Malakal: City that van­ished in S/Su­dan

Daily Trust - - INTERNATIONAL - By Tim Franks­dugbo

The roads of cen­tral Juba, the cap­i­tal of South Su­dan, bear wit­ness to the Bri­tish colo­nial town it once was: They are lined with neem trees, tall and nar­row-leafed, their seeds trans­ported from In­dia.

In their broad shade, there is an­other fa­mil­iar sight: Lines of men, in plas­tic chairs, most of them job­less. They wait and talk, scour­ing the thin pick­ings of the lo­cal news­pa­pers.

Vic­tor La­jar is one of them. He is 51 - his pur­ple-striped shirt is per­fectly pressed; his grey trousers have crisp ver­ti­cal creases.

Over a cup of clove-laced tea, he tells me he used to be a lo­cal gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial.

He was from the north­ern city of Malakal. He fled, dur­ing the civil war. He has a fam­ily to sup­port and no job.

I ask my first guile­less ques­tion: “The war’s over; why don’t you re­turn?”

Mr La­jar an­swers with his own ques­tion: “You don’t know about Malakal?” he asks. “It’s ashes,” he tells me. Camp life Few jour­nal­ists go to Malakal. There are hor­rors aplenty else­where, and for long pe­ri­ods, the air­port at the town has been in­ac­ces­si­ble be­cause of the fight­ing.

I ar­rive, on a tiny United Na­tions char­ter, at Malakal air­field. We swiftly have com­pany.

A queue of large Rus­sian­made trans­port planes, with no tail mark­ings, land: Three in one hour, to re-sup­ply the gov­ern­ment forces, the SPLA, who cur­rently hold the city.

Be­fore I head to Malakal it­self, though, I visit the UN camp, just to the north-east. It is where 45,000 former res­i­dents of the city now live.

I am lucky - the rainy sea­son is al­most over. All I have to con­tend with is the broil­ing sun and the clouds of mos­qui­toes.

When it is wet, the ground is awash with mud and hu­man waste.

The place car­ries the marks of the refugee camp. The new ar­rivals, strung out, hol­low-eyed at its en­trance.

The tents and shacks for long-term res­i­dents crammed into a crazed puz­zle; the at­tempts to win­now a bit of ex­tra cash: Men sell­ing heaps of rusty nails; chil­dren sell­ing sin­gle cloves of gar­lic; women sell­ing small piles of clothes.

And there are the sto­ries from their time in Malakal town: Of moth­ers and broth­ers shot, their bod­ies left to rot; of chil­dren lost in the chaos of flee­ing.

So many sto­ries, so much trauma, that by the end of my first af­ter­noon, I have to check my note­book to pick out Nyabed’s mis­ery from Teresa’s from Mary’s from Nyan­git’s. Loot­ing and van­dal­ism In the morn­ing, I get a rare tour of the city, in a UN mil­i­tary pa­trol, with an SPLA es­cort. It is un­like any place I have ever vis­ited.

Malakal is - was - South Su­dan’s sec­ond city. In the decades of war with the north, it thrived. Now it is empty.

Parts have been razed to the ground in the rage of war­fare.

But much has been wrecked sim­ply by loot­ing and van­dal­ism, as ri­val forces al­lied to ri­val eth­nic groups swept back and forth.

Malakal has changed hands 12 times dur­ing this civil war.

The chil­dren’s hospi­tal was built as a prize of in­de­pen­dence. Now it is a shell, scorched, roof­less, slowly stran­gled by the re­turn­ing bush.

But I could see no bul­let holes, no splashes of shrap­nel. It, like the Red Cross head­quar­ters, had been wrecked and pil­laged by fight­ers not bat­tling for a front line, but drunk on own­er­ship.

In­side the Red Cross of­fices, amid the dust and de­struc­tion and fug of fae­ces, I find a dis­carded note­book.

“Rules for the Red Cross”, a neat hand has writ­ten. Avoid “real or per­ceived breaches of neu­tral­ity and im­par­tial­ity for mul­ti­ple rea­sons, in­clud­ing eth­nic­ity”.

I have seen places wrecked by war, but never a city van­ish like this.

Back at the UN camp, plans are qui­etly un­der way to be ready to deal with an­other 40,000 peo­ple who may yet cross over the White Nile to seek sanc­tu­ary and food.

And I ask my sec­ond guile­less ques­tion. It is ad­dressed to one of the UN work­ers - he is a lo­cal, from Malakal.

Is he go­ing to watch the foot­ball that af­ter­noon on TV? South Su­dan is play­ing its first World Cup qual­i­fi­ca­tion match.

“How can I cheer for this coun­try?” he asks.

“We were so happy at in­de­pen­dence. I re­mem­ber the mo­ment. My fa­ther he’d been an agri­cul­tural sci­en­tist, who’d joined the strug­gle, and been killed in the strug­gle.

“But what was it for? Now, I only feel shame. We are so much worse off now.”

Culled from BBC

This is the main street through Malakal, which used to a be a bustling city

Many chil­dren who fled Malakal are now liv­ing in a camp

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