this, the nation has to be inclusive in its promotion of its cultural heritage. There is need for the leadership to be reflective on the recent past so that no one forgets that cultural marginalization was among the main reasons for the long liberation wars that were fought with the north (…) There must be a consciousness of this diversity in policy decisions that are made every day, so that no citizen or ethnic group feels unrepresented."
In order for this shared past and the cultural richness to be recognized and accessible to all, the establishment of cultural institutions, such as the National Archives Centre, a gift from the people of Norway to the people of South Sudan, and the National Museum, together with the development of cultural policies and the protection and promotion of heritage, are among the core priorities. UNESCO's culture programme for South Sudan is working closely with the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports to help them realize their plans for developing these cultural institutions which will be key elements of their work to build an inclusive nation.
Archives, which center has been funded with a donation of the Norwegian Government, are an important resource in the reconstruction of South Sudan. They are important not only because of their intrinsic link with the culture and history of the country, but also in the role and contribution they can provide in promoting learning, human rights and rule of law in an open and democratic society. Archival heritage, whether written or audio-visual, represents the memory of a nation and the proper administration of these records underpins accountable, democratic governance. It is also the tangible evidence of a shared past, which will permit the development of a common history -- a crucial step in furthering a shared identity, and a peaceful future.
The National Museum of South Sudan will play an equally important role by presenting the history and diversity of the nation through objects, stories and intangible traditions. The Museum will be an interactive space aimed at learning from the path that South Sudan’s people have walked jointly towards independence, and will be an important building block for constructing a common future. Through a participatory model in which a travelling exhibition visits the communities, while awaiting the construction of the Juba-based museum building, the full participation of the community in developing the permanent exhibition will be ensured.