By Jon Pen
‘Safe Spaces for Youth’ is the rallying theme for the 2018’s International Youth Day. This theme is ringing a fast question on the minds of South Sudanese or its residents: “How safe is this country?”
Unfortunately, this is answered in this year’s Global Law and Order Report covering over 140,000 opinion contributors in over 140 countries. Most world’s breaking news’ headlines have gone by “South Sudan is the most dangerous place in Africa and the 3rd in the world!” Currently, the United Kingdom has put a travel ban on her citizens, and so is the United States of America and other countries cautioning their citizens about going to or working in South Sudan.
And the early tragedy is that our leaders brush this reality off as a Western ‘propaganda’!
So what are their criteria for ranking our country ‘best’ in insecurity in the world? Gallup’s Law and Order Index uses four questions to gauge people’s sense of personal security and their personal experiences with crime and law enforcement.These questions revolve around confidence in local police, safety at night, cases of theft, robbery and assault.
However, that is from the foreigner’s point of view. As for me and my other fellow citizens, the reasons as to why refugees and IDPs or PoC folks will never return home in January, contrary to President Museveni claims, are expressed locally, thus.
1- RECREATIONAL SPACES GRABBED…
In the run up to President Salva Kiir’s return from Khartoum with the Agreement (not yet peace), SSBC journalist, Gore Anthony, ran live vox pops on a number of jubilant Jubans, including one little boy, speaking his mind in the crowded that was herded into welcoming ‘His Excellency’ upon his homecoming from Khartoum at Juba International Airport. Asked about what he would like the president to do for South Sudanese to realize meaningful peace in the country, the bold toddler instantly fired his somewhat kiddish volvo:
“Much as people want roads, schools and hospitals, for me, I want a playground. For example, they have built in our Lologo football ground. Let the president give us many playgrounds. That’s all I want!” Symbolically, to me, these ‘playgrounds’ are the basic freedoms South Sudanese are craving.
The boy has summed up the theme of this year, ‘Safe (and enough) Space for Youth (and Children), women and all, including my brothers’ livestock, want enough spaces in South Sudan. More so, refugees and exiles like this blogger want more psychological spaces. To be precise. We want a free ‘airspace’, not airspace for piloting aeroplanes but for breathing and playing. Who is holding back our spaces? My reader’s answer is need here….
2- CYBER SPACES ENCROACHED ON…
This morning, somebody texted on our Whatsapp Group, “Dr. Majak, we can’t access Radio Tamazuj in South Sudan. Please, download the news for us. Thanks.” So it was done. The news items of the day are copied and pasted on the groups. If you share a link to Sudan Tribune, Radio Tamazuj and my fellow bloggers on Paanluel Wel, you will be encountered with such outcry from most of our readers based in South Sudan. And the MPs in Juba are busy extending Kiir’s tenure and their own while boasting of one of the best constitutions in the world! To date, no single item on the Bills of Right is being seen to be implemented therein.
As I am writing this, my friend in a chat from Juba says his Facebook page has been hacked. No single story that I posted on this blog, ‘The Eased Africa I Want’, or on my association’s blog, AFTABOSS Internet’ional, goes without such a warning of kidnapping, not to mention daily profiling of our media stories and Social Media posts at the ‘Blue House’. My blog was hacked twice. As if that is not enough, I dreamed twice myself being hacked into pieces by unknown attackers! This makes South Sudan such an unsafe place on earth, both physically and psychologically? Somebody must account for this even by their legacy (history) when they are no more later.
3- POLITICAL SPACES ENDANGERED…
It is said of dictator Iddi Amin Dada of Uganda that he used to joke of only granting his citizens freedom of expression but not freedom after expression. In the case of Salva Kiir’s regime, no freedom before expression i.e. If there is not even any safe space at home to publish this blog, and the mind is not settled from the swoop of the so-called ‘unknown gunmen’ that killed Isaiah Abraham and others with impunity, who will dare publish an opinion there?
Tonight, Peter Biar Ajak is going to enter his 18th day of 2018 in prison, just for speaking out his minds against the system that is doing this, plus his opinion on the progress of the peace agreement. Another young man, Deng Mathiang Deng Ayach, has been reported to be mission after he was cited at the National Security Service cells.
My friend has been writing to me and many activists about his wife who has been arrested and detained at the same NSS incarceration dungeons allegedly for the sins he, her husband who lives in exile (USA), has done. He posted a critical opinion on Facebook against the Inspector General of the Police (IGP). According to him, his wife was picked up and is being questions for harbouring terrorist tendencies in the person of her husband.
Lack of civic space kills youth’s initiatives. Creativity, like crops, grows in free spaces. For example, I have received many threats for using poems entitled ‘The Kiiristian Riektionaries of South Sudan’, ‘Nation in Kiirisis’, ‘He Wrieked Havoc’, and so on, in my poetry works. No music, poetry or comedy can flourish without the use of parody, whose raw materials mostly political leaders and other public figures. In my country, this is a serious act of ‘defamation’ that can amount to treason with an instant life sentence not served in prison but in the cemetery.
It is so unfortunate that all those who claim to have “liberated our people from the yoke of tyranny” (to borrow President Kiir’s Martyrs Day speech) are the ones now dangerously encroaching on our democratic spaces. History will judge them very harshly.
4- LIVING SPACES OCCUPIED…
Somebody joked that plastic bottles are no longer thrown away from houses in Juba; they are used for peeing indoors at night! Unknown gunmen are kings of the night. Nowhere is said to be safe for a sound sleep in South Sudan, even the then well secured Terrain Hotel. Women and girls dread the fall of the night on their villages as they anticipate a brutal descend by soldiers, say ‘unknown gunmen’ on their village anytime, even at broad day light. Rape, for the first time in our cultural history, is being used as a weapon of war: to hurt most so and so in Juba or in the bush.
Now, to whom it must concern, our mothers and sisters need a breathing space now and not tomorrow– but not without ‘me’ warning of an impending revenge through the hybrid court or any court of law on such rapists and their senders. As an activist, I am contemplating a ‘Me2 Challenge’ version of South Sudan on such testimonies.
5- HEALTH SPACES CONTAMINATED…
This is about a real and actual breathing space. Juba is a shocking ‘metropollutant’ city: from lack of open spaces to heaps of garbage at the roadsides and unclaimed rotting bodies in the poorly refrigerated morgues in ill-equipped hospitals. In fact airborne diseases are commonplace nowadays due to encroachment on living spaces with careless dumping or erection of wrong structures and poor infrastructure in the way of our public health. Our elderly and newborns die so soon due to such environmental pressures and stresses from lack of sufficient aeration in our urban settings.
I would do this last item of my search for safer spaces a great disservice if I concluded without mentioning that our young girls and boys are put in the forefront of HIV/AIDs, besides other STDs like hepatitis B, by the very fathers and mothers of the generation. Due to the ongoing war-induced poverty, the few elite in Juba and capital of states, who hold the few oil dollars in their palms, are responsible for most of the infections on our young girls and women in the country. This example is so disturbing to hear but is such a reality that we cannot just wish it away like other nonessential services ignored. Cross-generational sex is responsible for the time bomb in this war’s generational sect.
For quicker solutions, let every citizen hold their stake here in accordance with their national capabilities and natural abilities. For instance, kudos to my fellows, the youth who are now poised to start a trans-city cleaning campaign dubbed ‘Nadafa le Beledna’, which will kick off on August 18, 2018. This is akin to a pre-independence ‘Keep Juba Clean and Glean’ campaign that we ran under the banner of Mama Rebecca Nyandeng de Mabior and activists from August throughh November in 2010. Unfortunately, the project was brought down by an attack on Mama Rebecca and most of us by the so-called Nairobi Fly in Juba, a very sneaky insect with irrigating skin-blistering bites. It was a call-of-nation service. No one was paid save the lunch organized in Mama’s house. It is still mind-boggling how the plague that struck us came about when most of the city was already made clean by the campaign.
Finally, a paragraph from the UN’s state on this year’s youth theme summarizes my submission on this topic. “The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, specifically Goal 11, emphasizes the need for the provision of space towards inclusive and sustainable urbanization. Furthermore, the New Urban Agenda (NUA) reiterates the need for public spaces for youth to enable them to interact with family and have constructive inter-generational dialogue. Additionally, the World Programme of Action for Youth (WPAY) which is the UN framework for youth development, prioritizes the provision of “leisure activities” as essential to the psychological, cognitive and physical development of young people. As more and more youth grow in a technologically connected world, they aspire to engage deeper in political, civic and social matters, and the availability and accessibility of safe spaces becomes even more crucial to make this a reality.”
Anyhow, this is about opening up safe spaces for the youths in particular and the population of South Sudan in general. May the ‘Nadafa le Beledna’ (Cleaning our Nation) youth do their moral duty without such interferences. May Salva Kiir’s regime and other parties realize they have missed the right way and give us back our spaces. May the world descend on South Sudan with maximum pressure on human rights and justice grounds. May Dr. John Garang and his fellow fallen freedom fighters turn in their graves and touch the hearts of their corrupt survivors. May Almight God extent His Mighty Hand and strike this senseless war dead!