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Friday, 11 July 2014

SOUTH SUDAN AND A VERY AFRICAN CHALLENGE

The White Nile leaves Uganda with a dramatic left turn and enters South Sudan and it proceeds to cut through the land, passing Sudan and eventually finishing its journey in Egypt. Its waters carry life and waste without discrimination. It knows no political boundaries, it is unstoppable like the history surrounding it.
South Sudan is the youngest political country in the World and it stubbornly jostles for space among a host of troubled nations, in a region recognised as the cradle of humanity. To the West is the Central African Republic, to the South are the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda and Kenya, to the East is Ethiopia and to the North its now divorced (not so amicably either) partner, Sudan.
It has around 8 million inhabitants in an area nearly three times the UK or roughly the size of Texas.
An autonomous country since 2005, it obtained independence in July 2011.
Troubles with Sudan did not stop with independence.
The United Nations keeps abating the violence with non-military resolutions and at times they seem to work, but soon shots are fired.
Clashes spark mainly from within, atrocities are perpetuated almost daily as inter-ethnic warfare is caused by the mistrust between tribal factions and the government.
South Sudan has therefore been known to the general public for its violent political strife and for famine which afflicts this area of the world... both geography and politics are to blame. A very well known African story.

As soon as the Nile enters this new country it skirts Juba to the east of the town. A small capital but an expanding one. It's chaotic, dusty, also vibrant and absorbing. It has never been particularly important to the region until now. A city of passage, a trading post, and a temporary mission in the 19th century, it now faces growth and expansion. Official capital only since 2011, it sits in the wrong place for its role, in the southern part of the country, and soon it might be replaced by a newly and purpose-built capital in the centre state of Lakes (in the fashion of Brasilia, Abidja and Canberra).
An attempt at planning can be experienced through the myriads of straight angle intersections, but just on the outskirts of town, a jumbled array of properties in the shape of huts and precarious dwellings, defines the expanding nature of this new capital, an example of quantum architecture....everywhere and anywhere.
Like in the rest of the country, the population is young. According to UN WHO figures, more than half are under the age of 18, while 72% are under 30.

Like in all African cities there's life there as well, lots of it. Fashion, music, sport are trying to unite in ways politics never could.
So what do young people do in such a rambunctious and unruly place? Similarly to other countries experiencing hardship, life goes on, shops need stocking up, deliveries need to be made, schools, restaurants, bars, groceries, day-to-day life is in motion. There is a bustling University but it has its own battles with funding and resources. In 2011, South Sudan Theatre Company staged the first production of a play by Shakespeare, Cymbeline. (www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ZxWOKa4MyQ). 
The Festival for Fashion and Arts for Peace in the capital Juba last October, sponsored by UNESCO (http://goo.gl/ogOsQk), was one example of cultural revival aimed at bringing people together.

Much has to be done in order to give citizens the country they deserve.
Independence has to be backed by international efforts to help build infrastructure, failing that is failing the quest for a more prosperous future. South Sudan's reliance on pipelines running through Sudan leaves it vulnerable to threats and blackmails. There is no railway system and no paved roads to transport crude oil across the nations. There are plans for alternative routes through Ethiopia and Kenya to ensure stability and economic control. Without infrastructure there is no viable future.
Under the shade of trees, young men (predominantly) talk about politics and gossip, no jobs to go to, thus keeping young people frustrated and with growing resentment, pushing them in the clutches of tribal infighting and crime.

Anthony Bureng is a designer born in the UK, his parents are from Juba. In 2013 he made the choice to move there as things seemed bright. He has now gone through the latest violence that erupted few months ago. When we corresponded back in October 2013, like many people there he was optimistic and rather enthusiastic about the cultural, if political, future of South Sudan... so much has changed since then. After one of the first attacks he wrote:
"Despite all the trouble, there's a sense of optimism that things are on their way to be resolved"
Let's hope his optimism is repaid with a brighter reality.

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