Friday, March 27, 2015
Just back from visiting Juba. Juba is the furthest south of Sudan’s Nile cities, about 800 miles as the bird flies and a good distance further as the river flows. Juba is also the edge of the north’s furthest reach. Juba itself is less than 100 years old but each empire that has tried to rule Sudan has put an outpost in the vicinity. The Turks, Arabs and the British have done it. The Juba area sits at the point where the White Nile enters the plains after dropping down from the Mountains of the Moon (the Rwenzori Mountains in Uganda). The empires have all wanted to control it in order to control the gateway south and north. But the outposts have always been too far from the north and too difficult to defend. Juba sits well south of the Sud, the great swamp that chokes the White Nile and has always presented an almost impassable barrier to going up river. The border between Arab Sudan and African Sudan is another 300 miles north of Juba but the government and the SPLM have fought most bitterly over this one city and the province – Equatoria – of which it is the capital.
Juba is closer to Uganda and the Congo than to Khartoum. It took our US Air Force C-12 just under three hours to get there. It is dry season but it was clouded most of the time. Rain sprinkled us as we were touring the military hospital. Juba is not really a city but a very humble and over-crowded town. The government has 12,000 troops to control the town and a bit of the surrounding territory. (They seem in no hurry to leave.) About 500,000 people live in government-controlled territory. Most of the 2 million southerners who live in the refugee camps of Khartoum come from Juba. (My cook and houseboy come from there.) Even though with a ceasefire, the countryside – fields for crops, roads – is heavily mined and unusable. In an area that could feed itself, most everything – food and fuel – has to come from Khartoum. The barges can only use the river during the dry season and the town has electricity only for the 3-4 months a year that fuel can reach it by barge. Food costs four times the monthly wage; that means those with jobs can feed themselves from their pay only one week out of the four. Then they “make do.”
The SPLM repeatedly attacked Juba because they wanted to make it their capital. But the government used all of its resources to hold it. They have several towns in the south but the SPLM controls the countryside. This stalemate has made both sides willing to try a peace agreement. The people of Juba have been so brutalized by the war and by oppression by the Arabs that they don’t believe in peace even now. I met with the auxiliary bishops of the Catholic and Episcopal Churches. They have carried alone the weight of helping their faithful survival. One told me that every day that people survived made them thankful but they could never tell about tomorrow. Imagine waking up facing the job of finding work, shelter, the next meal while also being afraid that if you complained or said or did anything that the security people didn’t like that you would disappear and never be found. And the next day, if you survived the night, the same thing all over again for 15 years. The Catholic Bishop spoke of the people having been traumatized and I could see in his eyes what it had done to him. They were glad that the US had not forgotten them. I brought my USAID person with me and we listened to them tell us that they needed help. The people of the US know nothing, nothing about all of these places where other people have nothing, not even hope.
Juba is dusty, dirty – filled with that scourge of mankind, plastic bags – and very poor. But it also is indisputably Africa. The mud huts with straw roofs, the chickens, goats and dogs running loose. The smiling faces, all the children waving and wanting us to take their pictures. That wish to have their picture taken always makes me wonder. They’ll almost certainly never see them. It is that somewhere, somehow they want their lives to be recorded, remembered by someone outside? I always feel at home in Africa. We stayed at the USAID compound, now occupied by the International Red Cross. The ICRC team includes doctors and nurses who run the local hospital. They work 18-hour days, six days a week. The Sudanese staff won’t help them because they don’t care about the local people. The Red Cross people, mostly Europeans, are the most dedicated I’ve ever met. Rough living in Juba but they all can’t stop what they are doing.
I had 15 minutes between meetings – that included with the local army commander, who gave us dinner – and took a swim [in the USAID pool]. Reminded me of Harare. In the evening I sat alone by the pool for a bit and smoked a cigar. I watched the smoke disappear into the night sky and thought of paradise.
Tuesday, March 24, 2015
Saturday, March 21, 2015
Tuesday, March 17, 2015
Thursday, March 12, 2015
Tuesday, March 10, 2015
Got up early this morning after another night sleeping with the windows open. (It is gradually warming but still in lower 60s during night.) Went down to the shore of the Blue Nile to take a waterbus across to Tuti Island. Tuti sits in the middle of the conjunction of the Blue and White Niles. Until 20 years ago, the three Arab tribes that lived there didn't let anyone visit their island, not even other Sudanese. It is easy to understand why. In the middle of a desert, they have great soil (silt carried down the Nile) and a steady supply of water. They grow fruits, vegetables and sorghum year round. They only "import" from Khartoum cooking and motor oil and a few other things like softdrinks. They even make their own bricks from river mud, dung and Nile water. (I saw several places where people were making bricks by hand as they would have thousands of years ago. One of them appeared drunk, as I might well be too making bricks all day. Expert brick makers can make up to $8 a day.)
They now let people onto their island and there are a large number of southern and western Sudanese that do much of the labor. I walked around with my bodyguard Hashim. He had scouted ahead and led me across the whole place. The sun was a winter sun but intense nevertheless. We walked for fours hours steady. I returned beat and still am. But I had to do an interview with the editor of a local Arabic newspaper this afternoon. He asked me questions for 1 1/2 hours. He started by telling me be was invited to be with the US Marines in Lebanon many years ago and ended by assuring me he likes America. We'll see what he does with my answers.
Note: I had spent the holidays back home with my family and returned after the New Year.
Friday, March 6, 2015
Tuesday, March 3, 2015
Just got back from the Kenyan National Day reception. Picked up some useful info, a lot of rumor and saw from only a few feet the infamous Hasan Al Turabi. Chatted with my colleagues from Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia and also Egyptian intelligence. At the end, I complemented the Kenyan Ambassador for not doing a speech. He looked crestfallen as he told me he had prepared a speech, a long one, but had been been prevailed upon not to deliver it since no one would listen. I suggested he email it to me and he assured me that he already had. I love these Africans, the real ones I mean.
The young kittens appear to be growing increasingly comfortable with their possession of my front yard and patio. Moma guards them carefully and they are so cute that during Happy Hour here, several people gave serious thought to stealing one or the other. But they seem to have already decided that I am of little account and need not pay me much heed.
Got warm enough here this week to return to AC. But not bad. Started work on my Xmas puzzle. It'll be here when I return.*
*Note: I would be leaving later in the month for home leave.