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Rape stands out starkly in S. Sudan war known for brutality

Many people are forced to sleep outside due to over crowding in Bentiu IDP camp, South Sudan Friday, July 4, 2014. Photo:  Matthew Abbot/AP

Every day, hundreds of women living at the United Nations base in Bentiu risk rape so they can feed their children.

Some 40,000 people shelter here from South Sudan‘s civil war, and there is not enough food or charcoal. The women of this camp have taken on the job of foraging for firewood and vegetables outside the perimeter – since men in the camp have been shot on sight by lurking local soldiers who suspect them of being militants.

But leaving the compound means the women walk into the same zone of conflict. While some UN workers are pushing to get simple food and firewood delivered, they also point out that donor aid is lagging.

“They can rape me or kill me,” says ‘Anne,’ who sells home-brewed alcohol to the soldiers outside, earning about $5 each time that she uses to buy milk and soup packets for her three children.  “But my children don’t have good food to eat so I have to go out.”  Read more…

UN refugees in S. Sudan face perfect storm of woe as war drags on

UN refugees in South Sudan carry goods through a waste canal in Bentiu camp, July 13. Photo by Jason Patinkin

When war broke out in South Sudan last December, the United Nations opened its bases to civilians fleeing the violence. That policy has saved tens if not hundreds of thousands of lives, and today more than 100,000 people shelter under peacekeepers’ protection.

But the UN bases are not meant to house large populations for long periods of time – and seven months later, the camps are proving untenable.

This situation is most dire in Bentiu, the capital of oil-producing Unity State, where more than 40,000 people shelter in the UN base in appalling conditions.

In Bentiu, three children under age 5 die every two days from preventable diseases, and more than 250 people have perished since May. Fights break out frequently in the cramped, politically charged quarters. Rains, lack of funds, and insecurity mean aid agencies can’t get supplies in fast enough. The camp is so poorly supplied that civilians must venture outside to forage for firewood, vegetables, or water, risking rape, abduction, and murder by waiting soldiers and mercenaries tied to different ethnic groups. Even the fortified base itself has come under their fire.

But with the war showing no signs of stopping, and UN peacekeepers delayed, civilians have no other option for safe haven in South Sudan.

“My children are sick, we’re living in the flooded area, there are mosquitoes, we are sleeping with no bed, the smell is awful,” says a mother of six named Angelina, whose 1-year-old daughter recently recovered from malnutrition and malaria.  “But if there is no peace, I can’t go out.”  Read more…

In South Sudan, strife looms in few peaceful places left

A woman grinds millet, near two tanks, while children watch in Leer, Unity State, South Sudan July 15, 2014. Andreea Campeanu/REUTERS

 

As South Sudan‘s civil war drags into a seventh month, President Salva Kiir faces new political and military challenges in parts of the young nation that until now were spared violence.

Violence flared again this week in the lucrative and powerful oil-producing states in the east and north, where bitter fighting raged this winter and spring. The new tensions threaten to expand what already seems an intractable conflict.

With peace talks in Ethiopia postponed indefinitely amid new rebel demands over who should participate, rebel and government forces engaged this week near Bentiu, the capital of Unity State, despite two cease-fires.

Meanwhile, a debate in the national capital of Juba over federal vs. state powers in South Sudan reached such a boiling point that the International Crisis Group, a well-known advocacy NGO, called for an emergency UN Security Council session. Read more…

From Sudan to South Sudan, crusading editor refuses to stay quiet

Alfred Taban, editor of the Juba Monitor, in his office in Juba, South Sudan, July 8, 2014. Photo by Jason Patinkin

On Wednesday July 3 South Sudanese security forces confiscated the entire print run of South Sudan‘s leading independent English language daily newspaper, the Juba Monitor.

The reason? Its editor Alfred Taban defied an order not to report on local government demands to be given more authority.

But Mr. Taban, whose career in the inky journalistic trenches of both Sudan and South Sudan has spanned decades – was not fazed.

“It didn’t surprise me,” he says, leaning back in his office chair next to towering stacks of papers lit by the glow of a computer screen.  “I knew they would react negatively.”

Having endured years of harsh censorship in Khartoum under successive dictators, Taban, from the south, hoped that independence for South Sudan would bring change.

But three years later, Taban says the press climate in Juba the capital is nearly as bad as his years in Khartoum, in Sudan.

Taban’s story is similar to many South Sudanese who fought and labored for their country’s freedom, only to feel let down by leaders now embroiled in a bitter and ugly civil war.

“They are doing the same things they were doing in Khartoum,” he says of South Sudan’s current rulers, whose disagreements in December brought a brutal war that remains unresolved.   Read more…

A bitter ‘happy birthday’ for warring South Sudan

 

South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir prays at the John Garang Memorial in Juba during events marking the third anniversary of South Sudan’s independence. Andrea Campeneau/Reuters

South Sudan marked its third anniversary of independence amid a civil war that has killed thousands of people and displaced more than 1 million. So the birthday mood in the world’s newest nation does not resemble the complete jubilation of recent years.

In the capital of Juba yesterday, independence celebrations were large – but the pride on display was sharply mixed with ambivalence and disappointment. The festivities stood in stark contrast with the hope a year ago of a bright future for an oil- and water-rich land, and the widely shared sense now that the country’s leaders have failed.

The public sentiment was articulated by “Fox,” a man draped head to toe in South Sudanese flags: “Today I’m happy…[but] I’m crying from this war…. I feel fifty-fifty.”  Read more…

Nairobi ‘Saba Saba’ rally reveals sharp ethnic, political divides

Supporters of the opposition Coalition for Reforms and Democracy or Cord attend a rally at Uhuru Park in Nairobi Monday July 7, 2014. Sayyid Azim/AP

A highly emotive rally of more than 10,000 people in Nairobi today capped a month of antigovernment protests led by longtime opposition figure Raila Odinga, who is calling for a “national dialogue” with President Uhuru Kenyatta as ethnic tensions reach a fever pitch.

The two political leaders were also on different sides in post-election violence in 2007 that led to a charge of crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court at The Hague. That violence killed more than 1,000 people.

Kenya’s opposition today said it would pursue a national referendum to deal with deepening insecurity and economic woes that the Kenyatta government has struggled to solve.  Read more…

US sanctions tread lightly on Uganda’s ‘odious’ anti-gay laws

 

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni gestures after signing a new anti-gay bill in Entebbe, Uganda, Feb. 24, 2014. Rebecca Vassie/AP/File

A loud cry rose from the West early this year when Uganda passed an anti-homosexuality law that would put “repeat offenders” in prison for life.

European countries slashed aid to Uganda and gay rights activists loudly condemned the legislation, which came at the same time that Nigeria also cracked down on homosexuals with similarly draconian laws.

The “odious law,” as US President Barack Obama called Uganda’s initiative, would “complicate” the US partnership with Kampala. He ordered a review of the largely military US-Uganda relationship, with the intent of imposing sanctions.

Those sanctions got announced last week. They are the toughest actions taken against anti-gay laws overseas by the Obama administration, and include the redirecting of US aid to Uganda to its NGOs, the cancelling of a planned hospital, the cancelling of a military exercise, and the dropping of some police funding.

In the US, Vice President Joseph Biden and US Secretary of State John Kerry touted the sanctions as significant during June Pride Month.

But the sanctions also represent a conundrum for the US as it tries to affirm some of its own values and viewpoints abroad at a time when its leverage is lower.

Many human rights activists say the Uganda sanctions are too little, too late – even as some foreign affairs specialists say a US single-issue focus on gay rights actually strengthens a new “anti-West” narrative in parts of Africa and an attendant crackdown on civil society.  Read more…

Journalist, East Africa

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