At the launch of Dr Nyaba’s new book, ‘South Sudan: the state we aspire to’, today at the New Sudan Palace hotel in Juba, the panel quite strangely didn’t opt to take questions from the relatively large audience. Instead, we were presented with three speakers: Dr Cirino Ofufo Hiteng, the previous Minister for Culture, Youth and Sports; Professor George Bureng Nyombe, eminent scholar of Bari history; and the Hon. Canon Clement Janda, SPLM member, ECS priest and previous SPLM Envoy for Darfur.
I’ll admit that panels speaking about a book that the audience hasn’t read, in Juba, tend to be paeans rather than solid recommendations, notes or criticisms on the author’s arguments, and I wasn’t expecting to be overawed – although I was keen to get my hands on a copy. I was enjoyably wrong.
- What is South Sudan reconciling from? According to the first page of the working paper, independence was attained as “a united people”; while (finally) Southern internal divisions and fighting during the first and second civil wars is acknowledged on page 4, these are noted as “artificially created”. If the Committee cannot recognise serious, politically- and socially-based divisions in the ‘struggle’, and cannot break out of this standardised ‘we-all-fought-together-for-independence’ dominant narrative, then how is it going to be able to let people speak on these divisions – the “community narratives of the war” that they want to uncover, on page 6? Continue reading
I live in a concrete hut in Aweil, much like my one in Juba. It’s rare to find a concrete structure here, particularly in Maper, where I’m moving to in two weeks: Maper is a suburb of Aweil built since 2008, with continuing land demarcation and disputes, and a population getting back on its financial feet following – for most – a huge family relocation.
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.
- Ever since the very worrying announcement of Machar’s (constitutionally, legally) curtailed powers last week, there have been dozens of SPLA, heavily armed, stationed at each roundabout in the centre of Juba, and posted along the roads to the airport. Ominous or precautionary? Taxi drivers are advising staying in after 10pm, and I am.
- I am wrapping up my work with the Rift Valley Institute, and at the South Sudan National Archives, this coming Friday. I panicked, at 2am last night, that I hadn’t arranged for the handover of the RVI office in Wau; then I remembered, RVI in South Sudan is just me at the moment, and I don’t have an office in Wau.
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.