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Daily Nation : February 11th 2014
DAILY NATION Tuesday February 11, 2014 coverstory 3 This is home, sweet home in the capital and open a better, bigger clothing stall. Between 2006 and 2009, Juba was the place to be. The guns had fallen silent after decades and the economy was booming. Kenyans, Tanzanians and Ugandans flocked here to set up all manner of businesses. Curiously, however, the natives showed little interest in entrepreneurship, and so it was only a matter of time before the foreigners started to hog the pie and call the shots. By the time the locals realised something was amiss, it was too late. There was a Kenyan-run business on every corner, a Tanzanian this and a Ugandan that here and there. We had set up our own little commercial colony in Juba, and the fantastically militarised natives were beginning to get the heebie-jeebies over that. Tensions rose. Arguments over the price of goods started getting nasty. And then, as if to show us who were the real cow boys here, demobbed soldiers, angry to the marrow, started walking into foreigner-owned shops, picking items and walking away without paying. “Go back to your country!” they would bark if you dared as much as raise a finger. Juba, then, became a businessman’s nightmare and, in 2008, I packed and left for Rumbek in Lake State. But, just as I was about to set up a life here, clashes among the Dinka erupted over pasture land. Now, in South Sudan, when neighbours quarrel, a gunfight is never off the limits. So, when the matter is as serious as pasture land, run for your life. War cometh. Over those few acres of grazing land, several people died, including four foreigners caught in the melee. As church leaders, together with the local leaders, we organised reconciliation meetings and helped bring back the peace. But, while Rumbek had opened up my eyes to the seriousness with which pasture is taken here, it also showed me how war can ruin, completely, the justice system of a people. One Ugandan learnt that the most brutal way. The middle-aged man was driving a truck laden with supplies when he ran over a local. Soon, an army of riotous men and women surrounded his truck, baying for his blood. Naturally, he bolted towards a police station, where he was put inside a cell as the police quelled the emotions outside. We all thought the worst had passed when calm returned to the streets, but a few hours later a man walked to the police station, asked to see the driver and was allowed in. He said he was the dead man’s brother, and that he 900,000 Number of people believed to have been displaced in South Sudan by beginning of February. Fighting erupted in the capital, Juba, in December 2013. wanted to have a word or two with the Ugandan. A few minutes later, shots rang inside the prison. Then the visitor casually walked away, past the reporting desk, through the gate and into the streets. For running over his brother with his foreign truck laden with foreign goods, the foreigner had to die. Obviously, there was no way I was going to survive here — once, while preaching at a local church, I was slapped for asking a man not to spit inside the building — so I moved to Wau in Western Bahr el Ghazal State, where I stayed for some time before finding my way back to Juba in 2010. I have been in Juba since 2010. I was there when we got independence in 2011! In Nairobi, people have been asking me whether we, the Southerners, saw what was coming towards the end of last year. My answer to them has always been the same: “Yes, I think we did.” The announcement by Riek Machar that he would be in the presidential race come 2015 was the first pointer to turbulent times ahead. After his shock declaration, there was clear and open bias in how the government was treating some of the leading politicians. When, in July, Machar was sacked from the Cabinet, we all knew it was just a matter of time before he or his supporters schemed something. Even though he told his supporters to stay calm after the boot, it was clear that a political crisis was looming. The sacking was unexpected and it came as a shocker, especially looking at the total number of ministers and deputies who were kicked out. Juba was tense. All hell broke loose No one knew what Machar was planning. He sort of went underground, but we knew something was coming; we just didn’t know what it was. Then, on December 15, all hell broke loose. The first round of the anarchy found me at Nyakuron market. We heard gunshots coming from the general direction of a local cultural centre but dismissed them as another price haggle, or quarrel, gone wrong. Half an hour later, the gunfire became intense. People started running into their homes. My house was located at a place called Jebel, and to reach there I had to follow the gunshots. A woman — Ethiopian or Eritrean — lay dying on the road as I dashed to safety. By evening, heavy artillery shelling took over from the automatic rifles and, by morning, the place was deserted. Military cars patrolled the streets, but they offered little sense of hope to many. A day later, the robberies started. Soldiers — or men dressed as soldiers — started making house-to-house calls and taking anything valuable they found before raping women. Three days after Juba started crumbling, we were given two hours to vacate the places we lived in. I took nothing. I just walked out. At one in the afternoon, I was in a Toyota Landcruiser, together with some eight other people, hurtling towards Uganda through Numule. The road, aside from the newly laid tarmac, looked the same as when I had used it back in 2004: soldiers all over the place, choc-a-bloc roadblocks, and bribery demands for us to be let through. But, as I sat inside that Landcruiser, my back turned against Juba, I couldn’t help but think of the thousands I had left behind. I had lived among them, with them, for nine years. I was their church minister, standing before them every Sunday to tell them about God, to teach them forgiveness and hope and perseverance. Yet here I was, hurtling towards the border at their greatest hour of need. As I crossed into Kenya, I had this nudging feeling to go back to my people, back home. I hear that a ceasefire agreement was signed in Addis Ababa the other day, and that there is some sort of calm, however uneasy, sweeping through Juba now. I want to go back to South Sudan. I want to go back today. Or tomorrow. Or next week. I want to go back to my people. For, despite all the differences, they laughed with me. Yes, I want to go back home. PHOTO | AFP A South Sudanese refugee at a temporary camp in Mingkaman on February 7, 2014. Most of the displaced people come from Bor, fleeing the fighting between government forces and rebels. The conflict in South Sudan, which started in mid-December 2013 with clashes between two factions within the army, has left thousands dead and has caused close to 900,000 others to flee their homes.
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