South Sudan: 10 years later and millions remain displaced

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TeaAt night when he saw that his village was burned to the ground by government-allied forces, the drummer Gatwich Gatjani gathered his family and started walking north. He had heard that a UN base was providing security.

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In the years after the civil war ravaged the country, Gatjani and his family were among 108,000 people who made what became South Sudan’s largest camp for internally displaced people. Inside the barbed wire fence of the camp at Bentiu, UN troops in guard towers provided a measure of comfort.

Then one day this spring, nearly seven years after he arrived, Gatjani looked up and saw that the towers were empty – UN troops were gone, unable to guard the maze of shelters indefinitely. In his place, he soon learned, would be a new police force, composed of officers loyal to the two political parties whose fighting had brought him here: both the one he supported, and the one that made him his own. was sent running for life.


The 40-year-old father said, “Are those who displaced us, who burnt our villages, going to protect us now?”

As South Sudan celebrates its 10th anniversary of independence, the world’s youngest country stands at a crossroads. Despite the civil war technically ending in 2018, the violence is so deep that the Gatjani are among 1.6 million people who are internally displaced, and 2.3 million more in neighboring countries.

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Frustrated by the lack of progress in a country where two-thirds of residents depend on humanitarian aid, the international community is re-evaluating the amount of aid it can provide to South Sudan. Donor countries hit by the coronavirus pandemic have slashed funding and UN security forces have moved from displacement camps to the country’s conflict hot spots. Lawmakers in Washington are calling for a change in US policy on South Sudan, which receives nearly $1bn (£750m) in US aid annually.

As his village was burning, he saw smoke rising. his brother and brother-in-law were murdered

“Not only has the aspirations of the people of South Sudan not been met,” said Senator James Risch, who co-sponsored a resolution on South Sudan. “In many ways the people of South Sudan are in a worse condition today than they were at the time of independence.”

The experience of residents in the Bentiu camp may offer a preview of what will happen to vulnerable people as foreign support is withdrawn. The cut in ration meant that Gatjani started eating once a day so that her children could feed twice. The deteriorating toilets meant that he and his family started using channels filled with sewage. The departure of UN forces meant that they did not leave their huts after dark.

South Sudan’s government would like to take a closer look at the camps, Deputy Foreign Minister Deng Daw Deng Malek said, as officials believe a collaboration between President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar – the same two men who led the country into civil war Drowned – must give rise to the faith residents need to return to their villages. But he acknowledged that people could live in the camps for years, which he described as a mixture of dependence and genuine fear.

“People are traumatized,” he said, “because of the effects of war, the effects of displacement.”

Sitting outside his shelter, covered with a faded UN tarpaulin so old that it no longer rains, Gatjani put it this way: “I’m not happy here,” he said. “But I don’t want to die outside.”

Gatjani was among more than 98 percent of the people of what is now South Sudan who voted for independence from Sudan in 2011 after generations of conflict between a mostly black Christian south and a mostly Arab Muslim north that broke the nation in two. .

The farmer of Nialdiu village hoped that independence would bring roads, schools and hospitals. But the land was ranked as one of the least developed countries in the world at the time and is still at the bottom of the list.

The move to independence was supported by a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers on Capitol Hill and first by the George W. Bush administration, which supported the peace agreement that led to the independence referendum, and then by the Obama administration. It was Vice President Joe Biden who was accused in 2010 of convincing African leaders that the referendum should go ahead.

The peace did not last long. By the end of 2013, in the capital Juba, fighting had broken out between forces loyal to Kiir and Machar. Their respective tribes – the Dinka, the largest and the Nuer, the second largest – had long struggled over resources, including land and cattle. Fighting quickly spread to villages, prompted by external weapons that would be funneled through neighboring countries in violation of the arms embargo for years to come. An estimated 400,000 people were killed in the fighting.

Gatjani, named Noor, was in her house in August 2014 when she heard gunshots. He ran to hide in the trees.

In his absence, his wives were raped and tortured. Both survived. “Torture was an easier thing for him,” he said, compared to the sexual assaults he had experienced. “Women who resisted rape were killed.”

As his village was burning, he saw smoke rising. His brother and brother-in-law died.

In 2017 as famine raged in the kingdom, Gatjani had fled, with UN agencies estimating that 100,000 people faced immediate starvation. The government was accused of blocking aid for political purposes.

Today, violence is still widespread, with the United Nations Human Rights Commission in South Sudan saying “shocking levels” in many areas at risk of spiraling out of control. The core principles of the 2018 peace deal, including creating a unified military, have been repeatedly delayed. Analysts warn that divisions within the parties of Keir and Machar – including recent calls for a leadership change that prompted government action – risk further instability.

And the population of the Bentiu camp, instead of shrinking as officials expected, has increased by more than 10,000 since last year, ballooning in part due to record flooding.

The level of American engagement in South Sudan has changed over time. Biden’s administration has not appointed a permanent ambassador and has not named a replacement for the special envoy for South Sudan. After deferring for years to build the War Crimes Court, the State Department this year returned to the US Treasury the bulk of the money initially earmarked for the court’s construction. A State Department spokesman cited slow use of funds by the African Union as the reason for the change.

Cameron Hudson, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center, said many of those pushing for independence have been too disappointed to join in recent years.

“We’ve owned it before,” Hudson said of the crisis, “and we don’t want to own it any more.”

For Gatjani, time often seems frozen.

He wishes he could do the job but doesn’t know what he would do. He hears regular reports about violence near his village. And with his home destroyed and the area he was facing emergency levels of hunger, living in camp seems like the better of the two bad choices.

Although he feels ashamed to rely on help, she said, it means that he and his children have a school where they can study every day and to go to the hospital when they are sick.

Every afternoon, he wears blue trousers and a white button-down shirt and goes to school, where he is learning to read and write English. As he walks, he makes signs of international investment: UN tarpaulins cover the shelters. Food rations in bags decorated with American flags. A malaria clinic run by Médecins Sans Frontieres (MSF).

Luka Byong Deng Kuol, former minister of presidential affairs in South Sudan, said aid is necessary to keep people alive. But he said it has also led to a weak, largely transactional national government that has failed to build most institutions. Several government leaders, including Kier and Machar, have been accused of amassing wealth along with escalating violence, and a recent UN report detailing the extent of corruption has continued since 2018.

“The problem is that aid has become part of permanent suffering,” said Kuol, academic dean at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies at National Defense University in Washington.

In Bentiu this year, a void was left when the international community withdrew services.

When the World Food Program cut rations due to donation gaps related to the pandemic – and ensured it was enough to give to the six countries the United Nations declared “one step away from famine” – Gatjani fasted. started so that their children could get more to eat. Still, some of his hair is dyed orange which is a telltale sign of malnutrition.

Gatjani’s neighbors contracted hepatitis E even after the toilets were finished, that too because of funding cuts. MSF’s chief of mission Bernard Wiseman described the explosion of cases as part of a “shocking” deterioration of the camp.

Nicolas Hesom, the head of the UN mission in South Sudan, said the UN decision to transfer control of the camps to the government was both a recognition of how the conflict had changed, more forces were needed, and an acknowledgment. That the United Nations was unable to provide security to so many people forever.

“We face in 2022 a world that is recovering from Covid, which is facing many other significant humanitarian crises, not least in the region with Ethiopia,” he said, adding that South Sudan “at the same time Can’t continue to expect.” level of security support”.

He added that the Bentiu police force is still monitored and guided by UN forces.

But in the camp, Gatjani and others said, young-looking forces carrying guns have brought a sense of unease. Gunshots have started to sound more often, he said, and he worries the military may turn on most…


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