New South Su­dan nation strained by masses re­turn­ing home

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY ASHISH KU­MAR SEN

JUBA, SOUTH SU­DAN | Africa’s new­est nation is only a few days old, but it al­ready is fac­ing a hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis, with about 1,000 peo­ple a day crowd­ing into this dusty cap­i­tal strain­ing un­der the pop­u­la­tion crush.

“We are wit­ness­ing an un­prece­dented ac­cel­er­a­tion in the num­ber of peo­ple re­turn­ing to the south,” said Gio­vanni Bosco, head of the U.N. Of­fice for the Co­or­di­na­tion of Hu­man­i­tar­ian Af­fairs in South Su­dan.

“This large num­ber of peo­ple has put an ad­di­tional strain on the lim­ited re­sources and the lim­ited ca­pac­ity of pub­lic ser­vices in the south.”

South Su­dan is rich in oil and other nat­u­ral re­sources, but it re­mains one of the poor­est na­tions on Earth, with 90 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion liv­ing on less than $1 a day.

The new nation also has some of the worst health sta­tis­tics. In some ar­eas, only one doc­tor serves as many as 500,000 peo­ple, and more women die in child­birth than any­where else in the world.

The pop­u­la­tion is es­ti­mated to be 8 mil­lion ac­cord­ing to a 2008 cen­sus, but the gov­ern­ment sus­pects those fig­ures are in­ac­cu­rate.

Since the end of two decades of civil war be­tween the Arab north and the mostly black African south in 2005, more than 2 mil­lion peo­ple who fled the fight­ing have re­turned to the south.

Betty Achan Og­waro, a mem­ber of the South Su­dan Leg­isla­tive Assem­bly, said the in­flux poses a grave risk be­cause of a lack of jobs.

“The sources of liveli­hood is a prob­lem,” she said. “These peo­ple de­pend on aid, but that aid will not go on for­ever.”

Bar­rie Walk­ley, the se­nior U.S. diplo­mat in Juba, added, “It is not the num­bers, but the pace at which they are re­turn­ing that is cre­at­ing prob­lems.”

Ev­ery day, barges brim­ming with peo­ple and their be­long­ings dock at the ram­shackle port in this dusty cap­i­tal of Africa’s new­est nation.

The Nile flows south to north, so a jour­ney up­river from Khar­toum can take as long as three weeks. But the prospect of an ar­du­ous voy­age of more than 700 miles has not slowed the pace of south­ern­ers re­turn­ing to their home­land.

Many re­turn­ing south are buoyed by the hope of find­ing dig­nity, the one thing they say that eluded them dur­ing their years in the north, still of­fi­cially known as Su­dan, where they suf­fered re­li­gious and racial dis­crim­i­na­tion.

On a re­cent af­ter­noon, a group newly ar­rived from the north sat un­der the mango trees that line the White Nile and watched boats loaded with onions that bounced gen­tly on the river, a trib­u­tary of the Nile.

“We gave up jobs and a sta­ble life in the hope of some­thing bet­ter. Most of all, we crave re­spect,” said Atok Deng, who re­turned with his young fam­ily.

“We lived in Khar­toum for many years, but were never made to feel that we be­longed there.”

Racial and re­li­gious ten­sions long di­vided Su­dan, with mainly Arab Mus­lims in the north and black Africans in the south who em­braced Chris­tian­ity or tra­di­tional re­li­gions.

The new gov­ern­ment it­self is partly to blame for the pop­u­la­tion surge. Long be­fore the nation was born July 9, an in­terim gov­ern­ment en­cour­aged south­ern­ers to re­turn home to vote in a ref­er­en­dum in Jan­uary that set the re­gion on the path to in­de­pen­dence from Su­dan.

More than 315,000 peo­ple have made the trip back since Novem­ber.

“What’s mo­ti­vat­ing them is eu­pho­ria for the new coun­try and un­cer­tainty about cit­i­zen­ship [in the north],” said a hu­man­i­tar­ian worker who spoke on back­ground. “Some also don’t feel wel­come in the north any­more.”

The Su­danese Na­tional Assem­bly in Khar­toum re­cently en­acted a law that re­voked Su­danese cit­i­zen­ship for south­ern­ers liv­ing in the north. A Su­danese gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial, who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity cit­ing the sen­si­tive na­ture of the is­sue, said south­ern­ers would be con­sid­ered for cit­i­zen­ship on a “case by case” ba­sis.

The gov­ern­ment of South Su­dan has of­fered dual cit­i­zen­ship to south­ern­ers.

Fight­ing in Abyei, an oil-rich re­gion claimed by both north and south, has fu­eled the pace of refugees flood­ing south. Towns such as Agok and Tu­ralei near Abyei are awash with refugees.

Many south­ern­ers cross the bor­der that bi­sects this vast coun­try by land. For oth­ers, the Nile is the only route of es­cape.

Most new cit­i­zens, ac­cus­tomed to bet­ter life­styles in Khar­toum, are re­luc­tant to re­turn to their vil­lages and in­stead have packed into state cap­i­tals along the bor­der that di­vides north from south. Pop­u­la­tions in these cities have ex­ploded. In the past six months alone, the pop­u­la­tion has more than dou­bled in Ben­tiu, the cap­i­tal of Unity, one of 10 states in South Su­dan.

In West­ern, Cen­tral and East­ern Equa­to­ria states, most of the peo­ple re­turn­ing are liv­ing with host fam­i­lies. How­ever, new set­tle­ments have sprung up in North­ern Bahr El Ghazal, Unity and Up­per Nile states.

Many are shocked by the stan­dard of liv­ing in the south.

“In Khar­toum, these peo­ple had wa­ter in their houses. Now they have to walk for it,” the hu­man­i­tar­ian worker said. “It is a big tran­si­tion.”

“I was talk­ing to kids un­der a tree in Tu­ralei who said they missed the In­ter­net,” she added.

Ms. Og­waro bris­tled at the sug­ges­tion that some are ap­palled by the stan­dard of liv­ing in the south.

“The chil­dren may be shocked, but the adults shouldn’t be,” she said. “They saw worse in Khar­toum.”

De­vel­op­ment in the south was not a pri­or­ity for the gov­ern­ment in Khar­toum, and Juba still suffers from the ne­glect.

“Juba was in­tended by our en­e­mies to be a dust city,” said An­thony Lino Makana, min­is­ter for roads and trans­porta­tion in South Su­dan.

For those re­turn­ing to start a new life in the south, lan­guage is an­other sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenge.

The younger gen­er­a­tion has been ed­u­cated in Ara­bic in the north. While res­i­dents of the south do speak a lim­ited, sim­pli­fied ver­sion called Juba Ara­bic, English is the main lan­guage of com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

While there has been some dis­cus­sion about con­tin­u­ing ed­u­ca­tion in Ara­bic and grad­u­ally switch­ing to English, many chil­dren of peo­ple re­turn­ing are not in schools.

These chal­lenges are tak­ing a toll on the host pop­u­la­tion.

“The Su­danese are a very hos­pitable peo­ple,” the hu­man­i­tar­ian worker said, “but that hos­pi­tal­ity is be­ing stretched to break­ing point.”

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