I’ve had a lot of culture over the last few days in Juba. Now that I’m not officially an employee of the Rift Valley Institute in South Sudan – I’m now full-time on the PhD, finally – I’m putting in a lot of time (read, I’m still in the office at 10pm) on various consulting jobs, an article, and planning for moving my life up to Aweil next Thursday. And I’ve had time to do culture.
Tag Archives: culture
The Sudan Council of Churches, Riek Machar and ‘a journey of national healing’: thoughts on peace and reconciliation in South Sudan
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.
Everyone here in Juba says that they know the importance of documentation. Everyone says they do information-based programming, and use research-informed, evidence-based thinking. This is often, in my experience, complete nonsense. What Juba produces is endless reporting, often circular and frequently based on the same tiny pools of sometimes inaccurate or irrelevant data, or the same beleaguered researchers; and it discusses its information through endless, endless workshops.
Enjoyably, too, this system of workshop-based attempts at prioritising information were pervasive in the 1972 post-Addis Ababa Agreement peace period, according to the lovely files in the South Sudan National Archives project.
My Sundays here in Juba are sacred days, despite my embarrassed apologies to my compound-mates and neighbours when I decline their offers of church trips at 8:30am every week. Sunday is my only proper day off every week: it is pool day.
There’s a pool culture in Juba, and has been since the first swimming pool was dug (at the Norwegian Embassy, obviously) post-CPA. I have been a habitué of Nimule Logistics pool for the eight months; one of the oldest hotels in Juba, and located in the warren of Tong Piny by the airport and UNMISS main compound, those who want to look like old hands make sure they refer to it as Logistics rather than Hotel, a name from a previous era.
Poolside, by 11am there are swarms of mostly non-Southerners. The white crowd gets in early, stripping down and maneuvering umbrellas around the sunbeds. A host of old hippie tattoos see the light of day, outshone by the ex-army demining men with their all-over decorations (fewer butterflies). Two of the regulars have tattoos of Africa – as in, the African continent. By 2pm, most people are standing in the pool, frustrating the latecomer serious swimmers by blocking lanes. All hope of swimming evaporates by 3pm, when the Ethiopian, Eritrean and Libyan/Syrian contingents stop drinking and begin divebombing, and the few Kenyan, Ugandan and South Sudanese swimmers take to the shallow – and sometimes the deep – end to learn or teach others how to swim.
(TW: discussion of domestic violence to follow after the cut.)
I always get nervous when presenters at Nyakouron theatre ask for audience participation. You’re never quite sure how many beers the audience has had; I’ve seen audience members climb onto the stage to shove money down women’s tops, set fire to aerosols, and more prosaically attack performers. So when the representative of Rhino Star got up on stage last night and asked the audience who the ” biggest enemy” was for South Sudan at the moment, I was a little bit nervous. But of course it was tribalism – followed closely by poverty, with corruption coming a close third.
What wasn’t mentioned by any of the six enthusiastic volunteers, or any of the shouts from the audience, was the topic that actually formed a theme throughout the evening’s films and theatre: gender relations.
This was my first summer of being a tourist in Sudan: my first time in Khartoum, and my second time in Juba since 2007. Admittedly I did a bit of work in Juba and a conference in Khartoum, but I was primarily a tourist. I visited museums, went to ‘cultural events’, took a few nervous photos; it was a great summer.