A survey of 1,200 South Sudanese from different tribes was carried out over five days during the first week of the crisis. It recorded the opinion of South Sudanese civilians on the crisis to influence the conflicting parties to resolve their political difference in a peaceful manner. This blog draws on the interviews and group discussions from this survey. They may not be worthy of the mainstream news (as they don’t involve western evacuations, American helicopters being shot at, or scenes reminiscent of Rwanda in 1994), but they are full of information, facts and emotions that help us to piece together a picture of what is going on in the world’s youngest state.
In the current climate of violence, where ‘returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars‘, we need to break the cycle of ethnic violence. To give a voice to the many South Sudanese who are upholding humanity in a crisis. To fuel hope for South Sudan and restore confidence in one another.
Here are some reports from different areas of Juba:
- An old Nuer man who was left alone when the violence started was taken in by his Dinka neighbours, where he has been looked after ever since as one more family member.
- A Juba suburb has organised community patrols comprising of Nuer and Dinka men tasked with protecting all members of their community.
- Dinka soldiers intervened to rescue Nuer civilians from attacks and escorted them to the relative safety of UNMISS. Another group of Dinka soldiers escorted students from Juba University to the UN compound.
- To remind outside observers that there are other ethnic groups in South Sudan, two students from Juba University (one Nuer and one Dinka) took refuge in the house of a man from the Bari tribe, where they stayed peacefully for two nights.
In all conflict locations there are reports of Nuer and Dinka people hiding and protecting the other from ethnically motivated killers. In some cases people are risking their lives for one another. In some cases, people have been killed trying to save the lives of others. A pastor from Akobo reported: ‘I lost two members of my previous Church in Akobo when they tried to protect Dinka friends. They were killed by their Nuer clansmen because they wanted to protect two Dinka soldiers who are members of my church’
For an analysis of the current crisis, I turn briefly to a group of women recently interviewed in Juba. When asked what they thought were the reasons for the crisis, they responded with a song by Emmanuel Kembe: “Kulu Zol Azu kun Beny” (Everyone wants to become a Chief and Boss). They are ultimately right: this crisis is a political crisis. Many theorists of civil war talk of power and greed as the overarching fuel for violence. New nations and newly independent nations often suffer periods of great instability and violence due to invested interests, changing power dynamics, the potential wealth that can be garnered from natural resources and responses to previous or new oppressions.
The civilians of South Sudan have much to fear right now. Many who fled the violence have lost their homes and don’t yet feel safe to return. We should be mindful that even if the current crisis is quickly resolved through negotiation, the profound rifts in the South Sudanese society will require much work and time to heal. But the stories above provide some hope for the future of South Sudan civilians in a country which desperately needs some good news.
References and further reading:
- The survey which informed this report was carried out by ‘Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO) from the 17th to the 21st of December in Juba. Another survey is being conducted in Bor, and a third is planned for Malakal if the security situation allows it.
- Thinking outside the ethnic box in S Sudan: great blog by @PeterGreste (who is currently being held in Cairo)
- Want more inspiring stories? Read our post ‘How I learnt to stop worrying and trust the moneylender‘