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South Sudan and the Memorialisation of the Civil War

June 11th, 2013

South Sudan and the Memorialisation of the Civil War:

A Reminder of the Horrors of the Wars or a Path to Healing and Forgiveness?

JOK MADUT JOK explores the benefit of a possible future South Sudan Civil War Memorial to heal the wounds of South Sudan’s past, educate future generations and acknowledge the immense price paid for this young country’s freedom.

 There are those who think of war memorials as useful tools with which to document the experiences of war, helping communities come to terms with history and repairing damaged relationships in the hope that peace, coexistence and tolerance will prevail after years of protracted conflict. Others believe that war memorials are constant reminders of the horrors of the past, inflaming old wounds and perpetuating hatred between communities with a history of ethnic, religious or racial divides. This debate is particularly prominent in the two Sudans that were created in 2011 after the southern part of the old Sudan seceded. Though the wars between the two sides have to a large extend been settled, the conflicts within each country have continued, to varying degrees, and are explained locally in terms of the unfinished business of the north-south wars. There is thus a strong need for South Sudan’s past to be discussed in the hope of establishing an inclusive history and allowing opportunities for apologies to be made, for grievances to be expressed, injustices to be corrected, and agreements made about how to collectively lay the past to rest. Sweeping the past under the rug, in the hope that it will be forgotten, would likely mean that there will continue to be outbreaks of communal violence, in revenge for events that have not yet been confronted through national dialogue. Today many citizens argue that reconciliation processes should be implemented in each territory and between the two countries in order to diffuse intra or interstate conflicts.

A civil war memorial could go a long way in starting a conversation about South Sudan’s past and how the country can move beyond it. One of the best ways to come to terms with South Sudan’s past, is establishing and telling the story of South Sudan, teaching this story to generations of South Sudanese and sharing it with the world. Such a memorial structure could include art, culture, storytelling, testimony, mourning and remembrance, and could help the country embark on a journey of forgiveness.  While South Sudanese experiences of war are unique, the country can learn a lot from how other countries and communities have dealt with their ordeals and how they managed to unload the burden of their respective histories through memorialisation. A memorial in South Sudan might be called The South Sudan Civil War Memorial, to be constructed in a location to be agreed upon, under the supervision of the Ministries of Culture, Broadcasting, Gender and General Education.

In telling the story of South Sudan’s journey to statehood, the memorial should reach as far back as 200 years to chronicle foreign occupation and the death and destruction brought upon communities by the Arab slave trade as well as by the slave trade of what became South Sudan once the state of Sudan was established. Many conflicts in South Sudan remain under-studied and are not taught within the national history curriculum of South Sudan. As such, the memorial should record and document with honesty, the extraction of resources and the resistance and resilience of the people in the face of tremendous hardship. Celebrating this history is important and will help future generations of South Sudanese understand the immense price paid by previous generations. Telling this story will help us come to terms with both the external destruction and to put in perspective the horrific moments of our own past when South Sudanese, weighed down by the circumstances of occupation, did terrible things to one another.

This memorial could take the form of a cultural park; part museum, part “edu-tainment,” part recreation. Most importantly, it should be representative of all corners of the country, including the states bordering on the Republic of Sudan, so as to give voice to the many Sudanese communities that also suffered the actions of the authorities in Khartoum. As part of an inclusive search for peace, reconciliation and stability, the memorial should be humane in its’ approach, true in the telling of facts and focused on a future of coexistence and tolerance. In order to ensure that the process is inclusive and to ensure that this is a true living memorial, a broadly consultative process should precede the development of the memorial. As such, school children, artists, women’s associations, farmers, soldiers, political leaders, trade unions and professional associations should be consulted collectively or separately, within or between communities, and asked to review and share their histories and stories of conflict and how they have experienced the war in their own unique ways.

The memorial could consist of structures that are made from materials obtained from all the ten states, a garden containing samples of plants from all regions of the country and sufficient space for the regional, county and communal stories of South Sudan to be documented and told. Importantly, this project should be aimed at telling the story of South Sudan without trading of accusations of who did what to whom or searching for punitive measures or reparations. Rather, it should be about doing justice to the past.

The Sudd Institute is a South Sudanese policy research center based in Juba and has been widely involved in research aimed at correctly understanding the root causes of South Sudan‘s conflicts and to find ways to end communal violence and stabilize the country. This research has shown that  South Sudanese people will face challenges, both at individual and communal levels, in coming to terms with the history of liberation wars and that this history will likely continue to be recycled, reproduced and passed on to generations, unless the current leadership in government, faith groups and civil society come up with innovative ways to end this cycle. A memorial of this kind has been identified by many groups of South Sudanese as one important step towards healing, understanding and tolerance. As such, a civil war memorial is not just for the remembrance of the past but also for the shaping of future relations between communities in South Sudan.

Jok Madut Jok is the Executive Director of the Sudd Institute. Jok recently joined the Government of South Sudan as undersecretary in the Ministry of Culture and Heritage.

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