This is a partial response to Richard Dowden’s essay in African Arguments, 22.1.2014, which I will address further below.
I am bored to tears with the “birth” metaphor for South Sudan. I can’t be the only one. South Sudan became independent in 2011, prompting a wave of newspaper articles and comment about ‘the birth’. It was ‘the birth of’ ‘a new republic,’ ‘a new nation‘, and ‘a new country‘ – pick your preferred political unit.
Two years of independence celebrations later, and yes, it was becoming extremely wearing. As well as the standard “Christian black South and Arab Islamic North” summary of Sudan-South Sudan politics of old, it seemed that it was now necessary to preface everything about South Sudan with a birth or baby analogy. South Sudan had had a ‘difficult birth,’ and reviews of ‘birthday celebrations’ – like I catalogued, maybe slightly sarcastically, here and here – were opportunities for people to choose their side, pro- or con-independence.
As a partial response to the events of the last month, I don’t want to offer my own comments, but point to people and sources that are good summaries of current understanding and analysis.
Lesley Warner has an ongoing summary of news on South Sudan on her blog; the last post is here. Erin has just returned to Juba, and her blog is worth keeping an eye on here. Magdi has written a recent analysis here, and Aly Verjee’s work on his blog is also excellent.
The best South Sudanese-led summary and analysis of the situation comes from the RVI discussion, reported and podcast here. It is worth listening to this in full, because of the many excellent South Sudanese critics and reformers asking questions in the open session.
My radio silence could be partly explained by a forthright intercession by a member of the South Sudan Embassy at a SOAS discussion yesterday.
“Self appointed experts on South Sudan [are a big problem at the moment]… [we need discussion to be] made more academic. … [Their comments are how] we are judged”
Quick update on the South Sudan National Archives, from the African Studies Association conference in Baltimore.
A few months ago, the Ministry of Culture staff, with Dan and me from the RVI, moved the final load of loose paper from the USAID tent where they’d been housed since 2006, their first post-war home. These were the last of the damaged pages from burst files, which are now waiting for someone who enjoys serious puzzles.
Three weeks ago, when passing, I saw that we were right to get out of the tent. Temporary in the Juba climate really does mean temporary.
I’ve had a bit too much of politics at close hand this week, so here’s an update on my ongoing beautification in Juba. Now I’m back in the capital, there’s no excuse not to go to my favourite nail artist, Joseph, in Souk Libya (next to the pharmacy in the centre). Joseph has upgraded his stool-and-basket to a full on nail bar!
For a while, I’ve kept a running note on my phone of my favourite bus slogans, which are cut-out decals on the back of “taxis”, the private mini-van bus services in Juba. These are my favourites so far this year – more to come. Obviously the all-time favourite is the bus labelled “Where does Abyei belong?”, which has been in service since at least 2011.
- No fear – attack like a lion
- Serving my customer is my pleasure
- Big man
- Rich also cry
- Get little keep going
- No appeal
- Time keeper
- Gentel man
- Injury time
- No pain no gain (also see: “no gain no pain”, and “no gain without pain”).