Sunday, 23 December 2012

central equatoria or space-time coordinates

We mostly take for granted the fact that we live in charted territory and that almost any route imaginable has been scouted out, the path is well-worn and clearly marked, and that the starting point and destination have fixed addresses, precise under any number of conventions, by the postal system, government and satellite telemetry. The planet’s newest nation, South Sudan, however (and with its capital Juba situated in a district called Central Equatoria, one might be excused for thinking one ought to be able to pin point whereabouts precisely), possesses a paucity of cartographical information about itself, which is a disservice to the young country in terms of understanding demographics, infrastructure and its own resources and moving forward after years of strife.

The lands of South Sudan, including geological data (albeit dated and limited) concerning where mineral and oil wealth might be found, have been mapped to a certain extent before, but since gaining independence from Northern Sudan, all records have been sequestered there and the former powers are not willing to share, possibly begrudging the break-away state success by ransoming decades old geological surveys, not to mention street maps. Students from universities in Juba and Berlin aim to stake South Sudan’s autonomy further by creating a new, advanced atlas of country and the environment, and they hope this collaboration helps the people not only better understand and describe their urban landscapes and know the value of what may lie undiscovered underneath but also understand how best to work the land (mapping in depth the crops that are grown on farms and how different seed fare) in a sustainable way and better care for the environment. Surveyors are constantly re-assessing and re-evaluating plots and parcels, and it is a base of knowledge that certainly deserves re-thinking from time to time but usually not something reinvented or made from scratch—questions of ownership of these charts and tables aside. Maybe having to literally and figuratively map one’s world is an occasion to treat those emergent features with utmost care.