Just over a year since independence, South Sudan is working with the United Nations to preserve its most important historical, natural and cultural sites for future generations to enjoy. The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, is in South Sudan wrapping up a workshop to help the nation identify potential world heritage sites.
The three day workshop, held by South Sudan’s Ministry of Culture - in partnership with UNESCO and the African World Heritage Fund - is aimed at helping East African nations build their capacity to preserve natural, cultural and historic sites across the region. Representatives from Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and the Seychelles attended the event in Juba.
UNESCO has helped preserve some of the world’s most famous sites, including Egypt’s pyramids of Giza, the Great Wall of China, Mount Kenya National Park and the Nubian pyramids at Meroe in Sudan. South Sudan’s undersecretary for culture, Jok Madut Jok, will now be cataloguing its important sites.
“By putting some of our most valuable sites on this list, we hope that the world community - the donor countries, the NGOs that work in conservation - will help assist us to protect and maintain and conserve these important sites such as the wild life parks and cultural sites such as shrines,” Jok said.
Before, Southerners did not have the means to preserve such places during more than 20 years of civil war with Sudan. The Sudanese government routinely denied South Sudan the political power and economic support needed to establish such sites.
Many South Sudanese may not even be aware of their country’s historic and natural sites. Millions were forced to flee to neighboring countries during the war, and those that stayed had little opportunity to learn about South Sudan history and culture.
Undersecretary Jok said many places should be preserved.
"There are what we refer to as the intangible culture which is the cultural practices of the people of South Sudan from artwork to dancing, to music, to paintings and all that. Then there is tangible heritage which is referring to actual material production of the people such as the burial sites, [and] the rock art,” Jok said.
South Sudan was also part of the vast slave-trading network crisscrossing Africa. Jos said establishing historical sites along that route will preserve the memory of the slave trade.
Jok said it is important to also preserve natural resources such as Nimule National Park and Boma National Park – both of which host some of the largest animal migrations in the world.
Many South Sudanese officials support preservation of the country’s resources and historical sites, but UNESCO’s culture specialist Elke Selter said that enthusiasm must be matched by strong government action.
"The major challenge at this point is to have the appropriate legislation," Selter said. "You need to have your national system in place so you basically have a site which has a value; sometimes we call the outstanding value which is the value that goes beyond the national importance."
The country is creating a national archive of important historical documents, but the project has only a handful of staff and right now is housed in a tent in Juba.