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Monday, December 16, 2013

What's Going On in South Sudan? Second Hand Accounts from Juba

Like most current and former Juba-ites, I've been following events in South Sudan closely over the past day or so - thankful not to be there and worried about those that are. Here are a few links re: what's happening (by no means exhaustive):
For a brief/general overview of the politics of South Sudan, click here. Or here. Or here.

Then there are the first person (or second/third person) accounts trickling out. A good friend in Juba (though a blogger herself) is wary of posting things while still there, so with her permission I'm recapping here. 

(Keep in mind that 1. neither she nor I are journalists, 2. I have no way of verifying whether any of this is true, and 3. those of us who have had similar conversations over time realize that the Juba rumor mill is quite robust and there's rarely such a thing as 'unbiased'. That having been said...)

My friend's security guard at her house lives in an area just outside Jebel market called Kor Wolliang and fled last night after the fighting started. His take is that something happened after the National Liberation Council (NLC) meeting yesterday... whatever it was "the Nuer (aka former VP Riek Machar's tribe)-loyal presidential forces took charge in the Giera barracks. They 'slaughtered' some Dinka (aka President Salva Kiir's tribe), broke open the stores, stole ammunition, and then when the Dinka forces brought in reinforcements from outside, they fled towards the Yei road. In getting there, the Dinka following them 'slaughtered' Nuer along the way. Then the Nuer forces tried repeatedly to come back into town, hence why we've been hearing fighting from that side of town."

So basically a lot of slaughtering... scary scary scary. That particular word seems to be floating around a lot right now, with another friend reporting through the grapevine that hundreds have already died. Unfortunately, it's highly likely that the real story (or the death toll) will ever come out.

The guard continues (via my friend): "at the same time, once fighting got going at one side, fighting in the Bilpam area then kicked off. It sounds like Kiir's forces were victorious there, too, but it's unclear where the Nuer forces are rumored to have gone. He (the guard) claims that the Equatorians (i.e. him - from Yei) aren't taking sides, so they're tasked now with keeping the city of Juba safe. They're manning all of Munuki road, and around the back through Kator Payam and the Bridge. The Dinka are there as well, but they're mostly staying in the barracks."

While this conversation (between my friend and her guard) is happening, 3 SPLA soldiers walked by. Her guard friend said they were some of the Equatorians, which is "why they're being peaceful and just patrolling". She could also hear some pretty heavy vehicles on the UNDP road from her house which the guard "claimed were tanks, so that no one will try to pass the road to President Kiir's house at night."

So what's next? Well, this depends on several things - chief among them whether Riek Machar (who is currently unaccounted for) is found and whether he is put on trial. If this happens things could deteriorate rapidly, further fracturing an already fractured and tenuous political (and potentially military) situation. It will also be interesting to see whether Kiir backs away from the 'attempted coup' rhetoric - though I doubt it. In all, things don't look promising but, as they've done so often before, South Sudan might prove us all wrong and bring things back to the muddled, how-does-anything-actually-work-here sense of normalcy that we have come to know and love. 

So there's lots of speculation/conjecture here tinged with (most likely) some facts. Take it or leave it, but my experience is that Juba is a very small place and that word travels fast, especially among South Sudanese. Unfortunately very little of this is verifiable and therefore will unlikely ever come out in official media - a positive byproduct of journalistic integrity and the need for fact-based reporting but also the reason why so little info at all tends to come out of a place like Juba.