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South Sudan

Lest We Forget The Hundreds Of Thousands Who Perished In SALVA KIIR’S Juba Genocide!!


By Peter Adwok Nyaba

Today, December 15, 2014, marks the first anniversary of the Juba massacre of ethnic Nuers ordered by President Salva Kiir Mayardit. It remains the saddest day in the history of South Sudan for it triggered the worst animal instincts, dehumanized us, that in a matter of moments we began to discriminate and decimate ourselves on the basis of ethnicity. Initially, the Nuers alone were marked for death at the hands of ‘dutku beny’ or the auxiliary presidential guards recruited specifically for that purpose at the behest of President Kiir by Paul Malong Awan. Nevertheless, any Dinka with facial marks as the Nuers suffered the same brutal fate. The village boys from Warrap and Awiel did not know that other Dinka people existed in Upper Nile or Jonglei. They also murdered a Chollo judge because they wanted to possess the Toyota V8 he drove.

Then, in a few days the mayhem spread like bush fire to other towns Bor, Bentiu, Malakal, Renk, etc., where now the Nuer in a similar fashion avenged their beloved ones against the Shilluk, Dinka, Nuer, Maaban, etc. The Shilluk also took on the Nuer; the Dinka took on the Shilluk, Nuer and Maaban. In his desperation, President Salva Kiir Mayardit invited the Dar Furi Sudanese rebels [Tora Bora], the Justice and Equality Movement to join the war against Dr. Riek Machar. He also invited the Ugandan People’s Defence Forces [UPDF] and their Helicopter Gunships whose gunners could not differentiate between the Nuers, Dinka, SPLA or White Army and bombed them without segregation, in a civil turned regional war with ill-defined political objective. Nevertheless, characterized by vengeance and counter-vengeance, for no reason, in which innocent women, elderly and children without distinction, perished in a manner unprecedented in our wars not even when we fought the mujahedeen and the muralieen.

December 15, 2013 is the day for which, we must invariably lower our heads in shame to deflate our individual inordinately enlarged ego. For that day imperceptibly exposed our five decades pretense and collective self-deception that we were one people fighting for liberation, equality, freedom and justice. On that day, inadvertently we denied our commonality, collective heritage and we forgot about neighborhood or neighbour standing up to defend the neighbour in danger.

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Has Kenya Destroyed the ICC?

When the supporters of Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto began systematically attacking the International Criminal Court (ICC) as a neo-colonialist institution biased against Africans in the run-up to Kenya’s 2013 election, their prime concern was domestic: to ensure their champions escaped prosecution at The Hague. A publicity campaign that made clever use of social media was transformed into government policy once the two men were inaugurated president and deputy president, respectively. It then acquired diplomatic wings, with envoys from Nairobi crisscrossing the continent to drum up support, culminating with an extraordinary African Union summit last October at which it was agreed that African heads of state would no longer face ICC prosecution during terms in office.

So effective has the anti-ICC campaign proved that it is now having repercussions its originators probably never foresaw: South Sudan is likely to be just the first in a series of new African conflict zones where human rights groups and civil society organizations find themselves nonplussed, unsure what to advocate in light of the body blows dealt the ICC.

“The ICC backlash has created a major dilemma for us, no doubt about it,” acknowledged the head of one human rights organization I spoke to, who asked not to be named. “Deciding the appropriate course of action has become a very difficult question.”
Their quandary, however, is no philosophical abstraction — the privilege of Western-funded NGOs with headquarters in Washington and Brussels. Every journalist is familiar with the experience of returning to the scene of an atrocity and interviewing a cowed survivor who quietly mentions that, in the street, they regularly pass men who raped a daughter, killed a father. If the ICC no longer holds out even the slim hope of eventual retribution for those who funded and armed such thugs, what alternatives exist?

In many ways, the series of abuses committed in South Sudan after fighting broke out in mid-December would be well suited for referral to the ICC, which currently can prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. First in Juba and then in dusty towns like Bor, Bentiu, and Malakal, opposing forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and his former deputy, Riek Machar, carried out tit-for-tat massacres and gang rapes, with atrocities targeted along ethnic lines. Victims were shot in hospital beds, outside churches, and within sight of United Nations compounds.

For human rights activists, the sheer brutality of the violence, in a region scarred by 22 years of civil war between Khartoum and southern rebels, confirms a long-voiced argument that preventing fresh abuses means ending impunity. It is vital, many argue, to avoid the example set by Sudan’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which gave birth to Africa’s newest state in 2011 while largely sidestepping the issue of accountability for past crimes.

“We’ve had 10,000 dead in less than three months. It’s been very fast, very aggressive, and the massacres have been ethnically targeted because that’s the way the leadership presented it,” says Wani Mathias Jumi, secretary-general of the South Sudan Law Society. “In the past there was no accountability at all, and that has been carried forward. If this country is to exist anywhere but on paper, we have to see redress this time.”

South Sudan possesses other characteristics that make it suitable for ICC referral. The three-year-old country’s judicial system is still in embryonic form. No legal provision for crimes against humanity exists, and legal aid and witness protection programs have yet to be established. Judges, prosecutors, investigators, and clerks are in short supply and were often trained in the north, and so are accustomed to legal documents written in Arabic and the workings of sharia law. In South Sudan, where most inhabitants are either Christian or animist, the official language is English and the legal system is based on common law.

“Even before the latest conflict, South Sudan was struggling to cope with prosecuting ordinary crimes,” says Amnesty International’s Elizabeth Ashamu Deng. “It’s clear that the normal justice system would not be able to deal with this latest challenge without significant external input.” Daniel Bekele, the director of the Africa division at Human Rights Watch, describes South Sudan’s judiciary as “one of the weakest in the region,” adding, “In a new country, that’s not surprising.”

Always envisaged as a “court of last resort,” the ICC was set up in 1998 with precisely such circumstances in mind, offering justice to people in states too fractured to deliver it themselves. South Sudan may not be a signatory to the Rome Statute that established the ICC (neither, of course, is the United States), but the U.N. Security Council can refer a situation to the ICC, thereby establishing jurisdiction.

Yet in spite of South Sudan’s apparently meeting many ICC criteria, leading human rights and policy advocacy groups are skirting calls for the court’s involvement. Human Rights Watch says it is still assessing the situation. The International Crisis Group is calling instead for a tribunal on the lines of that staged in Sierra Leone after its civil war. Amnesty International, for its part, says it is waiting on the final recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan, set up by the African Union.

This wariness is rooted in recent, scarring experience. Shocked human rights groups are still digesting the African Union’s decision to rally behind Kenyatta and Ruto, accused by the ICC of organizing the violence that claimed more than 1,000 lives in the wake of Kenya’s 2007 elections and nearly tore the country apart.

“The ICC has, unfortunately, become a toxic brand in much of Africa,” says John Ryle, of the Rift Valley Institute think tank. “This is due to the ineptitude of its former chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, and to the skillful political maneuverings of a number of ICC indictees, who have managed to represent the court as an instrument of Western intervention in the affairs of sovereign nations. The vulnerability of the ICC to this backlash has been a blow for African civil society activists who seek justice and accountability from their leaders.”

Indeed, aware that three of the regional states now attempting to mediate a peace deal between Kiir and Machar — Sudan proper (where President Omar al-Bashir himself faces ICC prosecution), Kenya, and Uganda — have been particularly vocal in their hostility toward the ICC, many human rights groups are seeking cover behind the African Union’s commission of inquiry, which is seen as a classic “African solution to an African problem.” Led by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and launched in March, the commission includes Ugandan academic Mahmood Mamdani, who has made his impatience with the ICC clear, arguing that a fixation with delivering pure justice can clash with the political accommodations necessary for peace. Influenced by South Africa’s post-apartheid experience, the commission’s members see reconciliation as their overriding priority. It is already running months behind schedule, but its final report, due in September, is expected to reiterate initial support for a “hybrid court” as the most appropriate way of delivering justice to South Sudan.

Hybrid, or “ad hoc,” courts usually involve a mix of domestic judges and international magistrates, prosecutors, and investigators flown in to bolster a weak local legal system. The aim would clearly be to deliver a form of justice that would be both credible and recognizably local.

But many in the human rights sector see the championing of the hybrid-court model as deeply ironic — history turning full circle. Ad hoc courts of various kinds were experimented with in Africa during the 1990s as reactions to abuses committed in Sierra Leone, Rwanda, and, more recently, Chad. The ICC formula came to be seen as far preferable as a result.

“It seems we’ve gone right back to the 1990s,” says Casie Copeland, an analyst with the International Crisis Group. “The problem with the ad hoc courts was that they were tremendously expensive and that cash” — usually provided by the United States, European Union, or United Kingdom — “just isn’t on the table now.”

“Decisions to appoint ad hoc courts were often highly political, whereas with the ICC system everyone knew they were dealing with international treaty bodies,” she adds. It can sometimes prove impossible to set up a hybrid court in the country where the atrocities were committed, leaving proceedings looking just as remote to the local population as those in The Hague. Another problem with hybrid courts has proved to be the often-tense relationships that develop between internationally funded employees and local staff working in cash-strapped, demoralized courts — tensions that undermined the ambition to build up a legacy of skills, resources, and legal expertise.

“The hybrid-court approach might be one useful model, but it is no panacea for all situations,” warns Human Rights Watch’s Bekele. “The relevance of a hybrid-court model needs to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.”

Wary of being associated with another high-profile ICC debacle — one many observers predict could effectively spell the end of the court — human rights workers say the ball on South Sudan is now in the African Union’s court. But they privately express concerns about the commission of inquiry’s scarce resources and the modest amount of time spent on the ground. “The African Union really needs to step up to the plate on this and demonstrate it can push for accountability,” said one activist who wished to remain anonymous.

History may well come to see Kenya as the place where an idealistic — but perhaps naive — drive for universal justice was checked by the realities of entrenched elite power. The notion that sitting heads of state or popular ethnic champions would meekly allow themselves to be prosecuted seems extraordinarily starry-eyed now. But that realization still leaves unanswered the practical question of what is to be done when fresh conflicts break out and abuses are committed in traumatized African states that lack either infrastructure or political will to deliver accountability. This question is immediately pressing in South Sudan, as well as the Central African Republic, but will inevitably arise in other parts of the continent before too long.

Expect years of debate. “The end goal is that there should be justice,” says Copeland. “If there’s a way of achieving that without involving the ICC, then let’s do it. But we’re going to see plenty of efforts to find ways of working around the ICC that will be confronted with the same facts that motivated the establishment of the ICC in the first place.”

South Sudan: extremely poor or ridiculously rich

Surrounded by a series of blue and red suitcases two young women check in for the flight to the South Sudanese capital Juba. Their suitcases are of an expensive brand and their clothing is pricey too. The luggage weighs much heavier than the free baggage allowance but unlike other passengers, they do not plead for exemption. They pay without batting an eyelid a considerable amount for the excess luggage.

“It is mainly presents for family. In Juba it is hard to get nice things unlike here in Nairobi where you can buy almost anything as long as you have a happy back account”, says one of the ladies. The two South Sudanese women study in Kenya where their fathers possess houses besides the homes they own in Juba. They clearly belong to the elite of South Sudan because upon arrival in Juba they do not throw themselves into the mayhem in order to obtain a stamp on their passports or retrieve their luggage. This is taken care of by a man in a dark suit and fashionable sunglasses who sees them through customs with a simple hand gesture, and whisks them away.

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Once again War destroys dreams in South Sudan

Juba, – Kon Kelei and Tong Akot returned three years ago from the Diaspora, full of optimism, back to South Sudan. They had fled as teenagers from the civil war between North and South Sudan, and ended up in the Netherlands where they studied and worked.  In 2010, a year before the independence of South Sudan, they both separately decided to help with the building of their country. After a laborious start they eventually found their niche only to end up in another war in their country, this time between the South Sudanese themselves.

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Yida refugee camp, February 2013


The typical building material in Yida is grass.

Yida refugee camp is situated in Unity State just South of the border with North Sudan. It houses now an estimated 63,000 people with between 300 and 500 new arrivals every day. The reasons for its existence have to be looked for up North in the Nuba Mountains (NM).

The war in the NM resumed in June 2011. Since then the Khartoum army occupies the main towns while the SPLA / North holds most of the countryside. The main war activity going on is the Antonov. In the Christmas period the little town of Kauda on its own received more than 90 bombs. January was relatively quiet. But since then the planes fly over the area practically every day and they drop bombs arbitrarily on any small settlement.

P3 pupil Intisar Bushra from Kauda arrives at a hospital early February with bomb shrapnel in her thigh.

The bombings do not attract much outside attention, not even in South Sudan. An exception was Jau which was bombed on February 14. Jau, about 15 km North of Yida, is considered the border between North and South.

These bombings have had two main effects. Schools still function but many pupils and students have left in search of better education. Nuba students can be found now all over the South and even in refugee camps in Kenya. The bombings have also affected agricultural activity and this, combined with drought and many of the men under arms, has recently created wide-spread famine in the NM.

It is this lack of food that makes people to leave for Yida according to the refugees themselves. For many this involves a journey of 100 km or more, often to be done on foot. If they are lucky a trader’s lorry will help them; e.g. a certain Cletia paid SSP 350 for the transport over 200 km of herself, her husband, 4 children and 2 beds.

In Yida a harsh life awaits them. Once they have paid SSP 5 for the allocation of a plot in the sprawling 20 sq km vast camp they have to collect in the bush the building materials for their shelter. At the same time they have to try and get registered for the monthly food distributions.

Sorghum, pulses and oil awaiting distribution

Water point in Yida


According to WFP the refugees receive 15 kg of cereals per person per month. Refugees themselves claim the ration is more like 4 malwa which equals slightly over 9 kg per person per month. But even if WFP is right the ration is minimal and forces people to look for additional income. For many the only source is to go and collect useful items in the bush such as building materials and firewood.

Once they have settled the daily provision of water is a big challenge for the women. Samaritan’s Purse drilled the boreholes in the camp. Four NGOs are active in the field of health. MSF runs a hospital as also some outreach activities such as malnourishment monitoring. IRC does reproductive health. Solidarity International promotes sanitation. And Samaritan’s Purse makes its plane available for medical evacuations.

MSF monitoring centre

If health is relatively well taken care off then education is the most neglected service. If it was not for the local administration by the Nuba Relief and Development Organisation (NRRDO) which made schools to be built and appointed teachers, there would be no education at all for the large population of school-age kids. There is no NGO that provides any material support up to the present day.

Amazingly enough the lack of support to education is intentional. A fact finding mission from the British Anglican Church recently wrote: UNHCR “has prevented funding for schools – leaving 13,000 primary school children and young people with little access to education.” (HART visit to South Sudan, Nuba Mountains (South Kordofan) and Blue Nile, January 4-18, 2013, p. 5).

This UNHCR policy is motivated by its wish to move the entire camp further away from the border. It appears to have two reasons for this: it would make the refugee camp safer (in fact Yida was once bombed in November 2011 though without any resulting damage); and it would give UNHCR greater control over the refugee population and so protect it against accusations of feeding SPLA / North soldiers.

Long line of classrooms. There are 3 more schools like this one in the camp

Main entrance of the UNHCR compound. The two busses, though idle, undoubtedly represent the single biggest investment in Yida refugee camp.

It appears that UNHCR Geneva and a ‘coordination group in New York’ have mounted a successful campaign among the foreign affairs ministries of the main donor countries to refrain from funding support as long as Yida has not moved. However, the intention to move the camp Southwards goes against the need of the refugees to remain as close as possible to their homes, fields and relatives who stayed behind.

In fact this discussion has poisoned the relations between UNHCR and the refugees while the implementing NGOs (and probably also the UNHCR staff in the field) feel caught in the middle. But worse, since the time UNHCR came in proper service delivery has been paralysed.

For people in the field the discussion has meanwhile been overtaken by the facts. In the words of Msgr. Macram Max Gassis, bishop of El Obeid: “Who still wants to move people who have been in a place already for over a year?”


Deputy camp manager Najda Romeo Peter: “If UNHCR wants us to move let them leave us alone”

Native inhabitants of Lamu see new port as threat

Old Town of Lamu ©Ilona Eveleens

A wide, dusty road ends in a gaping hole in the mangrove forest through which the water of the Indian Ocean is visible. A man appears from the remaining forest of trees that grow in the shallow, salty water along the coast. He carries a bag with two live crabs. “There are abundant crustaceans between the mangroves. But they will soon disappear when the new port of Lamu will be constructed”, he says.
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The Nuba Crisis: A Continuing Assault

Dry weather means war in the Nuba Mountains. News from the front comes almost every day: shelling of Kadugli, clashes at Um Heitan, an assault on Daldogo. A steady trickle of refugees moves south, wearing their households on their heads: pots, pans, a radio, some flour and sometimes a whole bed.

Valley after valley lies desolate where rich crops used to grow, the seedbeds now in disarray and the stalks bruised. Market after market is depleted, but for some produce from the highlands. On mats no bigger than bath towels traders lay out their fare: piles of little tomatoes, okra, potatoes or three to four lemons, sometimes mangoes. Almost nobody buys.

Unmistakable overhead comes the swelling hum of engines. No more than a glint between rock and sky, the Antonov is the most widely recognized aircraft type in Sudan. More cargo plane than bomber, its creators in the Ukraine must have never imagined that it would be used in such a place, over and over again, bringing more than 2000 bombs this year, according to Montasir Nasir, head of the region’s human rights commission.

On a Sunday morning in Buram the church is emptying, stirred up by the sound overhead. The service will be held in the rocks. Through the tall grass the congregation searches toward the mountain, a group diminished by so many departed – those at the front, those in the camps, those who have died.

The deacon Isaac Kafi Nahal leads the ones that remain: Women in scarves almost neon bright, drab barefoot children, men in flamboyant shirts. The sermon is from Revelation: “Outside are the dogs and murderers. But God will come soon.” In the rock cave there is cheering, dancing and prayer. When the time comes for the collection, the congregation produces a corncob and two Sudanese pounds – half a dollar.

I expect the worst famine that this generation has experienced’

There is only one real hospital in the Nuba Mountains. It is run by Dr. Tom Catena, a 52-year old Catholic mission doctor from New York state. He has more than 300 patients.

“Over the past three years I have seen the number of malnourished children grow,” says Dr. Catena. “Within a few months, I expect the worst famine that this generation has experienced. The people have no more reserves. The rain in the past year was so bad, that they hardly made it through the year. Due to the air bombardments there is not enough harvest in November. This will lead to a great shortage of food.”

His assertion appears to be backed up by survey data collected in August by a hybrid group of local civil society and foreign aid workers. The group, which prefers anonymity owing to fears for their security, conducted a household survey in August that showed “high levels of ‘moderate’ and ‘severe’ hunger in all SPLM-N-held localities.”

“The levels of ‘severe’ hunger reported in Kadugli are particularly high, at 85.4 percent for resident households and 87.5 percent for displaced households,” the group noted in a report which was given to Radio Tamazuj in late October.

Little relief will come from the ongoing harvest, according to the survey, largely because security in many areas was too poor for planting or harvesting. The result of this is evident at the local markets: “Wheat and millet were not available in any of the locality markets surveyed and availability of maize was also limited. … The situation is notably worse in Kadugli [locality], where staple commodities are much less readily available. Indeed, sorghum, the key staple food for poor households, was only found in one market in Kadugli.”

Malnutrition rates have worsened, according to a separate August survey conducted by an international NGO that that likewise prefers anonymity, fearing retribution from the Sudan government.

The ‘Rapid Food Security and Nutrition Assessment’ report, which was vetted by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, showed that food security in the Nuba Mountains “has dramatically deteriorated, with 81.5 percent of households surviving on one meal per day, compared to only 9.5 percent one year ago, and 0 percent two years ago.”

The report concludes that the nutrition situation is serious, verging on critical, with a current global acute malnutrition rate in children 6-59 months of 14.9 percent and a severe acute malnutrition rate of 3.6 percent with the presence of aggravating factors such as endemic malaria.


Nobody is counting exactly how many Nuba have fled. There are three UN peacekeeping missions in Sudan and South Sudan – in Darfur, South Sudan and in the disputed Abyei area – costing some $2.4 billion per year. But none has a mandate for the Nuba Mountains. The UN pulled its bases from the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan when the conflict began in June 2011.

The UN Coordination Agency (OCHA), however, sketches out some rough estimates. It says in an October report that the number of ‘displaced and severely affected’ people, including refugees, is 207,000 within government-held areas of South Kordofan, 350,000 within the SPLM-North territory, and 65,000 refugees in camps South Sudan.

That puts the total figure at more than 600,000, a quarter of the state’s population of 2.5 million according to the 2010 census, but a far higher percentage if one excludes the western, Misseriya-inhabited counties of the state, which have not been directly affected by the conflict.

Adrian Edwards, UN Refugee Agency spokesman in Geneva, says that a new influx is expected at refugee camps in South Sudan as the rains come to an end. He says that the agency is preparing new sites to settle refugees to relieve pressure on the already massive Yida camp. At least 100 refugees are still arriving every day at the camp, a far lower intake than earlier this year but what is taken to be only a temporary lull.

Some Nuba, on the other hand, head north, crossing the front line into government towns. They risk recrimination or abuse in the hope of accessing food and labor opportunities. Dr. Catena explains: “Here in the Nuba Mountains it is a matter of starving or you walk over to the Khartoum-controlled areas. Read the reports. What happens if you do not choose their side: torture, rape, abuse, or you will be treated as a spy.

“They are draining the Nuba Mountains of humans as one would drain a swamp. Food is in government-controlled areas, like in Talodi and Kadugli. It does not come from the government of Khartoum, it is provided by WFP,” he adds.

Other Nuba stay behind anyway. For some, they would rather die than join the enemy. For others, the journey to South Sudan is too long, and there is little chance of help along the way. International organizations that are caught providing assistance in the rebel-held region will be thrown out from northern Sudan, so less than a handful of organizations help secretely by providing medicines or food. Among them are Americans, Germans, French and Dutch.

The remnant of the Nuba still clinging to their homeland try to bring supplies from the outside. But the roads to the south are so poor that it’s cheaper, though far more dangerous, to smuggle goods from the north. At Kurchi market, for instance, a truck pulls in carrying sesame, sorghum and diesel. Nomad traders bring the goods from across government lines. The prices are less than they are at Yida refugee camp.

But virtually no one in the Nuba Mountains carries money: 73.2 percent of all households have no income, according to the Rapid Food Security and Nutrition Assessment carried out last August.

‘Language and culture are systematically destroyed’

Montasir Nasir, a chemical engineer with a calling for human rights, lists churches, schools and farms that have been hit by bombs. He shows little anger, just grief. Since the Christian Nubian kingdoms were overrun in the 14th century, “the culture of the Nuba peoples and especially the Christians is restricted,” he says.

Nasir says that the conflict is about identities: “The politics of Khartoum toward the Nuba peoples is to Arabize and Islamize. The local language and culture are systematically destroyed. In all bombings, the government is trying to hit schools and churches. By hitting the cornfields, they cause a famine.”

Any opposition to this programme – real or perceived – is met with brutality, according to Martin Boulis, a refugee working with the Sudan Council of Churches. He recalls the day he lost a friend, 32-year-old Nemeiri Phillip Kallo: “Right in front of the gates of the UN peacekeeping mission in the capital Kadugli my friend who worked for the UN was executed.”

Nemeiri was in Kadugli, the state capital and a government garrison, when the first fighting broke out on June 5, 2011. Ethnically Nuba and fighting age, he feared for his life. He headed to the base of the UN, which was preparing its exit but still had a troupe of Egyptian peacekeepers.

Pulling up near the gates of the base, in a car driven by a friend, he was stopped by security officers and taken from the car. The Egyptian UN officers at the gate did not dare to intervene, says Boulis. “A soldier pointed his gun at Nemeiri’s head. Someone shouted: ‘Do not shoot here.’”

“So they threw him in the truck, tore away around the corner and then we heard the gunshots. Soldiers threw him out of the car on the side of the road.” The account of this murder is corroborated by a former employee of the UN who was an eyewitness and driver of the car from which Nimeiri was taken.

Wounded, sick

Dr. Tom Catena lifts the shirt of a boy he operated earlier in the day. The boy has a temporary stoma surgically created because there is a shard in his bowel and abdominal cut: “No problem, it can later be removed.”

He takes the sheet off a woman. Her abdomen is covered in gauze. “I removed nothing but grass and stones from the inside,” he says. She was hit by debris from a bomb while crossing the fields near Heiban. “She has a family of seven children, and they have twice already given here a chicken. She’ll make it.”

The doctor continues his round. He is worried about the man who turned his hand to ‘spaghetti’ in an accident with a grenade launcher. He fears amputation will be necessary. Then there is a prostate patient, and a woman who miscarried twins, and a woman with a leg traction expertly mounted to the bed frame.

Doctor Tom smiles at a small man standing in the ward: “I thought he had appendicitis. I cut him open this morning. Then I found two bullets. He had forgotten that he had been shot a year earlier.”

“Look around you here in this hospital. Are these rebels? Here, look at this boy, he lost his arm. That girl is a paraplegic because of a bombardment. These are dangerous people? Are malnourished babies guilty of fighting? Help me out here, these people just live in this area,” he says.


The doctor strokes his shaved head: “Instead of giving assistance to the region, the world watches the bombs falling. We are ruled by criminals, but the international community still does business with them. President Omar al Bashir and Governor Ahmed Haroun are both indicted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague wanted for war crimes. But they can quietly continue their destruction of the Nuba people. ”

“This is ethnic cleansing, chasing people from their area because of their political, ethnic and religious beliefs. They had the right to fair elections, which have not been held. According to the peace agreement, the Nuba peoples had the right to a popular consultation on what form of government they wanted. Khartoum denied it,” he adds.

“Normally international organizations come in to help. The government and rebels had even reached an agreement with the UN, African Union and the Arab League to give help. But until today there is no grain that arrived in the rebel areas. But meanwhile the UN Food Programme, WFP, gives food aid to the government-controlled region.”

The lone doctor in the Nuba Mountains shakes his head: “This is a classic example of the use of food as a weapon… I don’t get it. Why don’t people understand the logic of this?”

Nuba soldiers, meanwhile, expect that more attacks are imminent. The government is preparing its dry season offensive. Montasir Nasir looks up at the sky: “Make it stop.”

Hildebrand Bijleveld is a journalist working since 1994 in Sudan. He is the founder and director of Radio Dabanga and Radio Tamazuj, shortwave broadcasters for Darfur and the other conflict zones in Sudan. Edited by Daniel van Oudenaren.

Related: Photos: The Nuba in Crisis

You can contact the director of Radio Tamazuj, Hildebrand B. Bijleveld:


Beware a hurried agreement in Addis Abeba


Since its independence, now over one year ago, South Sudan has suffered from a steadily deteriorating relation with its Northern neighbour and former ruler Sudan. International pressure made the two parties to start talks that take place in Addis Abeba.

But to borrow a concept from French historian Pierre Nora, Ethiopia’s capital is a lieu de mémoire for Southerners: if there is one place in the world that plays an ominous role in the collective Southern memory it is Addis Abeba. This was the city where the peace agreement was made that ended the first war between North and South in February 1972. {read more…}


                                    The price you pay for oil


The predictions were dire soon after South Sudan had closed the pipeline to the North and thus its oil production. The World Bank, apparently unflustered by the reputation it has built up in South Sudan since 2005, claimed in a confidential report last February that the reserves of the country would be depleted by July and then ‘state collapse’ would be imminent. And indeed Oxfam early July exclaimed with characteristic understatement ‘Skyrocketing fuel and food prices deepen humanitarian crisis as country teeters on the brink of economic meltdown.’ But what are the facts ?

The South Sudan pound (SSP) has depreciated to the dollar in Juba’s black market as follows: in mid March the dollar was SSP 3.7; in mid April SSP 4.4; mid May SSP 4.8; mid June SSP 4.9 and mid July SSP 5.2. Fuel has been stable in Juba at SSP 6 per liter since April, though sometimes the price would triple for a few days awaiting new supplies to arrive. On July 25 over 30 tankers were waiting at Juba’s bridge to bring their diesel and petrol into the town. South Sudan is a vast country and the story will be different in the isolated border areas with e.g. Ethiopia or Uganda.

Early May in Pochalla for example one needed SSP 6 to get the birr equivalent of one dollar while in Juba it would have been less than 5. The border areas with Sudan have been even worse off but for entirely different reasons: because the Sudanese president Bashir closed the border most of these areas can now only be supplied by air. The economy too is vastly heterogeneous.

The average Toposa cattle keeper or Zande peasant lives in a cashless economy and can easily survive without the goods modern society considers important. At the other extreme is the Ugandan teacher who teaches in a Southern Sudanese school on an SSP salary: what he can send home to his family in Uganda has almost halved in value since February.

In between these extremes finds himself the salaried Southerner, including the SPLA soldier and the policeman: life has become more expensive for them but up to now they have been tolerant with considerable equanimity. Many of them have on top started to take care of relatives who returned from the North and have not yet found jobs, homes or even land.

The values of austerity and solidarity that were essential during the war have not yet disappeared among the middle class. The Southern government too deserves praise these days: it is succeeding to allocate the increasingly scarce foreign exchange to those areas where it matters most. Diversion of funds has also minimised witness the posh mansions that the elite had under construction but that are now standing abandoned half-finished. The relative ease with which the South, at least up to now, has coped with the sudden loss of the oil income raises the question whether it really needs the vast amounts of money the oil provided over the last 6 years.

It is true that both the Northern and the Southern representatives in the Addis Abeba talks think so. Khartoum has been insisting on a solution of all other issues before it would be willing to discuss the oil question. The South on the other hand offered recently 3 billion dollars plus a still very royal transit fee in return for getting the possibility to let the oil flow again to Port Sudan.

But South Sudanese president Salva Kiir admitted himself that 4 billion dollars from the oil income disappeared over the last few years. Since then the government has not taken any visible measures to prevent similar corruption from re-emerging once the oil flows again. And even when corruption was not involved there has been mismanagement, as in the case of the drug purchasing programme and the hundreds of tractors that are standing idle in Juba. Perhaps it would be best to forget about pipelines and instead limit oil production initially to what a few local refineries would need.

Such an alternative would have several advantages: the oil income would be of a more reasonable size, easier to handle and control by the government, and with a clear need for it in the society; the oil, once refined into consumable diesel or petrol, could be economically transported by tanker to the local market and to the neighboring countries, making use of the existing road network rather than of a pipeline that belongs to Khartoum or, perhaps even worse, still has to be built; more oil would remain available for future generations to benefit from; more funds would be available to future governments that no doubt will be more qualified and better equiped to handle larger budgets; the talks in Addis Abeba would not have to waste time any longer on the oil issue but could concentrate on the important issues of the human condition in the border region, the disputed areas, and Blue Nile and the Nuba Mountains.

To pump out as much oil as possible as quickly as possible may be in the interest of international investors, the Khartoum government and a small corrupt elite in Juba. And it may also be promoted by the chattering classes in Oxfam and the World Bank. But it does not seem to be in the interest of the owners of the oil: the ordinary Southerners present and future.


** The author prefers to remain anonymous. The author lives in South Sudan since 1984

When Antonovs fly over: history repeats istelf

An old postcard from Antonov


The story was published  12 years ago. Many Sudanese today would not notice a difference.

He arrived at a quarter to nine in the morning, and immediately became the most feared man in our little town. “De huwo!” (“it is him”) people shouted, and everybody started to run for cover.

He kept at a safe altitude of 20,000 ft, started to make a lazy circle around the town, and then made as if to disappear. But after a few minutes the noise of his engines increased again. The town had become eerily silent: the dogs had stopped barking; even the birds had stopped singing. {read more…}

South Sudan’s Independence: “We are just muddling through”

One year after independence morale is still high in South Sudan. But the initial hope for a rapid start towards development, establishment of human rights and economic prosperity has faded. “It is as if the war never stopped,” sights the catechist John Deng in Bentiu. Bentiu lies in the centre of the South Sudan’s oil industry, but the town still looks like a dirty hamlet, with hardly any sign of visible progress.  John has to look for fuel on the black market, a jerry can of 20 litres cost 280 South Sudanese pound when I was there in June 2012. Basic foodstuffs are, if available, very expensive because of the border closure with Sudan. “There is a shortage of everything, like during the war,” he laments.

“The Sudanese government closed the border and is hoping South Sudan will collapse,” says Governor Taban Deng in his office in Bentiu. Besides him sits generaal James Gatduel Gatluak, who directs the troops along the frontline with the disputed territory of Heglig. “You can never trust an Arab,” he sighs. Like during the war, the ruling Sudanese Peoples Liberation Movement (SPLM) is still in guerrilla mode.

{read more…}

The truth behind Dutch diplomacy in South Sudan

Admittedly, travelling abroad with the Dutch deputy development cooperation minister is not the most exciting journalistic assignment. Dutch involvement in Africa has waned in recent years. There was a time when former development minister Jan Pronk used his influence to get involved in the peace negotiations in South Sudan.

Nowadays Dutch interest is limited to development aid: building water wells, agricultural projects, aid for setting up programmes to improve justice and training police. “The spearheads of the new policy,” as the caretaker deputy minister stresses during his visit to South Sudan.

But the journalists travelling with the minister knew that already; we want to hear news. So I focus on the opening of the new Dutch embassy in Juba. It’s been open for 11 months already, but now Mr Knapen has come to perform an official ceremony. Could there be a snippet of Dutch news? For, what did Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders have to do with the new embassy?

The Dutch government has closed ten embassies across the world (five of them in Africa), including the economically important country of Cameroon. So why did it open one in South Sudan of all places?

For some time I’ve been hearing rumours in Dutch diplomatic circles  that this embassy has been set up in exchange for support from the Freedom Party for the coalition deal. Put simply, in the conflict in Sudan, the Christian south has seceded from the not-so-friendly Muslim state in the north. So is it an anti-Islam decision?

Although the Dutch government has already fallen, the caretaker deputy minister declines to confirm that Mr Wilders is behind the move. “I can’t understand where you got that from,” Mr Knapen says innocently.

Mr Knapen is quite prepared to talk about why South Sudan rather than Sudan was selected for development aid. The embassy in Khartoum remains open, but no Dutch aid is given to Sudan anymore. Many Western countries have followed this example and Khartoum isn’t pleased. In response, diplomats posted in South Sudan are not given visas to travel via Sudan.

As there is nothing new to report from the Netherlands, there is plenty to report about South Sudan itself. In recent days, the press has been dominated by a leaked letter President Salva Kir sent to his ministers and other government employees about corruption.

Four billion dollars have disappeared in the past few years. President Kir has called on those responsible to hand the money back. At a meeting with Vice President Riek Macha, Mr Knapen “expressed his concern” – as they say in diplomatic language – about corruption in the country. He promised to consult other donor countries to take joint action.

“Of course, there is corruption,” Mr Knapen says after the meeting. So, it’s been said. But then he says something that sounds like an appeal for people’s understanding:

“The information from the IMF which looked at Juba’s government income and spending, is that it might not all be down to corruption. When South Sudan suddenly started getting oil revenues in 2005, there was no Central Bank, there wasn’t even a Finance Ministry. And that in a non-existent state, it’s a recipe for disaster.”

Then Mr Knapen adds: “I am glad that President Kirr is taking action. Because this is a huge amount.”

Harsh reality
Harsh diplomatic language, but for whose ears: for South Sudan or for home consumption, where every cent of development aid needs to be defended vigorously?

Reports about large-scale corruption first came in five years ago, when South Sudan became autonomous. In the beginning, the Western donor countries looked the other way. After all, South Sudan was young and inexperienced. However, in the past two years, representatives from donor countries have been telling Juba that they are no longer prepared to ignore the corruption.

The United States handed over a list of corrupt ministers to President Kirr some time ago, but the president failed to take action. Critical members of the governing Sudan People’s Liberation Movement say that misappropriation of funds has been rife for years.

The corruption keeps a system of patronage in place that indirectly ensureds stability for the political class. Corruption will be allowed to continue in the interests of stability for a while. A visit by the Dutch caretaker deputy minister won’t change that. That’s because there is a difference between harsh reality and diplomatic truth.