Cash, cows and conflict: African herders have been pushed into destitution and crime

The Economist
Nairobi, Kenya

At the start of every dry season fires creep southwards across the Central African Republic (CAR). Kasper Agger, a Dane who works for African Parks, a South Africa-based conservation group, can see them on his laptop thanks to a piece of NASA-made software that plots benign-looking flame symbols like boy scouts’ campfires onto a Google Earth map. Through December and January the fires edge close to Chinko, a vast nature reserve in the CAR. When the fires reach the park boundary, a light aircraft is dispatched to shower leaflets over the smoulder. Below, herders who come from hundreds of miles away receive illustrated messages in Sango (a local language), Arabic and French, warning them not to chop down trees, carry guns, hunt game or poach elephants within the park. Continue reading Cash, cows and conflict: African herders have been pushed into destitution and crime

Casualties of war in the world’s newest country

New Statesman
Bentiu, South Sudan

Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty
Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images

There were no wounds on Nyachan’s body. She demonstrated how she was tied up – arms pulled back, elbows bent sharply towards her spine – but the rope marks had faded. Government soldiers had abducted Nyachan from her village in Unity State in South Sudan in mid-April and marched her to a military camp. For two months she was held captive: forced to work by day, bound and raped by night. Eventually Nyachan (not her real name) escaped on foot to a UN base outside the state capital, Bentiu, where she was reunited with her five children, and where we met a couple of months later. Continue reading Casualties of war in the world’s newest country

South Sudan: Into the long grass

BBC From Our Own Correspondent
Bentiu, South Sudan

The last time I was in Bentiu it was also because of war.

It was April 2012 and newly independent South Sudan – not yet a year old – was fighting with Sudan over an oil field along the disputed border that both nations claimed. The conflict didn’t last long and the few casualties were mostly soldiers.

I stayed at an Ethiopian-run hotel in town. The owners provided good meals and cold beer making their place popular with the handful of foreign correspondents who’d made their way to Bentiu. Continue reading South Sudan: Into the long grass

South Sudan | That elusive peace

The Economist
Bentiu, South Sudan

Holding court beneath a neem tree in a walled compound next to a mud hut with a satellite dish, Stephen Taker Riak Dong, the acting governor of Unity State, cheerfully dismisses talk of economic collapse. Bentiu, his state’s administrative capital, is a wreck after 21 months of war. It looks as if a cyclone has scattered its shack-like dwellings. Abandoned vehicles rust in the grass. Herds of looted cattle are guarded by men with AK-47s. Unity once accounted for much of the country’s oil but now produces none. Yet Mr Taker is unperturbed. “We never depend on oilfields. If there are no dollars we don’t mind.” Peace, he says, will solve everything. Continue reading South Sudan | That elusive peace

The rape camps of South Sudan

AFP Correspondent blog
Bentiu, South Sudan

A young woman carries firewood at a UN base outside Bentiu (AFP/Tristan McConnell)
A young woman carries firewood at a UN base outside Bentiu (AFP/Tristan McConnell)

I went to South Sudan looking for war crimes, and found them.

One woman I spoke to was called Nyamai, a 38-year-old mother of five. She was taken from her village in Unity State in April during the latest government offensive in a nearly two-year-old civil war. Like hundreds of other women, she was abducted by armed men, marched for days, guarded constantly and tied up frequently. At night, as many as 10 soldiers would queue up for their turn to rape her.

“Please, let one guy deal with me, don’t come all of you,” she pleaded. In response, she was beaten with a stick. Continue reading The rape camps of South Sudan

South Sudan’s city of the dispossessed

Agence France-Presse (AFP)
Bentiu, South Sudan

Boys play in and around a tree next to the perimeter fortifications of a UN base in Bentiu (AFP Photo/Tristan McConnell)
Boys play in and around a tree next to the perimeter fortifications of a UN base in Bentiu (AFP Photo/Tristan McConnell)

An earth bank, topped in some places with a coil of razor wire, surrounds the United Nations peacekeeping base outside Bentiu in South Sudan. There are also watchtowers and armed peacekeepers.

Inside the 6.5 kilometre (four mile) perimeter fortifications live 118,000 people, some of the 2.2 million uprooted by civil war since December 2013.

Around 195,000 people live inside six UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) bases after the unusual step of allowing civilians refuge alongside peacekeepers was taken when fighting broke out, first in the capital Juba, and then in other parts of the country. Continue reading South Sudan’s city of the dispossessed

Women held as sex slaves in South Sudan ‘rape camps’

Agence France-Presse (AFP)
Bentiu, South Sudan

A young woman carries firewood after returning to the United Nations base outside Bentiu (AFP Photo/Tristan McConnell)
A young woman carries firewood after returning to the United Nations base outside Bentiu (AFP Photo/Tristan McConnell)

One woman was abducted by soldiers and taken to a military camp, tied up and raped repeatedly for two months.

Another was kidnapped with her 15-year-old sister and raped every night for five nights. A third was taken to a forest with her 12-year old daughter where both were raped.

The abduction of women and girls for use as sex slaves -– some of them held indefinitely, tied up with hundreds of others in secret rape camps — is a disturbing new aspect of South Sudan’s 21-month conflict, already characterised by well-documented war crimes and human rights abuses. Continue reading Women held as sex slaves in South Sudan ‘rape camps’

All talk but no peace: South Sudan’s stumbling talks

Agence France-Presse (AFP)
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

South Sudan President Salva Kiir (L) exchanges signed documents with rebel leader Riek Machar (AFP)
South Sudan President Salva Kiir (L) exchanges signed documents with rebel leader Riek Machar (AFP)

After 13 months of fighting and six failed ceasefires, diplomats are being forced to accept that any deal to end the war in South Sudan will, at best, result in a return to the status quo that precipitated the carnage in the first place.

 The latest peace proposal drafted this week in Addis Ababa by regional bloc IGAD and seen by AFP leaves Salva Kiir as president and re-installs rebel leader Riek Machar as his deputy, a position he held until July 2013 when his sacking planted the seed of a war that erupted five months later.

Hopes of formulating a comprehensive peace deal that addresses South Sudan’s underlying problems and tribal divisions have faded. “That moment has passed,” a European diplomat involved in the talks said. Continue reading All talk but no peace: South Sudan’s stumbling talks

A Year of War in South Sudan

Medium
Malakal, South Sudan

Boys peer through the window of an aid agency tent on the United Nations base outside Malakal (Tristan McConnell)
Boys peer through the window of an aid agency tent on the United Nations base outside Malakal (Tristan McConnell)

South Sudan’s war began a year ago in the capital city of Juba. It spread quickly and on Christmas Eve fighting broke out in Malakal, a city of 140,000 people at the other end of the country close to its northern border. As the army split along ethnic lines and fought for control Malakal’s residents cowered or fled.

David Koud, a thirty-six year old civil servant, had gone out early that morning. When the shooting and shelling began he raced home but found that his wife and two young sons had already been swallowed up in the exodus. As government and rebel fighters wrestled over the town Koud stayed to protect his property and wait for the return of his wife Marageret and two boys, Kopi, aged four, and Teki, aged six.

Continue reading A Year of War in South Sudan

South Sudan village overwhelmed by thousands fleeing war

The Times
Pathai, South Sudan

A crowd gathers to be registered for emergency food rations and immunisations in Pathai (Tristan McConnell)
A crowd gathers to be registered for emergency food rations and immunisations in Pathai (Tristan McConnell)

The village of Pathai in Jonglei State is no more than a few tin-roofed cinderblock buildings among thatched mud huts, a metal shipping container used as a prison and a jumble of broken-down vehicles. It is, however, home to thousands upon thousands of people who have arrived looking for help.

They began streaming in last week, walking for days across swamps and plains in the hope of food and medical care delivered by a small team of aid workers from the United Nations World Food Programme. The settlement has neither roads nor an airstrip, leaving it isolated from the rest of the country. Continue reading South Sudan village overwhelmed by thousands fleeing war