Friday, July 17, 2009

Southern Sudan: A hardened state

Full Sudan Photo Gallery: Sudan: A hardened state

I apologize for not posting in more than two weeks. I have been moving constantly and have been without a somewhat reliable internet connection. The update: I took a week to go to Juba, South Sudan. I went first to take photos of the home that my NGO operates there, but upon arrival, I found that there really wasn’t much to photograph. There was a tiny, two room, mud house with a corrugated tin roof. The home is only populated by it’s inhabitants at night, as all of the boys are either attending school or work during the daytime. With that in mind, I had some free time to work on a photo essay during my days in Juba.

Sudan is made up of two countries. In the north there is Islam, Darfur, and the northern capital, Khartoum, while to The South there is Christianity, oil, and the southern capital, Juba. Battling over land which contains lucrative amounts of oil, the 20 year-long civil war in the South has left over 7 million Sudanese dead. The Muslim-Christian divisions have only further complicated and intensified fighting. In 2005, a Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed between each of the forces, and the southern 40% of Sudan became The Republic of Southern Sudan.

Entering Juba is a lot like driving into the county landfill. I hate to put it this way, but the place is one massive shit-hole. For 20 years, Juba was the frontline in a severely bloody conflict, and it is evident that development has never been allowed to take place. To make conditions worse, mid-day temperatures can rise above 115* F. The temperament of the Sudanese is almost as pleasant as the climate.

War not only destroys buildings and takes away lives, but it can also steal souls. Two decades of constant conflict has toughened the hearts and minds of South Sudan’s population. Everywhere I went I was questioned for having a camera. Was I a spy? “Of course” they would think. This mindset is incredibly difficult to break since nobody in the south is educated. A friend of mine from Kampala compared the south to a country governed by a bunch of African hillbilly rednecks with Kalashnikov rifles. He’s right, nobody uses logic here. Who cares about being an intellectual when there are mortars being lobbed at your house? One need not to sit down and analyze the possible outcomes of a situation when you’re options are only to kill or be killed.

Even after the fighting has stopped, the coarse and quick-to-conclusion psyche remains—there are no signs of letting up, either. While I was being escorted home by two UN peacekeepers, I took a photograph through the rear window of our vehicle—the men in the SUV behind us didn’t like that very much. As soon as it’s driver slammed the horn, about six Sudanese men exited the vehicle and gathered around ours. I immediately locked my door, which was good thinking, because I’m almost certain they wanted to pull me out of the vehicle but ceased to persist when they found that the door was locked.

What happens next? My genius drivers decide to get out of the car. Both are Bangladeshi—they don’t speak Arabic or English, so as to what made them think getting out of the car was a smart idea completely eludes me. The man in charge of the surrounding posse approached the driver’s side of the car and with disgust on his face and a sharp, hostile, aggressive tone in his voice, started to interrogate me.

“Why did you take my photo?”

I explain that I’m a student and was just taking photographs of the area for a project. I tried to assure him that I wasn’t doing him any harm and that I wasn’t a spy. It didn’t matter.

“No. Why did you take my photo?”

Somehow, I was able to convince him I never took one of him or his car. My drivers managed to get back in the car. We drove. I’m thankful that’s the end of the story.

Just as war has hardened the Sudanese, the constant aid delivered by big-time NGOs has inflicted nearly as much damage on Sudan’s future. The Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) is notorious for the stealing of aid shipments to benefit its troops and to gain political leverage during the war. Such actions perpetuate war. When food is stolen from the people, the conflict is no longer over natural resources or religion, it’s about mere survival.

Such warlord-style dynamics raises the question of the ethical boundaries of aid relief distribution. Are people being helped in such situations? No, not when the relief is stolen and sold for arms or political advantage. What about when the aid does reach the people? When the situation on the ground is dire and people are in need of immediate attention, yes, it does help…temporarily.

If you give aid to people for a long enough period of time they will begin to take it for granted. People no longer feel the need to work to eat. Thus, they become lazy. The Sudanese are appallingly lazy. They want more money for less work (if they work at all) and assume that someone else is responsible for their well being. Taking advantage of the Sudanese sloth, many Ugandans move to Juba and work harder for less money, but at the end of the day make a great deal more because they have a good work ethic and keep working when the Sudanese are taking a break to sit in the shade and play cards. Other Ugandans import goods to Juba because nobody is willing to cultivate the land in Sudan. It is evident that Ugandan’s run the grassroots-level economy in Juba, and it’s entirely Southern Sudan’s fault.

So what position do you take? Do you cut relief and let the region descend into complete and utter chaos, death, and inferno, or do you provide the aid, ensuring that the war rages on, killing millions of more people? The consequences for either decision are profound. Inevitably, you cannot predict the future by determining which route saves more lives. There must be a solution somewhere.

We need something new to aid the needy—new ideas, or maybe a new generation of humanitarians. I believe that if managed properly, aid will work. Instead of asking “To aid or not to aid?,” we need to ask ourselves “how should we aid, and in what manner will it be responsible to the areas like Southern Sudan, that above almost anything else, need recovery and development? How can areas like this be pulled above the third-world status quo, and be lifted to a state of peace and harmony?

Full Sudan Photo Gallery: Sudan: A hardened state


Anonymous said...

Your comment about being given everything also applies to America. When you return to American, take a good look around. Many people in American have been given aid over the years and have learned to expect it. It will get worse with your new president

Jennifer said...

I noticed somethig a bit different...what you are noticing about the people and education there...also applies to the "war zones" within our own inner do we expect kids who grow up in areas where gunshots-drivebys-drugs-gangs-hookers occupy every corner to care about becoming educated...when they have to worry more about staying alive, out of trouble and with food in their mouths...

About This Blog