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 email@example.com.]
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.
11 March 2016 – A new United Nations report on the human rights situation in South Sudan published today describes a multitude of horrendous violations in “searing detail,” in particular by Government forces, including cases of civilians burned alive or cut to pieces and a teenage girl being raped by ten soldiers.
Although all parties to the conflict have committed patterns of serious and systematic violence against civilians since fighting broke out in December 2013, the report says State actors bore the greatest responsibility during 2015, given the weakening of opposition forces.