For my 2nd mission with MSF (Doctors without Borders / Médecins sans Frontières) , they decided to send me to South Sudan and I was secretly hoping there would be no conflict in my area. I was disappointed with that. 5 days into my mission and war broke out between the Shilluks (where my project was) and the Dinkas, two tribes of South Sudan fighting for -stupid reasons like every war out there-
Since South Sudan’s independence in 2011, a united and peaceful country was what everyone was aiming for. Rebuilding a nation through the creation of industries and the attraction of investments was many people’s dream. Investing in South Sudan was the subject of every business meeting in Africa at that moment. Unfortunately the South Sudan dream never went very far.
History repeated time after time that the creation of a new nation is the opportunity for the greedy to (extra)care for their interests. And in order to do so, taking power is key.
History repeated itself in 2013.
A dispute between the president and his vice president (Salva Kiir and Riek Machar), two rival leaders from two different tribes (Dinka and Nuer respectively) was the icing on the cake, or like we say in french, the drop too many in the vase.
For the locals that had not known anything else than fighting since the 1950s, the concept of peace was new and none of them had forgotten how to use a weapon nor decided to lose it. Hence it was easy for either party to build its own guerrilla. And like in any other war, one of the guerrilla was disguised under the government’s flag, and under that flag, came the blessing of the international community.
The Salva Kiir government, led by Dinkas, was fighting against the rebels which were mostly Nuers and led by Riek Machar. It is really after a failed attempt on Machar’s life who fled to Congo through the south of the country that brought this conflict to another level involving other tribes. To fuel the war, what better way to make it about tribes and ethnicities ?! And so it became an ethnic war. Up to this day, 64 ethnicities are now fighting against or with each other for 64 different causes.
The entire budget of the government and rebel states is spent on war. Commanders and local leaders are raising funds for the war through networks they have in foreign lands. Other countries are now meddling into either party’s side in order to protect their interests.
South Sudan has become a land of devastation and desolation once again. The worst in this, is that the indirect taxes (visas, income tax etc...) that NGOs are paying to the government in order to save lives is a part of the problem. How can we avoid paying taxes to a government backed by the international community ? How could we not help these people ? Even if it means paying taxes to a corrupt government who is going to fuel the war with that money. We have a morale obligation to help these millions of civilians, they are humans and have a right to live, yet we all know deep down that in order to so, we are indirectly giving money to a government that does ethnic cleansing. This is the terrible dilemna every aid worker has to face every day when working in South Sudan.
Previous to that battle that had broken out between the Shilluks and the Dinka, I was doing a movement on a river to bring back 2 patients. See the river I was at, was the front line between Shilluks and Dinkas. Conflicts had already happened and the Shilluks already had lost some of their territory but the situation became quieter (or so we thought). Once I had arrived to the other side to get the patients, militaries surrounded me and told me the passage back was out of question. You kind of want to argue but when you see the AK-47s and the drug induced red eyes of the soldiers, you kind of think not to in the end.
Those following days, I spent two weeks in a UN camp before I could be evacuated. The day after I had come, rockets were launched to the other side and our project was bombed, airspace was not safe enough for any plane to come pick us up. My only belongings left were the one I had on the boat. My pants, my boxer, my t-shirt, my wallet and my bosse’s passport.
Ultimately, the Shilluks were driven out of the country (the one that could flee). 101 of our 116 national staff fled to Sudan and I never got to see them again. A few of them came back when it got quieter, leaving their family behind in a « safer » Sudan, wanting to reconstruct something in this land of desolation. Never will I be able to understand them fully, but god, their capacity to endure, to live every day, to still be able to smile, and to care for their people is out of this world.