Tuesday, July 19, 2011

What Lies Ahead?

     In the last blogpost, I gave a brief history of South Sudan up to the date of independence – July 9, 2011. In this post, I would like to give some background information on some of the bigger issues the new country faces as it moves into the future.

Issue 1:  South Sudan is one of Africa’s least developed countries.
     Health and education statistics show there is much work to be done. Tropical diseases and diseases resulting from unclean water and poor sanitation are common: malaria, pneumonia, diarrhea, tuberculosis, acute respiratory disease, hepatitis, HIV/AIDS, guinea worm, meningitis, measles, typhoid fever, cholera, and many others. Water-borne diseases are common because boreholes and open, unprotected wells are the main sources of drinking water. Sanitation is largely absent and few people have access to toilet facilities. Chronic malnutrition, which weakens resistance to disease, is common. There is not enough food and people are very dependent on food aid.
     Infant and maternal mortality rates are among the highest in the world. In South Sudan, one in ten children die before their first birthday, and one in seven dies before their fifth birthday. One out of seven women who become pregnant will probably die from pregnancy-related causes. There are simply very few medical facilities and trained medical professionals. 75% of the people do not have access to even basic health care. Many South Sudanese must walk for days in order to reach a clinic. Most of the medical care that is available in South Sudan is provided by international aid groups.
     Government officials estimate that only 27% of adults can read. Among women, the figure is even lower – 84% of South Sudanese women cannot read or write. In nine of the ten South Sudanese states, less than 5% of children finish primary school. Only 6% of girls who start school ever finish.

Issue 2: The oil issue.
     Sudan and South Sudan produce 500,000 barrels of oil daily, and 75% of it comes from the South. However the refineries that refine the oil and the pipelines that carry it to shipping ports on the Red Sea are in the north. Since the Peace Agreement in 2005, oil revenue has been split equally between northern and southern Sudan, but there has been no agreement on how to split oil revenues after southern independence.
     (North) Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir threatened to shut down the pipelines carrying South Sudan’s oil if an agreement on sharing oil revenue was not reached before independence on July 9. So far that has not happened, but if oil exports are discontinued, the southern economy will collapse. Almost all the government income of South Sudan comes from oil exports – a whopping 98%. The government will not be able to pay its soldiers, and peace will be threatened. A new pipeline has been proposed that would run from Juba to Lamu, Kenya, bypassing northern Sudan, but it would take a few years to build. So it is likely that the south will pay to continue using the pipeline through the north for some time to come.
     In any event, South Sudan does not have an infinite reserve of oil, and unless new deposits are discovered, it is likely that supplies will run out in 20 to 30 years. In the long term, the South will need to diversify its economy away from oil. Two areas that look promising are agriculture and minerals.

Issue 3: Border disputes and conflicts with Sudan.
     There are several areas in which an agreement has not been reached on where to draw the border between Sudan and South Sudan. The main dispute is over the region of Abyei, which is an oil-producing region and a valuable source of water for the north during the dry season. Conflict over Abyei arose because two different ethnic groups claim the region: the Dinka Ngok, a southern group, and the Misseriya, who are northern Sudanese nomads accustomed to moving through the area each year in search of grazing land for their cattle. Tensions grew when the referendum vote which took place in the rest of southern Sudan in January of 2011 did not take place in Abyei because the two sides were unable to agree on whether the nomadic Misseriya should be able to vote. Fighting broke out in Abyei in May, a few weeks before southern independence, and large parts of Abyei town were burned to the ground.
     Though not the subject of a border dispute, another region of conflict is in the Nuba Mountains, which lie in (northern) Sudan’s South Kordofan state. The Nuba people who live there are black and largely Christian who feel they have more in common with people in South Sudan than with the Arab-dominated North, and would prefer to be part of South Sudan. Many Nuba fought with southern forces during the civil war, and the tribe is now facing retaliation from the northern army, which has dropped bombs on areas they inhabit. Aid workers there say ethnic Nubans are also being targeted by northern and Arab militias. The Nuban people are retreating deeper into the mountains in an attempt to escape the persecution.

Issue 4: Rebel forces inside South Sudan.
      There are at least a half-dozen rebel forces inside South Sudan that are opposed to the South Sudan government, which is largely controlled by members of the SPLM (Sudan People’s Liberation Movement). The SPLA/SPLM was the most powerful insurgent group during the fight for independence from the north. The largest rebel group is the South Sudan Liberation Army (SSLA), led by Peter Gadet. The SSLA says it is fighting corruption within the government, lack of development in the country, and domination by the Dinka ethnic group. They are concerned that the new government is spending more money on the army than on health and education, and that members of the Dinka tribe hold a majority of positions in the new government.
     The South Sudanese government claims that these rebel groups are being funded and supplied by the (northern) Sudanese government in an attempt to weaken the new government of South Sudan. It is a fact that the Khartoum government did fund rival groups during the long civil war in order to weaken the SPLA. The rebel groups have engaged in fights with the South Sudanese army, and represent a threat to peace and stability in the country.

Monday, July 4, 2011

A Brief History of South Sudan

     This coming Saturday, July 9, 2011, South Sudan will become an independent nation. The southern portion of Sudan, around one-fourth of the total land mass, will separate from the northern part. It will be a big moment in history for the people of this land, to be sure. It makes me wonder: what has their history been up to this point?

     By 8000 B.C., people had moved into what is now northern Sudan. They lived in villages made of mud-brick buildings, and supported themselves by hunting, fishing, gathering wild grains and herding cattle. Northern Sudan, then known as Nubia, came under the rule of ancient Egypt in 2600 B.C., and Egyptian culture mixed with Sudanese culture to eventually produce the civilization known as Kush, which flourished until 350 A.D.  Less is known about the people of southern Sudan, but they are believed to have lived in semi-nomadic tribes.

     Arab miners searching for gold and emeralds began moving into the eastern part of northern Sudan in the A.D. 600’s and brought Islam with them. Much later, in 1820-21, the Ottomans conquered northern Sudan and unified the country. However the Sudd, the vast swamp in southern Sudan, prevented them from expanding into the southern part of the region.

     In 1874, Egypt conquered Sudan again, however it was not able to establish control over southern areas. When the Suez Canal opened in 1869, Britain and other European colonial powers became interested in moving into the region. The British army overthrew the Egyptian government in 1882, and began to occupy Egypt and Sudan. At the same time British missionaries began moving into southern Sudan from what is now Kenya, attempting to convert people there to Christianity.  In 1924, the British divided Sudan into two separate territories: an Arabic-speaking, predominantly Muslim north, and the South, which was chiefly Animist and Christian, and where the use of English was encouraged. Then in 1946 they reversed this policy and decided to merge northern and southern Sudan into one country, with the government located in the north, and using Arabic as the official language. Southerners were largely excluded from the new government.

     Sudan became independent of Britain in 1956. The government remained Arab and in the North, and southern dissatisfaction with northern rule ignited a civil war which lasted for 17 years, until 1972. At this time an agreement was reached which allowed southerners a measure of self-rule, and a period of peace began which lasted ten years. In 1983, the northern government instituted the fundamentalist Islamic law Sharia, which exacerbated the differences between the peoples of the north and south, and the fighting commenced again.  

     A compromise was reached between the Khartoum government and southern groups in 2004. They agreed that the south would live autonomously for six years, then vote in a referendum on independence. During the vote, which took place on January 9 of this year, southerners chose by a majority of 98.8% to become independent from the north. The new country will be officially known as the Republic of South Sudan, and its capital city will be Juba. Salva Kiir Mayardit, who was a high-ranking officer in the SPLA (Sudan People’s Liberation Army) during the civil war and who has been the president of Southern Sudan during the autonomous period since 2004, will be the first president of the new country. 

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Beaded Jewelry

     Beads were brought to Africa by traders from Arabia, Europe, and India, where they were exchanged for goods, slaves, and services. The Arabs traded mainly in northern Africa, while Europeans and Indians traded mostly in the western parts of the continent. African tribal lords and chiefs who obtained these beads began making decorative jewelry out of them. Wearing the jewelry was, in fact, wearing one’s wealth, and it became a sign of social status to wear a large amount of beaded jewelry in different colors.

     The original African beads were made out of gold, silver, or glass. The material was melted and then poured into a clay mold that had compartments in the shape of beads. After the beads were formed, they were processed in a kiln to make them hard and durable.

     Today, there are hundreds of different kinds of African beads. Most are made of glass, with plastics and ceramics added to the glass. People of different tribes in southern Sudan wear their beads in different ways. Women of the Dinka tribe, for example, often wear a long string (or strings) of rather large beads that are black on one side and white on the other. Toposa women sew small, multicolored beads in intricate rows onto the goatskin skirts they wear, and like to adorn themselves with thick rings of beads as necklaces and headdresses woven from beads of many different colors. Boys and men wear beads too, though not in such great quantities as the women. In some tribes, the style of beads worn indicates the wearer’s marital status and place in society.

     Below, a Toposa woman appears in her beaded finery.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Cattle Raids

     In the last post, I wrote about cattle camps in southern Sudan. The camps are an important part of the culture of South Sudan, and generally people look forward to going to the camps where they can be close to each other and to their beloved cattle. But there is a downside to the cattle camps: deadly raids take place there, in which one group tries to steal another group’s cattle.

     The need for young men to raise dowries drives much of the cattle raiding. In southern Sudan, when a man marries, he must pay a dowry of cows to the bride’s family. Typically around 30 cows are paid, but in some cases as many as 100; the groom negotiates with the men of the bride’s family to decide the exact number. By the time he is ready for marriage, a man will have acquired a small herd of cows of his own. To collect the rest of the dowry, he asks his relatives to contribute some of their cattle to his herd. After the wedding takes place, the cows are transferred to and distributed among the various members of the bride’s family. This procedure bonds together all the members of each family who have participated in the exchange.

     In recent years, families have been requiring increasingly large numbers of cows for dowries. Young men often cannot obtain the required number through peaceful means, so they stage raids to steal each other’s cattle. During the dry months from December to May, when herders must compete for smaller amounts of resources and also move their cattle toward the Nile River in search of water, the raids increase. Cattle raids have become very violent since the early 1990s, which was the height of the civil war in Sudan. At that time civilians easily acquired guns from soldiers, and began using them when seizing cattle. People of both sides in the attacks are often maimed or killed, and the raids ignite feuds among the different tribes which last for years. Some tribes abduct young children as well as cattle during the plunders.

     Occasionally, when a young man cannot raise the demanded number of cattle, he will choose to elope with the girl rather than conduct raids to try to obtain more cows. However this choice often generates even more conflict than cattle raiding. Because of the dowry she will bring, a girl is a source of wealth to her family. So when she elopes, her father may organize a rescue party to go after her and try to bring her back.

     Pictured below is a patient who suffered gunshot wounds while raiding cattle, being tended by nursing staff at the Peace Village Clinic in Kuron. This small clinic is not prepared to treat wounds of the severity he has, so he was encouraged to seek treatment at a better-equipped hospital perhaps 75 km away. The patient was fearful of doing so, because the hospital lies in territory claimed by the tribe whose cattle he was raiding, and he feared retaliation if he ventured there to seek treatment. 

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Sudanese Cattle Camps

     Cows are at the center of life for the people of South Sudanese tribes. Cows provide milk for food, and in a society that has little use for money, a family’s wealth is stored in its cattle. The number of cattle a family owns determines their worth and standing in society.
     In South Sudan, families traditionally keep a permanent home in a small village-like setting. Crops such as maize, sorghum and millet are grown nearby these permanent communities. But they keep their herds of cattle on the plains, in cattle camps. In order to protect the animals from predators and cattle raiders, a large number of herders will band together to form a cattle camp, and hundreds of animals will be kept in each camp. The head of the camp identifies a good location for the camp: one that is near good grazing land and a source of water, and able to be defended from cattle thieves and predatory animals. The herders carry spears and guns to protect their livestock. During the dry months from November to May, when water is scarce, the herdsmen move their camps toward the Nile River.
     The most capable of the young men are sent to the cattle camps to care for and protect the cows. Older men, women and children also go to the camps. For young boys, the camps are a kind of school in which they can learn the skills necessary for their traditional way of life: how to milk cows, how to give commands to the cows, how to help cows give birth, how to castrate a bull that is not desirable for breeding, how to burn cow dung to keep away insects and use the residual ash as a skin protector. They also learn how to make a paste from ash, dirt, and cow urine, and spread it over the horns of the cows to prevent insects from biting the cattle, and how to fish. When not learning how to care for cows, they are busy tending sheep and goats. Women and girls in the camps take care of young children, prepare food, and do the majority of the milking. They make butter and yogurt from the milk in large gourds, and take the surplus milk they collect to nearby towns to sell or trade for other goods.
     The camps are rough settlements: full of dust, and teeming with cattle, cattle dung, and insects. People sleep on thin mats under the stars and make do with very few possessions. In the evenings when the youths return with the cattle from grazing, the community gathers together and the camps take on a party-like atmosphere. Men decorate the horns of their cattle with tassels and other ornaments, and parade them through the crowds. There are wrestling and jumping contests, singing, and dancing to the beat of goatskin-covered drums. Stories are told, which teach morals and other lessons. Boys and girls are free to flirt, and often engage in sexual activity.
     Today, the youth of Sudan increasingly must choose between going to the cattle camps, or staying in town and getting an academic education. The long wars are over, peace has returned, and oil has recently been discovered in South Sudan. A new way of life may soon take hold there. Sudanese elders must decide whether to continue passing down the traditional skills and rituals, or help the young prepare for urban life and modern jobs. In a few decades, life in the cattle camps may be a thing of the past.

     Below, a family heads off to cattle camp near Kuron, South Sudan.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Landmines in South Sudan

     During Sudan’s 21 year long civil war, armies on both sides – the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and the Sudan Armed Forces - planted landmines thickly near major battlefields. Mines were laid on main roads, in villages, near wells and across fields. This limited people’s ability to travel from place to place and restricted their access to drinking water, grazing land for their cattle, and farmland. All aspects of life were affected: women were afraid to go out and collect firewood, children could not go to school, people could not trade with each other, hospitals and other infrastructure could not be built. After the war ended, the fear of stepping on mines blocked the return of refugees and interfered with the delivery of humanitarian aid.

     Today, 19 of the 25 states in southern Sudan are still strewn with explosive devices. The densest presence of mines in South Sudan has been found in Eastern Equatoria and Central Equatoria, the states which share borders with Kenya and Uganda. It is also believed that a high concentration of undetonated charges exists along the borders with Eritrea and Ethiopia in the east, but these areas have not yet been surveyed to determine the extent of the problem.

     In 2010, a study was conducted to determine the extent of the damage that had been done by landmines. Between the signing of the Peace Agreement that ended the civil war in 2005 and 2010, a total of 661 persons were either killed or injured by mines and other explosive devices in Sudan. 41% of them were children, and 13% were women or girls. These numbers do not include the number of people killed or maimed by landmines during the long war.

     Clearing mines from a space of ground is painstaking work. De-mining teams mark out a small area, then work their way across it inch by inch while listening for a beeping sound coming from their monitors that indicates the presence of metal parts in devices buried under the ground. They work 45 minute shifts at a time in the burning sun, wearing plastic face shields that make it impossible for them to drink water. They must work in the dry season, when the soil is so compacted they cannot activate a mine by stepping on it.

     Since 2005, efforts to clear the most densely contaminated areas have been in progress, and a whopping 19,000 landmines and 800,000 other unexploded ordnances have been found and destroyed in southern Sudan. Many kilometers of roads have been cleared, and assistance has been provided to large numbers of people who are victims of mine blasts. In addition, over four million people have received mines awareness education. Nevertheless, explosive devices still pose a significant threat to the safety of people in South Sudan: it is estimated that only 20% of the total land has been cleared of mines, 64% has yet to be cleared, and 16% still has not been assessed for the presence of such devices. 

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Hair Braiding

     Hair braiding has been around for many centuries – in Africa, it can be traced back as far as 3500 BCE. It was practiced by the ancient Egyptians and is still a popular activity today in many parts of Africa, including South Sudan.

     Hair braiding is done to enhance a woman’s – or a man’s – beauty, but it is also a social event among women. It can take a long time to complete a hairdo – up to several hours – so there is plenty of time to talk. Girls learn the skill by watching as older women in their communities make knots and braids in the hair of young children. They practice the designs on each other, learning traditional patterns and inventing new ones. Some of the styles are tribe specific, and often the length of the braid is extended with string-like materials. Sometimes colorful beads or other materials are woven into the hair.

     Micro braids, or invisible braids, are a popular style among girls in South Sudan today. These are braids that are very thin - from a distance they appear to be threads woven into the hair. Once in place, micro braids will stay in place for months if left untouched. Below, students at St. Bakhita School in Narus, Sudan, are engaged in the art of hair braiding during their free time.