Photo courtesy of Martin Hay

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

South Sudan marks challenging first year - Africa - Al Jazeera English

South Sudan's first year of independence has been a roller-coaster. I arrived in South Sudan to a massacre in Jonglei State, followed by a series of retaliatory attacks between December and March - violence not seen in South Sudan since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005.

Rapid inflation ensued since trade with Sudan became more difficult and South Sudan cut off their oil pipelines. One of our staff told me that in November, $100 would cost her 250 South Sudanese Pounds (SSPs), in May it would then cost her 500 SSPs. When I left South Sudan in June, we were discussing our second pay increase in the space of 6 months for our national staff - our cluncky donor budgets couldn't seem to keep up with the rising commodity prices.

Meanwhile, no one seems outwardly concerned. It's only when you press people that they'll tell you that they're worried about the price of things, and the increasing level of violence in Juba.

Now I've left South Sudan, I wonder what is happening now. You know, the stuff you don't hear on the news and that you only find out  by walking around and talking to people. I wonder how I can stay connected with what is happening in South Sudan while letting myself move on to something new.

In the meantime, Al Jazeera is proving helpful. A recent report:
South Sudan marks challenging first year - Africa - Al Jazeera English

Thursday, 7 June 2012

The Diamond Jubilee

Why is it that when you're half way across the world you find yourself cooing over the Queen and welling up to 'Land of Hope and Glory'? I'm not ashamed. I really enjoyed our Jubilee celebrations.

The local staff looked on curiously as we mixed up cakes, pinned up bunting and dressed up tables with copious amounts of tea and coffee. People of all nationalities joined in our Jubilee celebrations and I was pleased to see cake bridging cultural divides, as always.

It was slightly odd celebrating the Queen and Britain with people from India, Kenya, Zimbabwe, South Sudan and Uganda, all countries that the UK have become embroiled with throughout their colonial history. I'm not sure if I was the only person who felt self-concious of this fact. We had a couple of self-confessed Irish Republican and British Anarchists at t heparty but they didn't seem to mind us manifesting our admiration of the Queen as long as it was accompanied by Pimms and cinnamon buns.

So, I stuck up some Wiki-Royal facts, we played a Royal Family quiz and played William Walton and Elgar on our Ugandan friend's super loud speakers.

It was nice to have a reason to celebrate and host people at our compound. Here are some pictures:

Yes, Claire is wearing a union jack flag and union jack sunnies, and yes, Lucy did also get me with her "Royal" stickers. Thankfully I don't think there's any photographic evidence.
Here's Lizzy (our Zimbabwean colleague) enjoying her Pimms.
Some of Claire's beautiful bunting in situ.
James, our Finance Manager, getting involved with the party... well sort of. I think it clashed with some football or other.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

New 'official' map 'proves hostile intentions', says Sudan

The argument over border demarcation is on-going and shows no sign of compromise, but can South Sudan’s creation of their own ‘official map’ be a ‘violation of the UN Security Council’, as the Sudanese Foreign Ministry Undersecretary claims?

S. Sudan's VP, Riek Machar, sitting in front of the new proposed map of South Sudan
On 4th May, South Sudan presented their own map of their nation, a visual representation of their imagined rights and entitlements over the land formerly known as ‘southern Sudan’. This map depicts currently disputed border regions inside the South Sudanese boarder and, presumably, is the map that South Sudan want to bring to the negotiating table at the next round of discussions with Sudan and the AU. This map includes the recently SPLA occupied area of Heglig. The occupation of Heglig, officially in Sudan, took place in March and South Sudan withdrew troops 3 weeks later following heavy international criticism.

Following South Sudan’s occupation of Heglig in March 2012, the AU drew up a speedy and urgent agenda to advise on addressing the outstanding areas of contention between Sudan and South Sudan namely; disputed boarder regions, oil exports and citizenship. South Sudan and Sudan were given three months to resume talks and settle disputes or else risk ‘appropriate measures’. The agenda has been approved and backed by the UN Security Council, who have threatened ‘sanctions’ on the two countries if they do not meet their three month deadline.

On the face of it, it seems like South Sudan is happy with the agenda and prepared to go back to the negotiating table, as is signified by their withdrawal of troops from Heglig. Sudan, however, is more suspicious – they do not believe that three months is a long enough deadline and they mistrust the entities within the AU who put the agenda together. Furthermore, representatives of the Sudanese government feel like the AU agenda reads too much like ‘western language and ideas’. Neither countries have much confidence in the other’s commitment to real compromise or fair negotiating.

Despite this, Sudan is appealing to the UNSC, stating that by drawing up their own national map, South Sudan are launching a “shameful attack on the territory and the sovereignty of Sudan”, which is absurd in the light of the aerial bombardment which has been carried out by Sudanese Antonov planes on South Sudanese territory since November 2011.

Maps are important and powerful tools which represent agreements and entitlement and every nation has the right to negotiate their borders and sovereignty over land. It seems to me that Sudan doth protest too much to South Sudan putting their contestations in picture form. This map is not a violation of space and no one has been harmed in the making of this map. The map is not internationally recognised, so South Sudan cannot occupy and govern land in accordance to their new map – so where are the hostilities? What do Sudan suppose South Sudan will do on the basis of their new map other than challenge Sudan at the negotiating table? South Sudan must defend their proposition if it is to become internationally recognised, but by simply drawing it up, nothing has been violated.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

The space between Relief and Development

I came to South Sudan in September 2011 and it took me only a month and a half to realise that many donor agencies pay too little attention to the complexities of relief and development challenges in South Sudan.

I work for a humanitarian organisation which has been in South Sudan since 1998. We respond to disasters such as the earthquake in Haiti and the Tsunami in Sri Lanka, and it is easy to see that the situation in South Sudan is quite different. There is no 5 year relief plan followed by a swift exit for agencies in South Sudan – the emergencies are endemic and triggered by a multitude of inter-related and compounding issues.

However, after all this time, after 14 years of operation in South Sudan, many institutional donors still insist on providing only one year humanitarian funding. Furthermore, donors often prefer to fund only one sector (Health, WASH or Nutrition etc.), preventing the implementation of integrated approaches to alleviating South Sudan’s many challenges. To run an effective and integrated programme of activities in an area of South Sudan it is necessary to have three or more donors contributing to that programme, necessitating three times as much reporting and three times as many staff to synthesise the financial, logistical and programmatic data whilst subsequently packaging it under three different donors’ reporting requirements.

There are other challenges as well. Annual funding involves extensive annual reporting, meaning at any one stage throughout the year reports are being prepared for an array of donors. Furthermore, since funding only lasts one year, finances have barely been released before it is again time to start planning for the next proposal. The constant uncertainty over funding can result in service delivery gaps, as many organisations do not have enough core-funding to support programmes during the time it takes for donors to consider proposals and release funds. Field-staff await redundancy letters at the end of each funding period, creating stress and tension amongst teams and making it difficult for NGOs to retain good staff and preventing NGOs from reaping the rewards sown into their staff through capacity building and training.

But the difficulties are not only institutional. It is almost impossible to deliver a project with all the necessary stages; needs assessment, community participation in planning; community cooperation; and, community ownership over joint inputs such as boreholes, latrines and health clinics, within the year timeframe that the funding allows. As Oxfam states in a 2011 South Sudan briefing paper, Getting it right from the start, these sorts of community engagement activities – those which are necessary for development initiatives to succeed – take time.

In South Sudan we still do not know what ‘normal’ rates of malnutrition are nationwide, but year upon year, communities’ malnutrition rates still exceed SPHERE Standards. Sporadic, violent and very complex conflict continues within South Sudan and between South Sudan and Sudan, displacing hundreds of thousands of people annually. In an environment where conflict of this sort is an annual occurrence it is difficult to encourage communities to invest in livelihood strategies. But, equally, stability will not arise from a South Sudan where 48% of the country is moderately or severely food insecure and 85% of Basic Services are delivered by an NGO community which is bound by inefficient funding structures. There is no panacea for addressing the vast developmental challenges faced by South Sudan, and NGOs alone are certainly not the answer. However, a strategic and intentional move by donors along the continuum from humanitarian towards long-term development assistance is fundamental for ensuring that no more money is wasted on quick fixes nor reductionistic donor priorities.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Crunchy local delicacy

A couple of times during the rainy season the place becomes over-run with these flying creatures. They look like ants, but with larger and more elongated abdomens, and they have 4 clumsy wings which they use to flap about in a haphazard manner. In the space of only a couple of hours, these insects swarm in, flap around the light-shades and drop their wings. Here's the little critters in action: 

Here's a bunch of the wings, sadly discarded:

Our IT Officer tells me that if you head down to the market at the right time of year, you can buy these insects in deep-fried salted form. He informs be that they're 'crunchy and delicious'.

Friday, 4 May 2012


If you've read other entries to my blog you'll be aware that I was meant to be working in Jonglei State, but when I came out to South Sudan my team had been evacuated to Juba because of a pretty nasty inter-tribal attack by the Murle tribe on Uror County, traditionally Lou Nuer territory. The team went back to Jonglei State in January and I am now permanently based in Juba (for reasons not interesting enough to be explained here). During this attack approximately 600 people died and 8000 homes burnt, as well as injuries and child abductions.
Map of South Sudan, its states and its counties
In December the tribes from Uror County (Lou Nuer) decided to retaliate; an estimated 6000 young men marched into Pibor County (also in Jonglei State) and wreaked havoc on the (Murle) populations there, killing and burning as they went. The government and UNMISS intervened and sent the 6000 youths back to their homes, after which the Murle retaliated again in a number of smaller attacks on Lou Nuer and Dinka communities.

Since this time, and perhaps also due to international pressure, the government decided to carry out a voluntary disarmament campaign. The government gave the communities until the end of April to hand over all their weapons, otherwise 'non-lethal' force would be used. Now April is over, 'non-lethal' force is being used on the people in Jonglei State, including women and elderly.

The South Sudanese army, the SPLA, has been in charge of disarmament and has met some resistance from a particular Nuer spiritual leader and the "Nuer White Army". These citizens argue that disarmament isn't fair unless it is carried out everywhere, all at once. A Dinka staff member, whom I work with, says that he disagrees with the disarmament if his tribe is disarmed first. Perhaps he is remembering the 1991 massacre of Dinka people in Bor, carried out by a rebel army led by Riek Machar (the current Vice President). I can't blame him for his concern; 2000 people were indiscriminately slaughtered in Bor in 1991, thousands more injured, up to 100,000 people displaced and an estimated 25,000 people died following the event due to famine after losing their homes and livelihoods. The scale of what happened in 1991 was epic, but a similar thing is happening now.

Reports from cattle camps, nutrition surveys and food security surveys show high levels of malnutrition and food insecurity amongst those currently displaced by conflict all over Jonglei State. When villages are raided, crops are burnt, grain is left behind and cattle are stolen. The loss of these livelihood assets is compounded by the poor rain that was received in 2011 which weakened cattle and harvests. In a couple of months, the rains will start again and roads will no longer be passable to get to those in need. Many agencies are so overwhelmed by the recent emergency that it is already becoming too late to procure seeds for this coming rainy season, since planting must start this month or the next.

I spoke to one of our nutrition project officers in Uror County who came to Juba for a short visit, she told me that the levels of malnutrition are evident, "almost everyone qualifies for our programme, a mother will come to us and it won't be just one child who is malnourished, it's all of them".

In the meantime, South Sudan's attention is drawn to the conflict on the border to Sudan. While this happens, guns are re-entering Jonglei State through Ethiopia, and there is more circulation of weapons within South Sudan, especially in the states that border the North. As this happens, Riek Machar tours the states if South Sudan to promote peace and apologise for the Bor massacre.

Disasters happen every year in parts of South Sudan and its easy to see how the international community lose interest; "another famine in Jonglei, that's happened before", "poor leadership, we've seen it", "financial crisis caused by asset mismanagement, well it's all their own fault, really". But when you find yourself living here, working with it and hearing about, with the knowledge that you're partly responsible for assisting those affected, it can be fairly overwhelming.

A South Sudanese women celebrating the independence of South Sudan from Sudan, July 2011

Monday, 30 April 2012

Getting the itch

The return of the rainy season is beautiful - it's cooler, we get dramatic rainstorms and, well, it's cooler! But the one small snag is the return of the mosquitoes. I don't know about you, but I'm the kind of person who swells up when I get bitten by mosquitoes, it's like a form of torture for me.

Tonight I finished my run at UNMISS and was mulling over the happenings of the day as I stretched out my limbs until dusk fell. Immediately I was set upon by 100, no, 1000 mosquitoes biting all over me, feeling the tingle as each bite turned into an excruciating undeniable itch! Look what they did to my ear!!

Seriously, mosquitoes are the most pointless and annoying creature there is - I challenge you to name one good thing they do for our world... just one!

And, before the advice starts flooding in, yes, I'll be sure to put on insect repellent next time. Although, I draw the line at putting it on my ears, ridiculous.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

War on the border

I know this is cheating, but this is the most detailed description I have yet found for what is happening on the border of South Sudan and Sudan at present and I felt I had to mention something.

"Nine months after Sudan split into two nations in search of a peace brokered by the United States, it is now clear that the two sides are at war.
Diplomats discussing the armed conflict talk of skirmishes and dustups, but a visit to this border region shows that what is taking place here is no accidental exchange of fire by troops confused about where the border lies. Instead, what’s happening is a headlong mobilization involving not just thousands of Sudan’s and South Sudan’s best forces and heaviest equipment, but heavily armed rebels from the distant Darfur region fighting alongside the South Sudanese troops.
Whether an emergency peace plan could curb the escalation remains to be seen. But neither side is talking to the other, and the mood here is weighted with the sober intensity of wartime.
On Sunday evening in a looted Sudanese garrison in Heglig, South Sudanese generals drew military positions in the sand with a curtain rod. They were expecting an imminent counteroffensive by Sudanese troops. Soldiers stood by, twitching, on edge.
Suddenly, missiles rained in, and artillery pounded the earth behind.
"We are under attack," yelled South Sudan’s Maj. Gen. Mangar Buong, the commander. Troops scurried, trucks spun out.
The international community has condemned the fighting and has called on South Sudan to withdraw. But its leader, Salva Kiir, has publicly refused to do so.
The fighting started last week on the road to Heglig, an oil outpost with a military base that had long been controlled by Sudan. The two sides faced off at a de facto border point marked now only by the start of a miles-long trail north of rotting corpses and feasting birds.
Who fired first is unclear, but from there, the fight spread northward to Heglig, which fell to the South Sudanese army a week ago.
Heglig now is a reeking graveyard of carnage. Two destroyed tanks sit on the road. Scraps cover the red dirt and debris floats in the dry wind. Battered signs proclaiming the Chinese-led oil consortium that worked here poke above heaps of loot from its offices _ chairs, file cabinets, TVs, refrigerators _ waiting to be hauled south as bounty.
Meanwhile, hundreds of South Sudanese soldiers stream up the road in large trucks to join the fight as Sudanese war planes hunt from above, pummeling the ground with bombs and rockets.
The South Sudanese army is using the captured Sudanese garrison in Heglig as a forward operating base. Soldiers pick through piles of clothes and half-finished meals while peeking at the sky in fear of the Sudanese planes above.
Stores of weapons were left behind, including crates of anti-personnel mines, banned under a treaty Sudan ratified in 2003.
The conflict is not new. Ever since British colonialism handed power to Sudan’s northern, Arab elite in the 1950s, war between the two sides has been an off-and-on affair.
But that war was supposed to have ended with the creation last year of South Sudan as an independent nation _ at least, that was the hope of the U.S. and Western allies who brokered the 2005 peace deal that gave South Sudan the right to split away.
Instead, the splitting of Sudan now appears only to have turned an internal war into an international one, with much more firepower on all sides.
The new dimensions of this old conflict are starkly evident on the front lines. The South Sudanese army is no longer the guerrilla force of old, but sports its own tanks, anti-aircraft weapons and sovereign land.
It’s joined by rebels from the Justice and Equality Movement group, who swooped in from Darfur laden with vehicles and heavy weapons, some likely from Libya.
The Darfur rebels have been fighting against the Sudanese government for years and have joined this new front with gusto. Their trucks are scrawled in Arabic and mounted with heavy weaponry, including one large anti-aircraft gun.
"JEM oyee!" yelled one fighter in a green tank top and dirtied white turban as he pulled to a stop, beer can in one hand and steering wheel in the other. A machine gun was mounted on the passenger seat, in front of his boyish sidekick.
The alliance with the Darfur group raises questions about South Sudan’s plan and how far it intends to press the battle.
Brig. Gen. Makal Kuol Deng, in command of Heglig, said he did not know what the end goal was. "If they (headquarters) say go ahead, we go ahead. If they say stop, we stop," he said.
Other South Sudanese military officials say that they have no intention of pushing far north, into what they consider proper Sudanese territory, and only want to defend their border.
But the presence of the JEM rebels from Darfur, who are seeking to overthrow the government of Sudanese President Omar al Bashir, suggests otherwise. JEM and a weaker Darfur rebel group, the Sudan Liberation Army, have joined up with South Sudan-aligned rebels in Sudan’s Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile. Together, the rebel alliance calls itself the Sudan Revolutionary Force.
The Sudanese army is better armed, but it seems drawn thin and disillusioned. In the Nuba Mountains, the rebels have been making surprising gains against the government forces. Here, it appears that the Sudanese army withdrew suddenly without a spirited fight.
There is no foreseeable endgame. The one hope for peace is that neither side can afford war for long. Landlocked South Sudan shut down its oil production in January, unable to reach an export deal with Sudan. Now, with Heglig’s oilfields shut down as well, Sudan, too, is facing a currency crisis.
Logic and sober analysis, however, overlook the depth of bitterness felt by both sides and the comfort with which a population that barely knows what peacetime means accepts violence and destruction.
Careening down the road back southward, the South Sudanese soldiers pointed at the corpses outside, dozens of Sudanese soldiers who’d died in battle. Stripped of boots and valuables, denied a Muslim burial, they decay out in the open. The air reeks of death. "Jellaba," the South Sudanese say, using derisive slang.
(Boswell is a McClatchy special correspondent. His reporting is underwritten in part by a grant from Humanity United, a California-based foundation that focuses on human rights issues.)" 

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

What happens when the water tanks run low

So, occasionally, our water tanks run low and all the sediment rushes into our sinks and toilets. This is what it looks like:

Nile Sand hand-exfoliation treatment, anyone?
Its not what you think, it is in fact sand straight from  the Nile, via a water truck, via our water tank.
These are the tanks that we get our water from in Juba. The water is taken straight from the Nile River without any filtration or treatment processes. On the compound we let the water settle in one tank before we pump it into a second tank and add water treatment. We also then filter the water using filters in the guest house and office.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

The rainy season has arrived!

Hurrah! Check it out, this was no pansy shower. I had to turn my camera off when the wind changed and started coming in horizontal through my door! It was AWEsome :-)!

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

A new recruit - the crew in the office

I'm back in Juba and yesterday our newest member of staff arrived from the UK, Claire. here she is with her new desk. The UK office sent her over with her very own table sign showing her name and job title. Here she is showing it off:

Claire, our new Grants and Information Coordinator. She likes beer and Tottenham Hotspur - we connect on the former.
When I took a picture of Claire in her new role, the rest of the team complained that I was showing favouritism. So, to ensure that you know that I love all of my team equally, here's the rest of them.

This is Anna - isn't she glam? Anna is our Health Advisor. She likes fashion magazines and things being orderly - we connect on the latter.
This is Denis, our WASH Advisor. I don't think I gave him enough time to prepare for the photo, and he looks a bit upset at me. However, on the rare occasions when we have BBQs, Denis often provides the soundtrack with a delightful mix of African tunes and power ballads.
This is Dawit, our resident expert in most things and also our Food Security Advisor. Dawit likes to pretend he's not interested and listening whenever Anna and I delve into a girly chat in the office. Dawit often joins in after we've called his bluff.
And this is me at my desk, with Anna laughing at me in the background. 

Tuesday, 28 February 2012


I've just spent 3 weeks in one of our field-sites, a place called Omdurman. I really liked the place and enjoyed my stay there. It was much more peaceful than Juba. I liked the rice and the goat stew and the mud huts, the outdoor showers and the long-drops. I enjoyed working with the team and was inspired by their commitment and what they'd achieved.

While I was there I was helping the team to gather some data about the impact of their programmes. Here's a map the local staff drew of the programme area. It proved a vital tool for planning the data collection.

Map of programme area drawn by local staff.
I didn't take any pictures when I was in the field because I'm scared of causing offence. However, in-between working really hard and other such noble things, I managed to take some pictures of the compound.

The tukuls that we live and sleep in.
Here's a lizard on the side of mine
The borehole behind our compound. Its been broken for 3 months so collecting the water for each day's use is a bit of a logistical challenge. Of course, we have a car, which is more than the average person in this area, so we can't complain really.
My feet in my tukul.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Gemma - not in Juba!

So, after 4 months in Juba, I'm now in the field doing something field-y. As I packed my bags to come, it made me feel like I was going on a Geography field-trip. My mind shot through all the field-trips that I've been on, with the long car journeys, photographing and making notes about everything, using my clip-board and head torch (not necessarily at the same time) and the sensation that every question you ask could provide useful orientation and data. Am I a geographer - yes! Am I a geek, yes yes!

Anyway, I'm here in Aweil East in Northern Bahr el Ghazal to help the team carry out a KAP (knowledge, attitudes and practices) Survey. I cannot explain how exciting it is to be here doing this after spending 4 months in HQ writing funder proposals and reports. Hopefully I'll get around to taking some pictures and provide further info in due course.

All that's left to say is: woo! 

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Consumption patterns of a S. Sudanese urbanite

So, this inspired me today. In England there’s no end of stuff to spend your money on; DVDs, snack food, clothes, magazines, theatre, dinner out, a music concert… the list goes on!

I stumbled upon the average % of money spent by households on various things in South Sudan and found the stats startling when I compare it to my spending habits back home. Say I earned £2000 a month (I wish!), and had a South Sudanese’s spending patterns, here’s where my money would be going:

Food (69%): £1380
Education (2%): £40
Health (5%): £100
Clothing (4%): £80
Utilities, incl. bills (5%): £100
Transportation, incl. communication (6%): £120
Personal care (3%): £60
Housing, incl. maintenance, repairs, appliances, utensils and cleaning (5%): £100
Recreation (0%): £0
Other (1%): £20

Well, it helps me to put the rising price of vegetables in Tesco Metro into perspective - £1380, per month?! You can get a lot of courgettes for that. But, perhaps I’d be likely to spend more on my food if my rent and bills totalled £200 per month. Not sure what they mean by “personal care”, pedicures, perhaps?

A graph showing consumption by state. The percentages I use are based on the average for a person living in an urban area in S. Sudan.
Of course, this is very rudimentary, and I understand that it is problematic to compare my spending to that of the average South Sudanese person since this is based on percentages, and if the South Sudanese economy was stronger I’m sure the % they spend on food would reduce also. However, it does make me wonder – rent and bills aside – is it necessary to spend all that I do on gadgets and frivolities? Does it enhance my wellbeing to spend my money on more stuff? Should I quit spending money on more stuff and buy the finest at Waitrose instead?! What would I do with all that excess money if I were to be fortunate enough to earn some, someday?! 

Monday, 23 January 2012


This is my friend, Mike. He took residence in my room about a week ago:

Mike, the selenopid crab spider
Mike and I have an agreement. Normally, Mike stays under the wardrobe during the day, but has free reign of the floor of the room at night, after I've gone to bed. I normally bump into him when I need a wee at 2am. Today he seemed to have over-stepped the boundaries of this agreement and perhaps is trying to negotiate some more floor time.

Mike doesn't seem to have a web, so I don't know how he manages to hunt. I saw a fly scoot past him just now and he didn't even flinch. I'm concerned he's depressed or lonely. I'd be quite please if he did decide to eat some of these annoying flies.

The good thing about having Mike around is that I'm not scared to leave my door open to let air in during the evenings any more. I mean, what could come in that is uglier than Mike! He's good at helping me put the world into perspective.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Jonglei - out of control?

A Jonglei governor stated that:

“after cattle raids in August 2011 left 600 people dead, the Nuer had agreed to halt retaliation if abducted women and children were returned. ‘This attack was supposed to take place in September but the government intervened.’

But after a three-month deadline passed and church-led peace talks collapsed in December, the rampaging youths unleashed their wrath.

Now authorities are struggling to stop a bitter enmity spiralling out of control.” (BBC News)

In the latter half of December, reportedly 6000 Lou Nuer advanced on Pibor in the Murle region of Jonglei State and burnt villages, killed villagers, abducted women and children, raided a charity-run health-care clinic and stole cattle in retaliation to the attacks carried out by the Murle in August. 

Aerial photo of Fertait village which was burnt by the Lou Nuer during December (taken from BBC)
Accurate figures of deaths, displacements and abductions have not been confirmed, but government representatives in Pibor claim that 3000 were killed, others suggest 2000-plus.

Map of Jonglei State showing the path of the Lou Nuer during their attack on the Murle over the New Year period.
Since January, there have been around 5 attacks surrounding the town of Akobo, in the Lou Nuer region, allegedly carried out by Murle, killing about 10 people and raiding cattle. Another attack was reported in Uror County, 15km from Yuai, also carried out by the Murle.   

Two days ago members of the Murle ethnic group killed up to 50 people in Duk County where another ethnic group, Dinka Bor, reside. The South Sudanese government have declared Jonglei a “disaster area”

It is widely understood that due to the civil war, which ended in 2005, there are many small arms amongst civilians and communities within South Sudan, although disarmaments in Jonglei seem to be carried out every few years or so – not always very peacefully.

Despite my limited knowledge of the region, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to suggest that the violence seen in Jonglei in 2011 has been particularly nasty, allegedly escalated by the greater presence of small and large arms spotted amongst the youth in the county, their direct source is somewhat unknown.

Local governments say that the State needs more roads so it can develop, as has become apparent when reading about aid agencies' struggles to reach affected communities by land. Other locals say that Jonglei needs more jobs and activities for young people, especially males, who are the ones that normally carry out the attacks. Some South Sudanese staff here say that the government need to ban, or cap, the ‘bride price’, or dowry, in which hundreds of cows can be demanded in return for the marriage of a particularly beautiful South Sudanese daughter. Incidentally, some areas consider beauty in a woman to be found in a tall frame, long neck and gaps in the teeth – the taller you are the more cows your parents get! It is suggested that men are spurred on by the women to carry out cattle raids and acquire cows so that they can be married to a man of choice rather than the old bloke down the way, who already has a few wives, but can pay more cows.

Or, perhaps ending the cycle of revenge and retaliation isn’t that easy? Perhaps there are people within the region encouraging the violence? Perhaps communities cannot forgive the deaths or abduction of their wives and children, or their cows which they hold in such high esteem?

I have no idea what the answer to the violence is. But, I suspect that if the young men who put effort into raiding their neighbour’s cattle and burning their neighbour’s villages took their finger off the ‘self-destruct’ button and instead put as much effort into rebuilding their communities and working together, then Jonglei might look very different. Now, how can that be achieved?!

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Keren in Juba!

My very good friend, Keren, was placed in Yida (the 'transitional'/refugee camp in Unity State, northern South Sudan) very unexpectedly and at the last minute - she was meant to be going to Uganda. Go figure?

For one night only, and for a few hours, we were able to go to the pub and catch up. It was exciting and surreal to be hanging out with someone I know so well in such a foreign environment. It made me feel closer to home and made the world seem like a much smaller place. I'm very thankful for the treat of seeing her.

We attempted to take a nice picture of ourselves to mark the occasion. We took about 6. They were all terrible. Below is the best shot from my camera. My face says, "come on, this one has to look ok"?! Thinking those sorts of things doesn't really bring on the 'natural look'. Hey-ho. Keren in South Sudan!!

Keren, me, my room.
This is the last time we saw each other. Photo taken on the day I left for South Sudan back in September.  I  believe we both are wearing the same tops.

Monday, 9 January 2012

iPod and lists

I'm back in Juba and it's hot hot hot! The BBC says between 22-35 degrees. Toasty.

Things feel a little different being back this time. Before I left in December I was feeling fairly run-down and very ready for a break - it was a long 13 week slog of adjustment to a new home, a new job and a knew way of living. I've come back positive and with some tricks up my sleeve to keep me preoccupied in my spare time at the weekends. The new developments are two-fold:

Firstly, I have an iPod Nano which I do believe has changed my life - is that a little too dramatic? Let me explain. I can now listen to music; every day! I had no idea how much I took that for granted when I was in the UK. I've also discovered the world of Podcasts - I could listen to Radio 4 programmes all day without getting bored, and it helps me feel like I'm keeping a-breast with the outside world. And whatsmore, the new iPod Nano has an app which gives you information on your "work-out sessions" - I tap in 30 minutes run, it counts me down to the end, measures my time, pace, distance and calories. It even logs my work outs and lists my 'personal bests'. I can now indulge my quantitative statistical obsession as well as listen to some banging tunes to keep me moving. Winner!

The Mighty Nano, yes!
Secondly; lists. I've discovered that I like structure - a list of things to occupy me at the weekends, to tick off one by one and help prevent me from feeling "stranded" in the absence of a workday to be getting on with. Even if the list is: "1) finish book, 2) wash underwear", it makes a big difference to me psychologically when I wake-up and I know what I can be getting on with.  I've found that this has encouraged me to take control of my surroundings a bit more - make my bed when I get up rather than leaving it messy, sweep my floor even though the cleaners will be in on Monday to do it, water the garden, even though we have a gardener. It gives me a great deal of comfort to have a bit of control over my surroundings. It seems in our culture it's become 'cool' to be 'spontaneous' and 'take each day as it comes', but I'm lobbying for the re-emergence of the noble beautiful 'structure' and 'planning' as a way of life - anyone with me?!

This is my list. It's the wrong way up. Don't scrutinise it too closely, that would be embarrassing.
(In case any of you are getting worried, I went out on Saturday and Sunday with friends and went to the pub last Thursday evening, also with other people... although have no photographic evidence!)

This blog is really only to let you know that I'm back, and that I'm doing well. I've been asked to write a blog about "what I actually do out here", as it seems this is a little bit of a mystery to many people. That will be my next blog. Also, there's been quite a lot happening in Jonglei State recently, which you may have noticed in the news, I feel I should write something about it - that'll be in 2 blogs time. I'll put all this on my list. Until then.

This is a picture of me looking happy because I had a swept floor and  just completed some wedding admin. Just for the record, the dress is two sizes too big for me, but I don't care because I got it in the sale!