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.

These networks centre around mobile phones, fuelled in the last week by the generator-fed phone charging kiosks around the market (the power’s been out for the last two nights or so.  I’m really hoping tonight is good…).  I’m friends with a few Juba University students, and some local teachers, which means I get regular “morning” texts – everyone checking in for the day – and also circulars about Juba events.  Otherwise, it’s through word of mouth, between market stall holders and customers, in the taxis (vans used as private buses), and between boda drivers, the motorcycle taxis.

This is best illustrated by a tragic and extremely wrong event a few days ago.  The protest at Juba Day Secondary School – over the “sale” of their playing fields for redevelopment – may have been badly organised and potentially aggressive, but the police did (“allegedly”, Sudan Tribune says) fire rounds and rounds of live bullets to “disperse” the protest, as well as engaging with protesters physically.

I heard about this while in a taxi from Hai Commercial, where it happened just after I’d left; a lady got in five minutes down the road and started telling everybody that she’d heard gunfire, and obviously here people know what live gunfire sounds like.  She said it was lots of volleys, semi-automatic, but fired in the air, she thought.

Within a few minutes, I had two texts from friends down near Hai Commercial, saying there had been shootings of students.  I then took a boda across to a meeting, and the driver told me that a student had died (not true, later).  Later in the evening, since there were still no reports on national media (at least in English), the text and chat mill had turned up that two people were in the public hospital, there were protests outside the hospital, and there was no government statement.

The best report is from Radio Tamazuj.  The school’s situation is another example of the ongoing and fraught land disputes in Juba – where illegal appropriation is still a major issue.  However, what I wanted to show is the power of the local news network; while there was lots of misinformation, and lots of tension, there was still accurate information going around by 7pm.  Such is the power of the local rumour mill.  Who needs Twitter?

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Filed under Current affairs, Politics, South Sudan

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