Memory and Memorialization: A Pathway to Peace

“We all suffered and we all fought….there is a need to search for a common thread.” –Jok Madut Jok during a recent visit to IDN

For two decades, the war in Sudan ravaged its people. More than two million lives were lost and more than four million people were displaced from their homes. Families were separated. Lives were forever changed. 

Throughout the war, countless attempts by external and internal actors to resolve the conflict took place. In 1993 the heads of state of the Intergovernmental Authority on Drought and Development became involved in an initiative to bring the parties together. A decade of negotiations and compromises later, the initial effort finally led to the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005. The CPA ended the war between the government of Sudan and the South Sudanese Liberation Movement. Six years later, 98.3 percent of the people in Southern Sudan voted for national independence, and in July 2011, South Sudan became the world’s newest country. Although the war ended, conflict in the region continues due to unrest resulting from disputes over borders and oil.

For the past two years, efforts to build peace in Sudan and South Sudan have been the focus of the “Prospects for Peace in Sudan and South Sudan” series. Cosponsored by IDN and The Carter Center’s Conflict Resolution Program, the series has brought to light the work of high-level officials and diplomats in both countries as they try to resolve on-going conflicts and tensions within and between the two countries. In October the seventh series event took place, and it was a marked shift away from history, conflict, and negotiation processes. Instead, it highlighted the importance of memory and memorialization as pathways for a peaceful future in both countries.

Jok Madut Jok, undersecretary in South Sudan’s Ministry of Culture, Youths, and Sports, and Ambassador Nureldin Satti, director of the National Library of Sudan and cochair at the Woodrow Wilson International Center’s Sudan Working Group, were invited to discuss the importance of memory and memorialization in the two countries as part of the public “Conversations at The Carter Center” series. In their respective positions, both Jok and Satti focus on elements of culture that invoke shared histories and identities, areas that are too often overlooked in the face of conflict and emphasis on difference. Their remarks during the public presentation at The Carter Center emphasized the importance of seeing beyond a culture of war to find avenues that will lead to peace and harmony between two viable states. Jok spoke of deep connections between peoples in the two countries, connections that were forged through many centuries. Satti echoed this view, wanting to invoke moments in history that illustrated shared, integrated cultures to offset the current emphasis on difference. Capturing these moments in archives, libraries, memorials, and the arts can help establish a shared culture of peace as a foundation for the future. View the public discussion here.

Jok and Satti also participated in a small seminar with faculty from Emory University, Kennesaw State University, the University of Georgia, and Georgia Tech. The group was joined by Pauline Riak, interim executive director of the Sudd Institute and former chair of South Sudan’s Anti-Corruption Commission. The seminar discussion focused on how memory has been defined, collected, and presented as a means for healing and peace in Liberia, South Africa, and the US. “Memorialization has been an important feature of nationalism,” Clifton Crais, director of the Institute of African Studies remarked.  “An important challenge is to think of memorialization without creating mythologies tied to the state that make it difficult for individuals and groups to work through the past and, in some instances, to allow that past to be forgotten.” Participants shared ideas about how memory can be used as a means of reconciliation, truth and building trust, as well as moving forward in Sudan and South Sudan.

Memory and Memorialization

(From left to right) Jok Madut Jok, undersecretary in the Ministry of Culture, Youths, and Sports for South Sudan; Ambassador Nureldin Satti, director of the National Library of Sudan and co-chair at the Woodrow Wilson International Center’s Sudan Working Group; Sita Ranchod-Nilsson, director of Emory University’s Institute for Developing Nations; and Itonde Kakoma, assistant director of The Carter Center’s Conflict Resolution Program stand outside of The Carter Center on Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013.

For survivors of the war in Sudan, memory is personal and often painful. But memory of this war is now a part of the culture of both nations. “Memory,” Satti noted, “is often distortive, elective, selective, co-opted, manipulative, and disputed.” With such descriptors of memory, how can a nation represent the memories of all those affected by the war? How can it foster and promote peace and healing? Satti and Jok are grappling with ways to capture and honor memories of the war that will contribute to a culture of peace going forward. They have proposed the construction of a joint memorial (or several), ideally located on the border of Sudan and South Sudan. Jok also has created a mobile festival of arts—a traveling cultural exhibit—that provides citizens with the opportunity to view artwork and artifacts that represent the diversity of the country. In the future Jok hopes that the mobile exhibit can be used by various institutions to commemorate the war. “A performative memorial,” Jok notes, “is a better way to generate shared understanding rather than imposing statues of soldiers and AK47s."

Jok and Satti stated that contributions from arts and culture can help create a space for sharing memories and eventually foster an environment of peace and stability. Riak added that memories can shape the future, and through the process of sharing memory, “one can make new memories, in a positive and constructive way.” These new memories of a shared past can help the healing process and in turn, build peace in these nations.