Monthly Archives: November 2012

Being a single woman in a Juba suburb, pt.2: young people, shisha, and waiting

I’m trying to work on a project for a January conference that I stupidly decided to do partly on “youth”. This is a nightmare topic – I know it, I wrote an essay for my MA about the difficulty and arbitrariness of the concept, for heaven’s sakes – and I’m kicking myself for picking it. My preliminary work (which is mostly sitting, angsting about the topic, and moaning about it to friends here) has been pretty stressful (she says, knowing she should be doing it now).

As happens when you’re trying to do a small research project on the side while really focusing on something else, the best research I’ve done so far is when I’ve got home, tired, disgustingly sweaty, covered in bits of archive paper (sorry – not intentionally stealing the archives, just bits that fall off it) and dust, and I walk down the short stretch of mud path that leads from the main road to my compound gate.

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Filed under Domestic bliss, Politics, Procrastination, South Sudan

Being a single woman in a Juba suburb, pt.1: Risk assessments

I live in a suburb of Juba now, called Munuki, on the road to Godele, running out towards north of Jebel Kujur. It’s a really nice place, gentrifying fast with endless concrete being shipped in in the morning, and with new shops being built everywhere, and stacked onto older structures. There is a hot business in welding spiral staircases.

My safety is pretty reasonable. Munuki street life shuts down at about 9pm and I’m always in my compound by then, or getting a reliable taxi home. I live in one of the many concrete-and-razorwire compounds dotted around the streets surrounding Souk Libya, the main market, in a tiny concrete hut at the back of a local MP’s house. The MP’s nephew, a middle-aged SPLA sergeant, is on permanent, low-key duty, drinking tea, cooking beans and watching the house. I have keys for everything and more. It was a great find by my friend Richard Tongu.

While I know this, though, the more paranoid and contained sides of the “international community” here don’t. Most UN staff don’t know where Munuki is; the UN guidance on moving around outside the centre of town is bizarrely terrifying, like reading about a place I’ve never been. To me, I have a wonderful life, a separate bathroom block, a kitchen room being built and tiled as I write, a market two minutes away and a local trader across the street who gets out my standard order when he sees me: one Nile Special, one large bottle of water, three passionfruit and some rice.

I have a fabulous lifestyle here (in comparison to my likely future conditions during my PhD research year). It feels like the UN-style interpretation of Juba is about five years behind in Munuki, where I have Philip, Gonda and Alex making sure I get home every evening, I have my nails done weekly (extravagance!) by Joseph or Jimmy in the market, I splash out on cheese once a week, and I buy ridiculously frilly dressing gowns from the second hand clothes seller Lillian, to wear while cooking my falafel and rice in the evenings in the courtyard. Everyone here says that there is petty theft but very little robbery: the “Niggas” gangs who plagued Munuki have mostly left, moving out to Mia Saba and Godele where there are fewer GoSS dignitaries and armed compounds. The land disputes are mostly settled in the local court, which is relatively quiet now. There are serious problems – including massive local unemployment among my contemporaries – and I am still taking good care of myself; but I am currently bemused by the security rating of my very fancy life.


Filed under Domestic bliss, Procrastination

The South Sudan National Archive: taking stock


The National Archive of South Sudan has had (and still has) an unglamourous life.  Collected by Douglas Johnson in two years before conflict restarted in 1983, left to rot in its own dust in the basement of a girls’ school in Juba for twenty years, and then shunted from one place to another since the peace deal – sustaining a metre’s worth of water damage, termite infestations, rats eating into the sacks of damaged papers, and bad handling in the process: the documents are possibly the least important, least loved but longest lived development project in Juba.

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Filed under Archives, South Sudan

Social order in Juba: managing the youth

There is a lot of discussion of “youth” morality in Juba at the moment. The job situation, the urban environment and fast-growing suburbs, the lack of education options, and the young population are all popular subjects of discussion, but the focus and starting point of any chat about these problems is the same: what are we going to do about our wayward youth?

Discussions of morality are general touchstones for popular thought about societal problems and challenges. My curtain maker and his brother spent a happy half hour this afternoon bemoaning the state of youth in Juba today, and their opinions are echoed constantly by the local press, radio programming, and taxi discussions. The young people of Juba are characterized as feckless, irresponsible, wanting nothing more than to drink, wear ridiculous clothes and overlarge sunglasses, go clubbing, have extramarital sex and do no work – other than riding around on motorbikes, that is.

An editorial from The Citizen on 1 October, entitled “Modernization is good but to be approached with modesty”, begins:

“There is a lot of talk in the town about the part of modernization which covers the way the youth dress ranging from the skin tight pairs of trousers seen on some young ladies including young girls to the lowered trousers to the buttocks of some boys.”

(Owning two pairs of skinny trousers in Juba myself, this strikes home.)

The article however continues:

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Being intellectual in South Sudan

In South Sudan, formal education – in a Western mould, with letters after your name – and state political capability are inseparable; one cannot be a legitimate popular politician without some claim to academic legitimacy. Politicians must have been students – preferably for a good long time.

The proliferation of PhDs amongst the politicians of Juba is a demonstration of this historical principle. From the beginnings of Southern politics, politicians were drawn from the small ranks of the educated elites, whose scarcity and distinctiveness because of their qualifications set them apart socially and often egotistically from their local communities. Now, politicians compete over academic credentials: for example, Lam Akol, in his rebuttal to Dr John Akec over the future of university education in the South, said cattily:

‘The insinuation is that somebody of my stature can write a paper that is not “research[ed]”. I wonder what research has Dr Akec conducted and how many academic papers did he ever publish in reputable journals. Since he claims to have a PhD in mechanical and manufacturing engineering, then I would certainly know the journals he could possibly publish in.’

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Filed under Academia, Archives, Current affairs, Politics, South Sudan

The rumour mill in Juba

I’m trying to get back into the rumour mill in Juba, now I’m moved out to Munuki.  Nobody in the so-called “international community” knows where I’m living: I’m actually living in a relatively close, gentrifying suburb – I think of it as the Camberwell of Juba – with a good market and a good bus route.  But because I’m close to Mia Saba, which while also gentrifying is a bit more rough and ready (Hoxton?), and still befriending the neighbours and their tens of assorted children, I’d like to get back into the networks that count as 24-hour local news channels here.

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Filed under Current affairs, Politics, South Sudan