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:
“These days, human rights are high on the lips of everybody and nobody even a parent may not be appreciated by her or his daughter when she or he talks against her dressing… as for the boys, they too will not listen to the father or elder brother not to drop the edge of their trousers from their rightful positions round the waists to their buttocks. The right thing to do is to adopt wearing of the normal clothes which are acceptable to the community. Wearing trousers by ladies is not bad but… appearing in a public function where there are elders is embarrassing… The young fellows should know that descent [sic] dressing will earn them appreciation from the elders and responsible people.”
While The Citizen is concerned for the respect of the community and the inter-generational harmony that is jeopardized by overly visible buttocks, General Salva Mathok, the Deputy Interior Minister, is taking – he says – direct action. In an interview with New Times in their 5-11 November issue, Mathok says:
“Personally if I release the photos of these night parties [at discos in Juba] which I attended during night hours, we will end up by the year 2030 without a generation. Because… it’s me who is there to show the youths what is right or their future. …They don’t know the implication that they are in with their discos. And that thing we will not give in [on the midnight curfew] because it is in the interest of our people and it is the interest of the youths in particular. One of the parties, discos I went in, almost majority of the people are half naked and every body was smoking and drinking even the young girls. Is that the nation that we want?”
This popular discussion over morality therefore plays interestingly into the ongoing discussion of national character, government paternalism and interventionism, generational concerns, and social mores: “the youth” – whoever they are – are under pressure to perform.
While this specific form of “youth” is very visible – including the extensive range of sunglasses sold at Customs Market, the hip hop boda cultures and Rastafarian crews, the popular creole of Juba Arabic and American English spoken by “cool” young people, the endless rows of jeggings in Souk Libya, and in my favourite evening bar, Middle Class, which is two shipping containers on top of each other – many “youth” are attempting to meet these social expectations. Young people in Juba are mostly doing or looking for multiple jobs, living at home in overcrowded compounds with extended family and relatives moving through Juba on their way to Uganda or elsewhere. They are, as ever, filling the internet cafes to write CVs, filling in application forms and standing in crowds around the job advert billboards outside the ministries and the UN compounds. Many of my friends talk about the pressures of being the first generation of free South Sudanese, and the responsibilities of being ‘good’ citizens, working for their country. As ever, the current morality scares are over the cool minority. Most of the less cool are just trying to get on in a difficult city.