A Catholic priest is returning to the land where he was once abducted to “give hope to those who have lost hope.”
For the past seven years Fr. Charles Mbikoyo has studied philosophy at the Pontifical Urban University in Rome, he told EWTN News In Depth July 9. But his story starts in what is now South Sudan, where he entered seminary at 12 years of age, in 1988.
His studies there were interrupted one year later, when rebels came knocking at the door in the middle of the night.
“There was a strong voice,” Fr. Mbikoyo remembered, ordering the seminarians to “come out.”
Aware of the threat posed by nearby rebel groups, the seminarians hesitated to open the door. But the men outside warned that “if you don’t open the door, they will just destroy us together with the building.”
They reluctantly walked outside where the rebels ordered them to gather their belongings and leave with them “for education.” Fr. Mbikoyo, along with 40 other boys and their rector, were captured.
“The first thing they said,” Fr. Mbikoyo recalled, was that “anybody who escapes will be shot dead.”
For the next three months, the boys underwent rigorous military training.
“We have to jump like frogs,” Fr. Mbikoyo said. “We have to learn to dodge bullets. How to shoot.”
“The doctrine was: ‘The gun is my father,’” he stressed. In other words, “it is for everything. Anything you want to get, just have this gun.”
According to Fr. Mbikoyo, he and his fellow seminarians “just gave up.”
“We lost hope of returning home,” he said. “We lost hope of going back to school. We lost hope of becoming priests, which was our initial intention.”
But the seminary’s rector refused to be set free, and insisted on staying with the boys.
“The words of the rector used to give me hope,” Fr. Mbikoyo said. “Used to make me understand that, yes, there is a God who can protect us.”
After months of captivity, he found a way to escape with four other boys. They survived a perilous journey that included crossing two rivers where deadly animals swam.
“When we escaped, we went to the town called Yei,” he said. He resumed his seminary training there until the rebels threatened him again.
“We continued for one month, but then we started hearing about the rebels coming to capture Yei,” he said. “We said, ‘no.’ If they find us again . . . they will either kill us or they take us back to the front line to fight.”
The Red Cross “picked us back home,” he said, and the seminary moved from Rimenze to Nzara to avoid the rebels. But they still found them and attacked again.
That’s when Fr. Mbikoyo left the country and relocated to the Central African Republic. After living there for three years, he traveled to Uganda to continue his education.
“I stayed for so many years without seeing my parents – around eight or nine years,” he estimated. “Because I was in exile. We were afraid that when we go back home, they can conscript us.”
He was eventually ordained in 2007, after the Second Sudanese Civil War ended.
“When I became a priest, I said, ‘This is a true vocation,’” he stressed. “Because, with all this suffering, maybe I would have gone away from the seminary thinking that this is not my call. Why should I have all this kind of suffering in my life?”
“I realized that no, that’s my vocation,” he concluded.
After finishing his studies in Rome, Fr. Mbikoyo is preparing to return to South Sudan.
“My country is troubled, and everybody is traumatized. So as a priest, when I go back, my role is – my mission is – to give hope to those who have lost hope,” he said.
Among other things, he hopes to use his experience for good, and to help rehabilitate other child soldiers.
“I will encourage them to embrace their faith and to also pursue the vocation each one wants to choose,” he said, whatever that might be.
According to the UN, girls as young as eight were among 175 cases of rape recorded between September and December 2018 [Lamek Orina/Al Jazeera]
Dadaab, Kenya – Teresa* (not her real name) gathers her three children outside her shanty, which was provided by aid agencies in Dadaab, a sprawling refugee camp in Kenya where she has lived for six years.
The 33-year-old mother of three pulls out a plastic chair to sit on from a makeshift kitchen adjacent to her home.
She picks up her youngest, a baby, and puts him on her lap.
Eight years ago, she had been living in Juba when South Sudan gained independence on July 9, 2011, from Sudan.
“My family was still in a celebratory mood. We had gained independence … and every dream we had was shattered before my eyes,” she said.
Together with her husband, she was struggling to raise a young family until December 2013, when South Sudanese President Salva Kiir fell out with Riek Machar, then vice president.
This led to a conflict between the country’s two main ethnic groups, which displaced about four million people, including Teresa and her children.
During her last days in Juba, the South Sudanese capital, she was sexually assaulted.
“We were hiding for days when the war broke out. It was December 17, 2013, when seven armed men in uniform forced their way into our house. Inside, they found my husband and his two brothers. They took them outside and shot them,” she said, tears balancing on her eyes.
“I tried to run out for safety with my children but they captured me and started raping me repeatedly. They took away my two children and I have never seen those kids since then.”
Teresa is among an escalating number of South Sudanese sexual violence survivors.
Organisations and aid agencies in the world’s youngest nation have documented some of the cases.
In February, the United Nations published a report saying girls as young as eight were among 175 cases of rape recorded between September and December 2018.
Its investigation was carried out after September 2018, when the last South Sudanese peace deal was signed.
“It is not the whole picture, but they found 175 women and girls who had been either raped, gang-raped or sexually assaulted or physically harmed in other ways.
“And 49 of those girls who were raped, were children,” said Rupert Colville, a spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
In November 2018, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) reported that “125 women and girls … were raped, beaten and brutalised in Rubkona county, northern South Sudan, in the 10 days between November 19 and 29, 2018”.
The organisation said this was high compared with the 104 cases reported in the previous 10 months.
However, the government was quick to deny these figures.
Awut Deng Acguil, the gender, child and social welfare minister, described the numbers as “unfounded and baseless”, adding that, “there are no facts found to verify the rape cases”.
But many survivors choose to remain silent.
It took two years for Teresa to report what she went through.
“I never wanted to report it because I was mentally tormented after that incident. Every time I see a group of men, I get re-traumatised. Images of the raid in our Juba home flashes in my mind. I don’t think I will ever move on from this,” she said.
Weak justice and stigma
In addition to the physical and mental trauma, survivors often risk being ostracised from their families and communities, said Wangechi Wachira, executive director of the Nairobi-based Centre for Rights Education and Awareness, an organisation that advocates for the rights of girls and women.
“Rape takes away someone’s dignity and causes a lot of anger and depression. Sometimes women blame themselves for what happened because of how societies frames this issue. This leads to high number of victims going silent,” said Wachira.
And there is usually little justice for survivors.
“I feel like justice cannot be done in my case. The seven men who sexually assaulted me were soldiers whom I did not know. They came from the government that was supposed to protect me. They raped me and killed my family members,” Teresa said.
According to Fatuma Ali, an associate professor of international relations at the United States International University-Africa, armed actors in South Sudan have systematically deployed sexual violence against civilians as a weapon.
“The devastating role of sexual and gender-based violence as a strategic weapon of war has positioned women and girls as a battlefield between the warring groups. This has led to the dichotomy between the protectors versus the protected hence ethnicising and feminising the war.
“This clearly shows that South Sudan has no capacity to stop these atrocities, leave alone give justice to its victims,” Ali told Al Jazeera.
Back in Dadaab, Teresa starts to feed her children; she depends on food rations to survive.
After the rape, she got pregnant. She gave birth in Kenya eight months later.
“I will never go back to South Sudan. I hope the free education my children get here will help their futures. I have told the UN and other aid agencies to never take me back to South Sudan.”
Violence continues despite South Sudan’s main warring parties signing a peace deal last September [File: Andreea Campeanu/Reuters]
A United Nations report says its investigators have identified alleged perpetrators of pervasive rape, killings and torture in South Sudan’s civil war – violence they believe was driven by oil revenues.
The UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan on Wednesday said the army, national security, military intelligence, rebel forces and affiliated armed groups committed serious human rights breaches.
The UN body had drawn up a confidential list of suspects including army and opposition commanders, two state governors and a county commissioner.
Its 212-page report detailed people being held for years and tortured in secret, vermin-ridden detention centres, children being run down by tanks, rape of girls as young as seven, and babies being drowned, starved or smashed against trees.
In some stricken areas, 65 percent of women and 36 percent of men may have been sexually abused, according to the report.
Although South Sudan’s main warring parties signed a peace deal in September, widespread violence, especially rape, has continued.
Andrew Clapham, a member of the three-person commission, said it was outraged by reports of further fighting between government forces and the rebel National Salvation Front, which was not part of the peace agreement, in the Yei River area.
“There are thousands of civilians who have been forcibly displaced following a scorched-earth policy in which the parties to the conflict are attacking the villages, torching the homes, killing civilians and raping women and girls,” Clapham said.
The United States, Britain and Norway jointly expressed their alarm at the reports of escalating violence in Yei.
“These military actions, and the trading of blame, must stop,” they said in a joint statement.
Clapham said that more than 5,000 refugees had reached neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo and up to 20,000 people were expected to be displaced by the latest fighting.
Oil and conflict
The report cited a close connection between oil and the conflict.
A law ensuring that South Sudan’s oil-producing regions and communities received two and three percent of its oil revenue respectively had triggered a redrawing of provincial boundaries and ethnic conflict.
“We feel the national security services are very much involved in the siphoning off of the oil money,” said Clapham.
The Human Rights Council should get to the bottom of the sums involved and where the money was going, he told reporters, noting that health and education spending was “minuscule”.
“If you are involved in oil extraction in that area and you are asked to assist one side or the other, you could be accused of complicity in war crimes. There are Council members that we think have a responsibility to look more carefully at this.”
At war since 2013, South Sudan has seen horrific levels of sexual violence.
The South Sudan commission, set up by the UN Human Rights Council in 2016, is tasked with collecting evidence that could be used to prosecute individuals for major atrocities in the conflict.
The world’s youngest nation, South Sudan, has been embroiled in war and conflict for years.
The oil-rich nation – which won independence from Sudan in 2011 – descended into civil war in 2013, with tens of thousands of people killed and a third of the population forced to flee their homes.
Recent research found that extreme weather, such as prolonged drought, has increased competition between communities over dwindling resources like water and pastures.
Although data is hard to come by, historically conflicts frequently occur soon after a flood or drought, said a report by a group of NGOs and U.N. agencies.
For example, tensions between nomadic herders and settled farmers over water wells or poor harvests can lead to unoccupied and frustrated men being lured into militias.
“Climate change has a multiplier effect on the challenges experienced in South Sudan, specifically on localised conflict,” said Michael Mangano, country director of aid agency ACTED in South Sudan.
INVESTING IN RESILIENCE
So could building resilience against climate shocks help bring peace to South Sudan?
“There is a growing momentum on investing in resilience in South Sudan,” said Nellie Kingston of Concern Worldwide, a charity that works on the UK-funded Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters (BRACED) programme.
The project in the East African country set up early warning systems, weather monitoring tools, field schools to teach farmers best practices, and seed stores to preserve and exchange crop seeds in the event of climate shocks.
It also established 17 environment clubs in schools for students to discuss climate issues and plant trees, for example, with the minister of education keen to roll out such initiatives into the national curriculum, said Kingston.
An assessment of the project found that people felt more resilient to climate shocks after joining farmer groups, better managing their land and making savings, said Suzanne Philips of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
As well as equipping communities with better tools and responses to climate threats, the project sought to bring together tribes traditionally divided by conflict.
“It’s one of those things we can’t measure, but there are groups (taking part in the projects) that are made up of three ethnicities… so just the fact that they’re meeting on a weekly basis prevents more ethnic tension,” said Mangano.
Other outcomes of the project include communities becoming more self-sufficient and relying less on international aid, said Kingston, with other villages replicating some of the successful activities.
Although fragile states face huge social and economic problems, protecting people from natural disasters can be done and should be attempted despite the practical difficulties, U.N. officials have recently said.
Conflict-torn countries may lack functioning governments, but pockets can be identified where it is possible to work with communities to reduce the risks of floods, earthquakes and other hazards, according to Robert Glasser, head of the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction.
Despite these successes and improved resilience in South Sudan the country is still highly vulnerable to climate shocks, said Kingston.
“Resilience interventions are feasible in South Sudan,” she said. “But flexibility is needed to tailor them to the local context and adjust to changing circumstances.”
Hopeful not Hopeless
Posted by Br Bill Firman on 11 October 2017
La Salle District of Austrailia, New Zealand, Pakistan & Papua New Guinea
I have sometimes been asked what hope is there for South Sudan?Tribal divisions have become very deep, and almost everybody has lost relatives and friends in this senseless violence.
Amnesty International quotes a staggering, horrible statistic: A survey conducted in 2015 by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) found that 72% of women living in four UNMISS Protection of Civilians (PoC) sites in Juba reported having been raped since the conflict broke out, mostly by police and soldiers.’
Has all respect and order disappeared? Certainly as one local writer, Jacob Lagu, states: ‘War is a dirty business. It inevitably degrades us all. It diminishes our humanity as steadily as we dehumanize our adversaries. We are all locked in conflicting victimhood narratives. Each side believes wholeheartedly that they are the victims of injustice. Each side believes that their adversary is the unrepentant aggressor.’
It seems to me that civil war must surely be the worst kind of war. In a civil war, your enemy is not ‘out there’ but can even be your near neighbour. South Sudanese now ask, ‘Whom can I trust in my own country?’ ‘Where can I go and be safe?’ Hundreds of thousands ask, ‘Will I ever be able to leave this Protection of Civilians camp where I feel like a prisoner?’
Yet, in spite of all this, there are people getting on with life. I have attached photos that show the reality of the poverty of many in South Sudan poor, but not maudlin. Children dressed in rags laugh and play and there are some fine young people growing up with a little help along the way.
In early 2010, a good friend in Australia raised some money to help a young, thin boy, called Augusto. Augusto’s father had died when he was only 18 months old.
He was being raised by his grandmother and the helpful families of his school friends. Augusto’s school fees were paid by overseas donations. Augusto has now just graduated from secondary school with a 73% average, a wonderful achievement giving the personal adversity he had to overcome let alone the turmoil in the country. Now he is trying to find the means to go to University.
Another of our neighbours, Naomi, is soon to graduate as a registered nurse from our Catholic Health Training Institute (CHTI). Her twin brother, Wonderful, (yes, that is his name), is well on the way to becoming a doctor.
There are 80 applicant seeking places in the CHTI for next year. There are currently 110 in the CHTI and so far 145 have graduated after successfully completing the three-year programme. So amid the tales of gloom, there are many good news stories, many lives that are progressing well.
In another photo taken in 2009, there is a small boy called Danny sitting next to Fr. Joseph. Last Saturday, I woke to find our vehicle had a flat tyre. I called Danny who quickly changed the wheel for me. He has one year to go to finish secondary school: he has grown from a happy, inquisitive young boy, into an obliging, sensible young man.
There are plenty of signs of hope as we help produce better educated people. Sadly, many South Sudanese have to learn to live with hunger and the trauma of rape, looting and deaths of loved ones, but they still get on with life. We help them when we can, as do almost 500 missionaries from many countries as well as the UN and many resourceful NGOs delivering essential services.
There is hope because children and young people are especially resilient.
Yes, the scars are deep and, in the trauma healing workshops we conduct, many older people reveal their nightmares and flashbacks. But somehow the children in South Sudan are among the happiest and least complaining I have known.
One does not feel hopeless here. Many people continue to hope and dream of a better future. A new, better-educated generation might just deliver the new South Sudan for which we all hope and pray.
Author: Br Bill Firman
About: Br Bill is the Executive Director of Solidarity with South Sudan.
JUBA, 02 October 2017 [Gurtong]-The project worth 33 million U.S. dollars grant from the Chinese government will cover establishment of three departments, including the Out-patient and Emergency Block, Obstetrics and Gynecology Department, and China Medical Team Dormitory.
Part of the grant will be used for Kiir Mayardit hospital in Rumbek and the construction will commence in November this year.
President Salva Kjiir Mayardit after laying the foundation stone said despite the country having the worst health care indicators in the world, the situation is gradually improving.
“We will ultimately improve with tremendous support for the health sector,” Kiir said. The president said efforts exerted by the Ministry of health with consistent backing by all the partners in the health sector and “sisterly countries with China on top” will improve the situation of health care in the country.
Kiir said the Ministry of Health which has been training adequate human resources for health, and developed the needed infrastructure and policies for the country will make quality health care services available, accessible and affordable for the people of South Sudan.
“With the modernization and expansion of Juba Teaching Hospital along with all the infrastructural development project in the health sector, the landscape of the health sector will completely change for those who have been deprived of accessing and enjoying quality services since time immemorial,” Kiir said.
President Kiir said with the modernization and expansion of Juba Teaching Hospital, he will be the happiest person to see that all those who go abroad for medical treatment including himself access medical services in Juba.
To achieve the plans of the Ministry of health, the president directed the Minister of Health and other health partners to scale up the training of health care cadres at all level for Juba teaching hospital and other hospitals.
“People of South Sudan have been waiting for long to enjoy basic health services that are part and parcel of the basic human rights,” he said. With the support of the health partners, he said, the health sector in the country will never be the same again.
The Chinese Ambassador, He Xiangdong said Chinese government will provide modern medical equipment and one year technical cooperation after the completion of the project.
“The project is another corner stone of China-South Sudan friendship,” Xiangdong said. Two years from now on, we are going to see a modern health facility and a new land mark in Juba,” he said.
The Minister of Health, Dr. Riak Gai Kok said it is a turning point in health care system to modernize and expand Juba Teaching Hospital.
He said his ministry is trying hard to train more health care providers in the country.
(August 21, 2017) Yuba, South Sudan — Bishop Santo Loku Pio Doggale is not a man to mince words and he didn’t mince words earlier this year when he discussed South Sudan’s descent into a worsening, seemingly never-ending civil war.
“The government is the orchestrator of the war, and the people are suffering as a result,” he told NCR from his office in the capital of Juba in late May, citing numerous examples of the afflictions South Sudanese are experiencing: rape, looting and displacement.
“They are being brutally mistreated,” the auxiliary bishop of the capital of Juba said of those who are the victims of violence — victims who have, at the moment, “no resource to justice. It’s a big mess.”
He acknowledges that his critics — in the government and even some, privately, within the church — wonder if his criticisms are fair, smart or wise.
But Doggale brushes aside those criticisms, saying, “I’m not afraid.”
“My life doesn’t matter. I’ve suffered, too. I’ve lost members of my family. But when brutality is the order of the day, someone has to speak up, especially when you see that the flock is living in fear. This makes me angry.”
Doggale’s outspoken stance represents one wing of the church — a faction that believes that the church needs to be firm in its prophetic stance not only for the larger cause of peace in South Sudan but also in calling out the current government for policies and actions some believe are the cause of the current war.
But in a predominately impoverished, Christian nation where the church has an outsized role in providing education, social services and even basic necessities like food, the church’s place in society also has a practical side.
“The Catholic Church has a strong, strong footprint here,” said Fr. Pau Vidal, a Jesuit priest and a project director for Jesuit Refugee Service in the northern city of Maban. Another humanitarian agrees. “The churches have credibility here in South Sudan,” said Jerry Farrell, the country representative in South Sudan for Catholic Relief Services. “In fact, they’re the only institutions that do have credibility, as they touch on so many parts of life: spirituality, health care, housing, education, food.”
Financial figures about the church’s role are hard to come by, but Catholic Relief Services alone has provided assistance of some sort to more than 1 million South Sudanese, the agency said, and works in partnership with local dioceses, parishes and religious congregations of both women and men.
Famine remains a serious problem and 6 million of country’s 12 million people face some kind of food insecurity — the lack of access to food — according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Church-based groups have initiated programs to improve the humanitarian situation within the country. As just one example, the Society of Daughters of Mary Immaculate, or DMI Sisters, is working on local initiatives to assist small communities in agricultural projects.
Grave problems persist in the country and whether stated in public, like Doggale, or in private, among numerous Catholics, they revolve around the current government in power.
The criticisms center on several fronts — that the government has either not been able to control factions of the government military forces known as the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, which is predominately made of members of the ethnic or tribal group known as the Dinkas, or has been purposely targeting non-Dinkas and populations the government believes oppose it.
Ethnic tensions have been put to use for political purposes, as Human Rights Watch said in its report on the ongoing conflict, noting that it began in 2013 when “soldiers loyal to President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, and those loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar, a Nuer, fought in the capital following months of growing political tensions.”
In its 2017 report, Human Rights Watch said that government troops have “killed, raped, and tortured civilians as well as destroying and pillaging civilian property during counterinsurgency operations in the southern and western parts of the country,” while acknowledging that both sides of the conflict “have committed abuses against civilians in and around Juba and other areas.” Some 2.4 million South Sudanese have been displaced, Human Rights Watch noted.
For its part, the South Sudanese government claims its troops are trying to battle an anti-government rebellion. It has blamed the civil war — which began in late 2013 — on anti-government rebels. And it has said it is committed to finding a peaceful solution to South Sudan’s war with those who oppose the government.
Some within the church, such as Fr. Moses Peter, a diocesan coordinator for Caritas in the city of Wau — which has faced a serious crisis, with thousands seeking refuge on the ground of the Catholic cathedral there — are, like Doggale, government critics. Peter said, “Nobody trusts the SPLA,” and notes that the government has accused the Catholic Church of being “pro-rebel,” a charge he strongly rejects. (President Kiir is a Roman Catholic.)
Yet the prophetic often mixes with the practical — Peter says in his humanitarian work, he works cordially with local officials among the thousands displaced in Wau by the conflict. And the church has a long history in Wau of involvement with peace efforts among all parties and factions to help diffuse local tensions.
Everyone in the church is tired of the conflict and is eager to resume some sense of hope and nation-building that ushered in the creation of the world’s newest nation after it gained independence from Sudan in 2011. Many relish memories from that time, their first taste of independence, coming after years of war.
“It was a beautiful moment — an independent people felt they could start afresh,” said Vidal. “But the [current] war has worsened the situation so much and there is no sense of nation unity now.”
Some say there is still enough political and humanitarian space to do needed pastoral work.
“It is certainly better now than in the 1960s when our people were under Arab rule,” Sr. Mary Faida, a member of the Sacred Heart Sisters, a South Sudanese congregation, said of life under the rule of neighboring Sudan, which is predominately Muslim. She said the work now of the church and of religious congregations — whether in education or in health care — is “giving hope to the people.”
Yet there are still deep worries about the church and its future. Interviewed in May, Doggale said even with all of its problems, he did not believe that the national government was engaging in systematic harassment of the church. But he did say some government officials were probably behind threats to individuals, including him.
“Is it government policy? No,” he said, but added he had received several threatening anonymous calls recently, including one in which a man told him, “Your days are numbered.”
There have been other troubling signs, too: a group of government troops threatened employees of a church bookstore in Juba in February of this year and took books off of the shelves they declared were written by government critics.
Since May, the bishop has become increasingly pessimistic. South Sudan-based Radio Tamazuj reported in July that Doggale called the current government’s national dialogue strategy “a waste of time.” He said, “The problem is political and it has to be solved by the political leaders,” including Kiir and Machar.
“The ordinary citizens have not yet created any problem, that’s why our faithful citizens are able to stay for three months without salaries and they don’t even demonstrate. They still go to work, you will never see this in any country in the world,” he said.
In emails earlier this month, Doggale told NCR that the current situation is “getting worse day by day. People are living in the uncertainty, rampant insecurity, hunger and diseases. In one word. It is limbo.”
In a later email, the bishop said, “The intimidation is of all South Sudanese by their own government. The ruling elite don’t care who you are, they just do what they want and when they want it.” He said there is there is no rule of law and repeated his belief that the country is in limbo.
“In South Sudan everybody is under intimidation, and so fear is instilled into people. It is the church that tries to give some voice, and so they (the government) are not comfortable about that and that is why they also get frustrated when the voice of the church continues in many ways to be aloud and strong on the suffering of the people.”
Others who agree with the bishop say privately the church has to be careful — that it is dealing now with what some call a military dictatorship and that the church is clearly in the government’s crosshairs.
“This is not a joke, what is happening now,” said one member of a religious order, who said the Kiir government has made a number of false allegations about the church, including that it has called “for regime change.”
“The stakes are now going up for the church,” the member said.
“The blood of the tribe is thicker than the water of Baptism,” Doggale said. “Our government is Catholic. They read the Bible. They go to church. But how much do they put into practice?”
Others also point out that in such an intense, confusing environment it is probably no surprise that four dioceses in the country are without bishops now.
“The Catholic Church is trying to finds its way now. But in keeping quiet, and not speaking out against human rights, we are taking sides and protecting our own projects,” said one cleric who did not want to be identified.
“How much injustice will we continue to see? There is so much that the religious here are witnessing,” the cleric said. “When you speak out [it is assumed], you are speaking out against the government. How can you do that in a way that is constructive?”
[Chris Herlinger is international correspondent for Global Sisters Report. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.]
By Bill Firman – The basic things we need for daily living we often simply assume they will be there. Not so in South Sudan where very little can be taken for granted. When I first came to South Sudan in 2009, I lived in Malakal. Most people there cooked on charcoal but we were lucky enough to be able to use gas. It is very convenient to be able just to turn a burner on and off when you like. When gas was no longer available, we used charcoal, a much slower and less convenient way of cooking.
When we turned the generator on, or there was town power, we could use an electric hot plate. At that time there was town power at night in Malakal. In Juba, where I am now, there used to be town power all day; but town electricity is only a happy memory today. It ceased to be available several years ago. We have adjusted and installed solar power but our solar system will not support cooking on an electric hot plate or in an electric oven.
In most of our houses and institutions, charcoal or wood is used for cooking, backed up by gas. Bottled gas is not readily available outside of Juba. We have found ways to maintain a limited supply of gas in Wau, Yambio and Riimenze but only if we use it sparingly. One cannot just go into town to renew the supply. In large towns such as Juba, Wau and Malakal, charcoal has to be brought in from bush areas. It is, or maybe was, a common sight to see trucks laden with bags of charcoal moving into Juba. Making and selling charcoal from wood has been a traditional South Sudan occupation for people in bush areas.
Amid the soaring prices of food, the shortage of diesel and petrol leading to greatly increased public transport costs, the great devaluation of the South Sudanese Pound (SSP) and the general insecurity, we thought conditions for the people could not get much worse. But in the past month, they have. In just three or four weeks the price of a sack of charcoal in Juba has increased from SSP700 per bag to SSP2500. One man living in a UN PoC (Protection of Civilians) camp told me recently that most of the people there have not cooked for several days.
In the PoC camp, the cost of a bag of charcoal is SSP3,500. That is about USD 24. It may not sound much in some countries but when salaries are low, it is a huge problem. The judges in South Sudan have been on strike recently as their salaries are in the range of 8000SSP to 12,000SSP (not even USD100) per month. Most South Sudanese are paid significantly less than this. So how can they afford this inflated price for charcoal?
Why has this happened? Insecurity. Apparently charcoal producers are too easily robbed bringing their charcoal to the city to sell it or when taking the payment for it back to their home place. The rising cost and shortage of fuel may also be a significant factor leading to the high new price. So there is a charcoal shortage. I suppose some may say not burning charcoal is good for the environment but it is certainly an unwanted scenario for those living in Juba who lack alternatives.
The shortage and rising cost of fuel affects everything. Our driver and cook in Juba each have to catch two buses each day, each way, to get from where they live to here. It does not seem long ago that the fare was SSP1 for a bus ride but now it is costing them SSP100 to travel to and from work each day – about SSP2000 per month.
The front cover of a recent Amnesty International Report carried the statement in large bold letters: ‘If men are caught they are killed; if women are caught they are raped’. In another report, Amnesty asserts that ‘A survey conducted in 2015 by UNFPA found that 72% of women living in the Juba PoC sites reported having been raped since the conflict broke out, mostly by police and soldiers.’
These are startling statements and there is fear among the people of becoming victims of violence. There are many traumatized people but most cope by putting it out of their minds and getting along cheerfully with life. But how do you remain cheerful when you can’t even afford to boil the water for a cup of tea? How do you remain healthy if you can’t cook your food or sterilize the water you drink? Many South Sudanese are used to living with a simple diet, and with hunger, but many will find life very difficult if they can’t cook their porridge or enjoy a cup of tea.
June 20, 2017 www.afjn.org By Kpakpo Serge Adotevi (AFJN Intern), Edited by Yashi Gunawardena (AFJN Intern)
In Africa, more than 13 million people are currently on the run in their own countries. We at Africa Faith and Justice Network (AFJN) refuse to stand by and let this crisis remain silent much longer. Despite the obvious link between internal displacement and refugee flows, policymakers tend to focus mainly on refugees while internally displaced people (IDPs) remain largely neglected.
According to the International Displacement Monitoring Center (IMDC), there were 3.5 million new displacements linked to conflict, violence and disasters in 47 African countries in 2015. That is an average of over 9,500 people per day losing their livelihoods and being uprooted from their homes and communities. Africa currently has many more internally displaced persons (IDPs) than refugees. In fact, there are nearly five times as many IDPs as refugees in Africa and they are found all over the continent. The countries with the most internally displaced persons are:
Democratic Republic of Congo: 2,350,000
South Sudan: 2,100,00
Central African Republic: 415,000
Internal displacement has reached daunting proportions in Africa as a result of protracted conflicts, massive human rights violations, natural disasters (flooding, famines and drought), urban renewal projects and large-scale development projects. Meanwhile, conflicts remain the number cause of displacement in Africa. To better understand the causes of conflict in Africa, please read the article “Triggers of Conflict in Africa” by AFJN Policy Analyst Jacques Bahati.
An emerging driver of displacement in Africa is land grabbing. At AFJN, we have witnessed first-hand how land grabbing causes people to be displaced, relocate, and have trouble adjusting to their new environments. Land grabbing creates unintended tensions and conflicts in communities that were once peaceful and sustainable. This issue is one of our focus campaigns. Click here to learn more about land grabbing. We also invite you to join us in this cause by donating on our site. We thank you for your contribution.
US ambassador to UN urges Security Council to impose sanctions on South Sudan to end humanitarian crisis caused by war.
Women and children wait to be registered prior to a UN food distribution. (Siegfried Modola/Reuters)
The United States has condemned South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir for the state’s “man-made” famine and ongoing conflict, urging him to fulfil a month-old pledge of a unilateral truce by ordering his troops back to their barracks.
“We must see a sign that progress is possible,” US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) briefing on South Sudan on Tuesday. “We must see that ceasefire implemented.”
South Sudan descended into civil war in 2013 after Kiir fired his deputy, unleashing a conflict that has spawned armed factions often following ethnic lines. A peace deal signed in August 2015 has not stopped the fighting.
UN South Sudan envoy David Shearer told the Security Council, “The political process in South Sudan is not dead, however, it requires significant resuscitation.”
The United Nations has warned of a possible genocide, millions have fled their homes, the oil-producing economy is in a tailspin, crop harvests are devastated because of the worst drought in years and millions face famine.
Some 7.5 million people, two-thirds of the population, require humanitarian assistance.
Around 1.6 million people have fled the country, while a further 1.9 million are displaced internally.
“The famine in South Sudan is man-made. It is the result of ongoing conflict in that country. It is the result of an apparent campaign against the civilian population. It is the result of killing humanitarian workers,” Haley said.
She also blasted deadlock among UNSC members on how to deal with the civil war in the country that gained independence from Sudan in 2011.
Haley said Kiir and his government were benefiting from the council’s division. She urged the council to impose further targeted sanctions and an arms embargo on South Sudan.
“You’re allowing President Kiir to continue to do what he’s doing,” she said. “If you truly care for the people of South Sudan, then we must tell the South Sudanese government that we are not going to put up with this anymore.”
The 15-member Security Council failed in December to get nine votes to adopt a US-drafted resolution to impose an arms embargo and further sanctions on South Sudan despite warnings by UN officials of a possible genocide.
Eight council members, including Russia and China, abstained in the vote.
Deputy Russian UN Ambassador Petr Ilichev told the council that it was unfair to lay all blame on Kiir’s troops for the violence and that Moscow opposed additional sanctions.
“Sound peace in South Sudan will not be brought about by a Security Council arms embargo, but rather by targeted measures to disarm civilians, as well as demobilise and reintegrate combatants,” he said.