Juba politics is inscrutable at the best of times; the cabal around Kiir, the definite occasional torture and daily harassment of journalists and nosy people, and the general militarisation of the town over the last two years is notable and really forestalls any real understanding of inner politics when you’re not at the forefront of an embassy – or even then.
That’s not to say it’s impossible or unsafe to live here. I’ve arrived back in Juba after five days in Aweil (more later) and there are no signs of an impending coup as far as I can see, and frankly the airport is a good first place to look for that kind of thing. Everyone is drinking their beers at 4pm like usual.
But the key thing is, my last post is redundant; now that Kiir has stripped Machar’s powers back to the constitutional limits for a vice-president, he has also cancelled the ‘reconciliation’ conference. So that’s one fewer trips to Juba for me, when I leave for Aweil in five weeks.
Peace, national healing and reconciliation have been discussed as fundamentally necessary agenda items for South Sudan since independence nearly two years ago. These ideas are steeped in South African post-apartheid and Rwanda post-genocide legacies, and there is no shortage of people and organisations wanting a piece of this psychological restitution game – or proposing ways (or more often, the problems) of doing it.
The key issue for a while has seemed to be a lack of political will for such a huge and complex project. If anything, government understandings of the war have been going the other way: there is a well established, government propagated single historical narrative. ‘We’ fought together, died together, bound by the same united ideological desire for an independent ‘South’; internal divisions were the product of machinations from the evil North; the war, peace and finally independence were all won by ‘bullet and ballot,’ and nobody voted against independence in 2011.
Paleki Matthew Obur, South Sudan Women’s Empowerment Network
The podcasts for all of the Juba Lectures 2013 are available online to download for free – and it’s worthwhile, as the debates this week have been dominated by South Sudanese voices asking questions and making strong points about how they see (or want to see) the basis of Southern political, cultural and social life built in the constitution.
Last night’s debate focused mainly on the basis of laws – and therefore social and political justice – in South Sudan. Much of the conversation revolved around the death penalty, still legal and carried out regularly here; execution – and the ability of which courts, traditional or legislative, to carry it out – served as a focal point for concerns over how conservative Southern society should be; whether “traditional” justice should be changed fast or actually codified and preserved as is; and the inability of youth and other marginalised people to challenge older generations and vested systems.
Thursday night was also well-attended at Juba University for Jacob Akol’s talk on the concept of the House of Nationalities in South Sudan; the panel then led an open debate on issues of language, women’s positions, traditional justice and marriage systems, mother tongues, the rights to move within the South and the invisibility of disabled people in the country.
The podcasts for all the lectures can be found on the RVI website.
Debate was lively, but no progress was made on how it would really work to incorporate and ‘deal with’ ethnicities in South Sudan through the constitution and elsewhere in national life. As one speaker said, “one nation, one culture, one language hasn’t got us anywhere in the last fifty years.”
The Juba Lectures 2013 have started, and I am exhausted: I organised the speakers and panels in the last three weeks as the local Rift Valley Institute hand here, and have spent most of my time running around Juba on the back of a motorbike trying to meet a variety of VIPs and activists of various stripes to speak on the constitutional process in South Sudan.
Professor Akolda Tier, the chairman of the Constitutional Review Commission and a quiet, academic and conservative man, was our keynote speaker last night, on a panel set up to focus on practicalities: is there the political will to actually create a new constitution, and would it involve a consultative process? Why has the commission still not started, despite it overrunning its mandated period? Is the two year extension a political move designed to put off elections in 2015? Etc.
I do concentrate, I promise! But I also find my notebook – which is a kind of field diary of everything – gets filled with illustrations of the people and conferences I go to, including listeners, ranters, speakers and other idlers like me. So here are some small cartoons of the past week, and from the Rift Valley Institute Sudans course in Lukenya in May. (All copyright is obviously mine, but if you’re illustrated here and want it taken down, or would like to use any of them, please get in touch.)