Nomads

“Is there anything better than a bath under the moonlit sky,” Zack thought to himself, the gentle breeze brushing against his skin in the dissipating heat of the sub-saharan evenings. A feeling of nostalgia swept over him as the lyrics of a Lauryn hill song crowded his brain, “killing me softly with his song”, reminiscing that wondrous afternoon in Khartoum. It was the first time he’d ever been in Sudan, back then the CPA had was in its forth year and he was going to a party with his brother and a couple of friends. Teasingly they’d asked the only girl in the group to sing any song she could, a fitting choice she’d made considering how beautiful that rendition was, now etched in his memory.

Zack dressed and went to prepare tea; it was almost customary in these tumultuous days to end the day sipping and chatting away about better days. His father waited patiently under the darkening sky, cars and motorcycles rushing by outside the high stonewall separating them from the road. “Back in the day when we were in the SPLA we had a case,” the old man begins, “one of the soldiers had committed adultery in Chukudum with one of the villagers wife, the husband had found out and started a case with the local chief. As a military Justice I was put in charge of the case, I was to decide on a way to amicably decide the case to suit both side. Since the soldier came from far away, he could not be told to pay the settlement of 10 cows as was customary in their traditions, I managed to convince the chief to reduce the number to about four cows and 6 goats paid by the army officers and to transfer of the soldier to another station so that he could not continue the affair. How do you think you would have handled this case?”

He listened attentively as his father narrated war stories, feigning agitation at the suggestion of being conscripted into military service himself. The old man reminisced of the old SPLA he was a part of, complaining that their ranks had been decimated since the signing of the CPA. “ When the war started in ’83 we lost a lot of young men crossing through unity state to go to Ethiopia where the SPLA was training. The SPLA had to send a battalion to secure the route; they went all the way fighting to where the young recruits were stranded and back. The soldiers were mostly from Bahr el Ghazal, nobody knows how many died there. After the CPA was signed a lot of the people I was with went into business and the militias were incorporated into the SPLA, now look at how bad things are.”

The subtle ironies of Juba life seemed to be lost in the gloom, in the news government officials laboured to reassure everyone that the situation was “normal” after an outbreak of violence. “What’s normal about all this?” he thought. It was only months ago he was in Kenya missing Juba, it seemed like a distant past. Still bitter about losing his phone, Zack thought back to the thrill of the open road travelling from Juba to Nimule, through Uganda and finally to Kenya. The trip had been stalled for a day when the car he was travelling in got mechanical issues, having overheated on the deserted road. Walking with Deng down the road, they convinced one of the villagers to let them use the water she collected from the borehole. The water was too dirty to pour into the radiator, but helped cool off the steaming engine, eventually the car was returned to the garage. On Sunday, thankful for the car’s mechanical failure had been fixed, the long journey started.

It was barely a week after Zack’s arrival in Kenya when the reports of road ambushes along Nimule- Juba highway started. The tribal tensions escalating with every report, rumours spread like wildfire on the Internet about targeted killings. All the way in Nairobi, Zack felt the rising tensions slowly engulfing the already tense climate. The July violence had left a scar in his memory; sleepless nights spent pondering the endless war that seemed to be inflamed while he was away. The days before violence broke out in Juba were tense, the palpitating fear and anxiety rising with every report of clashes within Juba, first it was assassinations then road ambushes and days before the independence day there was an attack on a checkpoint. The escalation was quick and on Independence Day Eve gunships ruled the air, gunshots could be heard for miles and everybody waited with bated breaths to know what was happening.

“We’ll be trading war stories with our children if things keep going this way,” joked Zack to his friends. Having briefly met for casual drinks, it became evident from the curious gazes from his colleagues that they wanted to know what was going on. Trying to summarise the political situation and the events leading up to the violence in July, he watched the shocked expressions on his friends’ faces. “Be happy you don’t have to worry about such happening in your country,” he said, trailing off into thought about what he had missed most in Kenya. “I’ve still not gotten used to the matatus hooting at 4 am,” he muttered, “ they shock me awake everyday and deny me a chance to rest my tired eyes. It’s the only time I think about Juba and miss the silent nights, before I fall asleep I listen for at least three gunshots and I know we are far from the poor soul in its crosshairs.”

“I’ll be going back to Juba soon, it’s been fun seeing you guys and catching up,” he begun, “it’ll be a while before I come back now that I’ve collected all my documents.” Exchanging promises to visit once things settle down, he looks back to admire the optimism he’d lost, hoping one day it would be rewarded. The journey back to Juba seemed shorter than he remembered, reading novels on the plane to take his mind off from what awaited, he got out of the stuffy airport hoping to catch a ride straight home. The first time he got off the plane at Juba International Airport, he had to be ushered to the small terminal building from where he’d collect the luggage, now it was routine getting past the unruly crowd without any hassle, ignoring the black market dealers with money in hand, each touting for attention for anyone passing in their midst with a luggage in tow, “this is the Juba I know!”

The ride out of the airport took him back to those of a united Sudan, when Juba was just another town barely developed; without any sky scrappers. In hindsight, there was barely anything notable on airport road except for the UN compound a couple of kilometres up the road surrounded by trees and shrubs, the stench of fresh faeces stewed in the midday heat had made him want to gag. The green spaces were used as open air toilets, every morning someone ducked behind a shrub to take a load off and late in the evening, as the shadows started creeping in you could hear chattering behind the same bushes. Zack’s father said that with the gradual development in Juba, the old residents complained that their traditions had become eroded, “now they were expected to defecate in the vicinity of their wives. The wives casually passed near the fields where their husbands went, the size of the stool showed who was being well fed.”

A cloud of dust clings to the hot Juba air, the humidity traps sweat on the skin, the heat simmering on the car seat could give a sun burn all on their own. The sweet aroma of indigenous dishes being cooked in the clustered restaurants is wafted by a passing breeze, trailing behind the hazardous smoke of an honey sucker struggling to pick up pace before the traffic officer again halts the lane. Chatting away with the driver, Zack asks how much it would cost to get home and back to town. Shocked by the estimate, he decides to take a rest for the evening. There was a heavy traffic as they crossed the last round about driving slowly towards the sunset whose glow was dulled by the rising dust.

The petrol stations on the side of the road had become graveyards for broken down cars. A dusty water tankers branching off into the feeder road without indicating infuriates the driver to curse under his breath, “biliit!” The traffic slowed as they reached a queue to the only petrol station, the chaotic scene of motorcycles, rakshas and vehicles jostling for positions on the line, a soldier and a policeman clutching their guns close as they watch the protesting motorcyclist demanding to be let through with their jericans to fill up. Nostalgic about being on the queue, he recalled the numerous mechanical failures he had to endure with his father’s Pajero.

The evening talk with his father had long since ended as he stared blankly into the starlit sky, he could glimpse at more stars in the Juba sky than in Nairobi, as the generators’ distant hums died down and darkness fell. There were no more cars passing by their fence, from the numerous times he had gone to the clubs in town, Zack knew that the Security checkpoints had started. Getting into his room, he reads a chapter from a new novel in his collection, briefly pausing to listen to the car driving hastily through the neighbourhood. For the first time in a while, he dozed off with the lights on, waking up an hour later to switch off the light. A distant gunshot rings out in the distance, “that’s a pistol”, followed by two in rapid succession, AK47’s. Learning how each gun sounded had become a sport in his bout with insomnia, stuck between lying still and trying to fall asleep or taking his laptop to try watch a movie. He was overcome with sleep before he could make up his mind.

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Inside a UNMISS protest

While Diplomats at the United Nation’s Security Council discuss how best to reinforce the UN Mission in South Sudan, the dissident voices of South Sudanese citizens seems to be muzzled. The coverage on the Protests held in Juba on 20th July against the proposals for an intervention force in South Sudan, stated that it was organised by the SPLM and little else was said about their messages. The Government of South Sudan rejected a proposal made by USA for the deployment of 4000 more peace keepers on the grounds that it had accepted the deployment of regional forces as stated in the IGAD communique forwarded to the Security Council.

Amidst all this politics, one things remains certain, the interest of ordinary South Sudanese has been misrepresented. Media reports have been more concerned with the atrocities of the war, who bears the blame for war crimes and what can the international community do. The protests against UNMISS comes days after heavy fighting occurring at it’s doorsteps, the peace keeper’s being helpless in the face of the brutal fighting from the first day to the last. Earlier reports stated that UNMISS had destroyed two SPLA tanks which had been used in the Sunday attack, reports which UNMISS refuted saying that the Opposition soldiers would hide under fences and resume firing on the soldiers. A search by the UNPOL and UNAMID produced weapons hidden within the UNMISS compound.

The organisers of the protests against UNMISS had indeed been misrepresented as SPLM. I attended the protests where I met Mr. Valentino Mathew Deng, a member of the Civil Society Alliance. At 10 AM as the protesters were being mobilised I arrived at the Garang Mausoleum which had been the designated congregation point. Several buses had been lined up as Protesters wrote their messages on placards and were ushered into the busses. The busses themselves had be adorned with messages of their own as they cruised down airport road towards the UNMISS in Tongpiny.

 

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Although many businesses and offices along the airport road had not yet been opened following the fighting on 7-11 July, the streets were lined with people watching as the procession moved. A UN car heading towards Tongpiny turned around and drove away as the protesters inside the bus jeered at its hasty retreat. The youth had organised for speakers and microphones blasting South Sudanese music, while the MC called on the “Junubin” to support the President in the implementation of the Peace Agreement. A marching band was also present playing “Surrender we shall never… never never never, Surrender we shall never…”

Women, the youth and even old women carried placards. Some advocating for peace, others outrightly denouncing the proposal for more peacekeepers and foreign intervention, and calls for UNMISS to go. A young man shouted over the loud speaker to the advancing audience, “As the Youth and a citizen of this country, we don’t want intervention from America, Canada, Australia. All of us we can solve our problems.” It was a message being echoed around by many of the protesters either written down or shouted as the procession went to the UNMISS gate.

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Chiefs, women groups and church groups also attended the protest, calling for support for the implementation of the Peace Agreement. The chiefs, with red ribbons tied around their torso stood in the crowd. The message was overwhelming support for the Government in the Implementation of the Peace Agreement signed in August 2015. It was a remarkable scene outside the UNMISS compound, the young and old had congregated in fanfare to protest against a proposal that only a month later was presented to the UN Security Council.

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Regional Dynamics in South Sudan’s search for peace

Following the fighting that happened in Juba from 7-11 July 2016, there have been calls for arms embargo by the UN and other aid agencies. Several revelations about the companies that sold arms to both sides of the conflict including a Polish arms Dealer and the diversion of a weapons Shipment by a China (weapons meant for Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services). South Sudan’s Government prior to the start of the civil war in December 2013, had entered a contract for a supply of arms with Norinco (a Chinese weapons manufacturer). The death of two Chinese Peace Keepers on July 10th has been met with outrage from the Chinese population.

An article by Eric Reeves, a scholar on Sudan and South Sudan alleged that there was an attempted coup. The President Salva Kiir on an interview with Jeff Koinange in which he gave a step-by-step guided tour of how and where the fighting started echoed the same sentiment. On 21st July President Kiir in an interview with CCTV stated that Dr. Riek Machar came to the Presidential Palace on 8 July armed with a pistol moments before the deadly shootings started.

Part of the article reads:

“a coup in Juba is being led by Riek Machar, First Vice-President of the Government of South Sudan. The military side of the campaign is being led by Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLA-IO) Commander James Koang Chuol, who has today been communicating with Peter Gadet.”

Although Eric Reeves retracted his assertion days after the fighting stopped, the letters which he used to support his bold claim were corroborated by a report by IRIN on Chinese arms caught in Nothern Unity. He referred to a complete text of the English translation of leaked 31 August 2014 minutes of high-level security, military meeting; posted 29 September 2014 on his website. The central figures who mention south Sudan in relation to weapons and training are the 1st. Lt. Gen. Hashim Abdalla Mohammed – Chief of Joint General Staff and Lt. Gen. (PSC) – Imadadiin Adawi – Chief of Joint Operations

Lt. Gen. (PSC) – Imadadiin Adawi – Chief of Joint Operations:

The greatest threat to us is coming from South Sudan. They are refusing to agree on drawing the zero line. We suggested the formation of joint forces with them, but they also refused. They are still supporting the two divisions of Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile. Accordingly, we must provide Riak forces with big support in order to wage the war against Juba and clean the whole of Greater Upper Nile area. Riak and Taban during their visit to Khartoum disclosed to us everything about the logistical support from Juba to the rebels, the route of supply and who transport it to them. Also gave us information about the meetings held between Juba and the rebels in regards to the disengagement between the two divisions and the SPLM/A South.

1st. Lt. Gen. Hashim Abdalla Mohammed – Chief of Joint General Staff:

 We must change the balance of forces in South Sudan. Riek, Taban and Dhieu Mathok came and requested support in the areas of training in M.I. and especially in Tanks and artillery. They requested armament also. They want to be given advanced weapons. Our reply was that we have no objection, provided that we agree on a common objective. Then we train and supply with the required weapons. For sure we will benefit from their discourse. Taban apologised for the support he rendered to Darfurian movements and the role he played in Hijliij battle. That Dinka used them in that battle to spoil their relation with the North. But they discovered the mistake of late.

Now they are fighting to achieve a federal system or self- rule for each region. I think any self –rule for Greater Upper Nile is good for us in terms of border security, oil resources and trade. Now we have to study how to enable them own a well-trained force with efficient M.I. and logistic staff.

Following this meeting, there was a subsequent letter to the administration in Sudan by Peter Gadet. This letter dated 20th June 2015 threatened to wreck the peace agreement between the Dr Riek Machar and the South Sudanese Government. In the letter from now renegade rebel commanders of the SPLA/IO Simon Gatwech Dual, Peter Gadet Yaak, Gathoth Gatkouth Hothnhyang, and Gabriel Tanginya—directly to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir—we find a request that arms shipments from Khartoum be sent specifically to them at specific locations. Gabriel Tanginya took the letter to Khartoum. It reads:

 

Your Excellency [President Omar al-Bashir], we are not happy with the way Dr. Riek [Machar] and Taban Deng [Gai] are handling the logistics you offers to us. Due to that reason, that is why the operation is not going well on the ground in South Sudan and we don’t understand how the logistics is being managed. Therefore your Excellency we don’t want politicians to run our military logistics for political reasons hence, we would like the military supplies to come directly to the military council under command of Chief of General Staffs, Simon Gatwech Dual. As follows:

(1) Logistics supply to Unity State should go under direct command of Gen. Peter Gadet Yak

(2) Logistics supply to Upper Nile state should go under direct command of Gen. Gathoth Gatkuoth and Maj. Gen. Johnson Olony

(3) Logistics supply to Jonglei State should go under direct command of Gen. Simon Gatwech Dual and Gen. Gabriel Tanginya

(4) Logistics supply to Greater Equatoria should go under direct command of Gen. Martin Kenyi

(5) Logistics supply to Greater Bahr El Ghazal should go under direct command of Gen. Dau Aturjong and Maj. Gen. Thomas Bazylio

A confirmation of the shipment of weapons being received in Northern Unity state was done by a London based Conflict Armament Research group(CAR). CAR told IRIN that in May it documented 1,300 boxes of ammunition captured by the government military, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).

Government forces captured the ammunition from a rebel faction of the military known as the SPLA in Opposition, or SPLA-IO. The ammunition was discovered in Northern Unity State, which borders Sudan, and the boxes had been painted to obscure shipping information that showed they originated in China, said Justine Fleischner, CAR’s South Sudan researcher. “Despite these efforts, CAR identified that the materiel was part of a 2014 consignment to Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Service,” she told IRIN. “The consignment date also suggests that the materiel was very quickly diverted to the SPLA-IO in Unity State, presumably by NISS.”

Peter Gadet has long since the start of the peace process indicated his reluctance to participate in the peace process stating that the root cause of the conflict remains unaddressed. In may 2016, an interview posted by Radio Tamazuj revealed he didn’t approve of the peace agreement and would continue fighting. His reasons for rejecting the peace agreement being, “Salva Kiir and Riek can never unite the country. They are the cause of this division and never can the same people reconcile and unite the country. It cannot happen.”

The subsequent breakdown of the Security arrangements in the build up to the shootings at the Presidential palace to the declaration of ceasefire on 11th July 2016 show that the fracture in the SPLA IO had raptured. In an interview on BBC Focus on Africa, Dr Riek Machar after calling for the ceasefire revealed that the attack on the Presidential Palace (J1) was an attempt to assassinate him and possibly the President.

Since fighting broke out in Juba from 7-11 July, several notable developments have been reported. The defection of Dau Aturjong marked a turning point in the dynamics of military relations within the SPLA IO. Several defections emerged and were subsequently reported in the same way as the 2013-14 media rhetoric. The subsequent appointment of General Taban Deng Gai as First Vice President by President Kiir, in an attempt to salvage the Peace agreement, met virulent opposition from the members of SPLA IO pledging allegiance to Dr. Riek Machar.

Dr Riek Machar, who was previously opposed to the deployment of foreign forces has subsequently changed his position on the matter and called for the expeditious deployment of a third party protection force. This regional Protection force was accepted by the Government delegation which was led by the acting First Vice President Taban Deng Gai. General Taban has offered to step down when Dr Riek Machar comes back to assume his former role.

The shifting dynamics of the violence and allegiances make it increasingly difficult to speculate about the future of South Sudan. The proposals and communiques show that the international community is equally perplexed at the complexities that emerged after the IGAD led peace agreement. How then will the peace process be salvaged, or should the peace partners revise the terms of the peace agreement?

Hilde Johnson’s South Sudan the Untold Stories reveals internal politics of the IGAD led peace talks in which Sudan was pitted against Uganda while Kenya and Ethiopia competed on hosting and mediating the Peace Talks. Casie Copeland wrote on 12 July, a day after the ceasefire was declared:

The South Sudanese warring parties signed the 2015 peace agreement, brokered by the regional security organisation, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), under tremendous external pressure, particularly from neighbouring Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya, as well as China and the U.S. Following the signing, regional powers greatly reduced their focus on South Sudan and IGAD’s mediation became inactive. 

Uganda having previously intervened in 2013 after the civil war broke out. The subsequent revelations of support for the SPLA-IO forces by the Sudanese government makes their participation in The Countries Contributing forces for the recently approved Regional Protection force a challenging prospect. Previous warnings against the Intervention force alleged that such a force would  destabilise the Security in these countries. The Crisis group addressed this in an article highlighting the complex alliances within the region. The Mandate which has been given to the Regional protection force shows they will be under the Command and Control of UNMISS as stated in a IGAD communique . Whether this could solve the conflict remains to be seen.

It remains evident however that the biggest challenge to the implementation of any peace agreement is the participation of the local communities. South Sudan remains a deeply fractured society, with high levels of illiteracy and a largely under developed public infrastructure. All actors interested in implementing a peace agreement must put it in mind that a sustainable peace process must reach out to these communities rather than engage in high level diplomacy.

Since the start of the fighting, Social Media has been the preferred method for spreading rumours and communication. Hate speech and news laden with rumours spread panic to South Sudanese resulting in a mass exodus out of the country. Facebook and Twitter also kept informed people of where heavy fighting was occurring, with South Sudanese in Juba creating Facebook pages like #JubaSafe. The posting of forged documents, one alleging the firing of Taban Deng Gai, also spiked the political environment with repeated references to it. Another letter alleging the Army chief of staff gave orders to shoot down any planes with specific reference to UN initials, resulted in the cancelation of many flights out of Juba. South Sudanese in the Diaspora have been found to be the main sources of these information, which has prompted a “#DefyHateNow” campaign in South Sudan. An analysis by Obi Anyandike on how South Sudan moves forward, highlights the challenges and emphasises the need to implement the peace agreement.

With so many vested interests at stake, as the United Nations Security Council discusses the extended mandate for the UNMISS. The composition of the contributing countries to the Protection force to be deployed will be interesting to see. Kenyan banks operating in South Sudan have reported losses due to the civil war. Ethiopian businesses are also experiencing the downturn in business especially in their hotels. The evacuation of several foreign nationals and refugees after media reports warned of a protracted civil war following the 7-11 July fighting  has greatly impacted the economy of South Sudan. The upsurge in number refugees will undoubtedly have an impact on the economy of the neighbouring countries and thus poses a challenge in the implementation of the the peace agreement.

 

NB:The opinion expressed here is solely the view of the writer. The veracity of any claim made are the responsibility of the author,

 

A Hijacked Story

South Sudan: my motherland is hurting, over two years on and the war is draining the hope from the eyes of our beloved. I see an old woman begging on the streets, hungry as she leans on her walking stick moving from car to car in the mid-day heat(almost 40 degrees) stretching out her bony hands through the traffic. It is heart wrenching watching the frown cringe her wrinkles, dejected by every rejection, as she goes to sit down under the traffic light as it turns green. The road itself is a mess, but that is but a luxury for men who can afford life in this expensive real-estate.

South Sudan was once a symbol of hope, I held on to the thought of going back home to see my grandmother and play with my cousins. My mother talks so proudly about her homeland in Abyei, hoping that the border issues would be resolved once and for all. But this has not yet come to be, 2 years on from the senseless war. I came back hoping perhaps we’ll put the history of violence behind us. If you ask me why they are fighting, I don’t know why, neither can anyone else explain.

I read through Hilde Johnson’s book searching for answers about where things went wrong. The title: South Sudan The Untold Stories, from independence to Civil war, sounded like a promising revelation. But that’s just as good as it gets. When they said don’t judge a book by it’s cover, I guess this is what they meant. Beyond the generous reviews, I found little insight into the precursors of the brutal war starting. Reading through it, you get a sense that she is marketing her credentials rather than giving a voice to the south sudanese daily struggle.

The main features of the book include the Yau Yau rebellion of 2012, the lack of institutions in South Sudan, and the poorly executed DDR programmes. As the head of the UN mission in South Sudan, she had access to the leaders and to the facts of what it happening in South Sudan. Yet she complains about lack of access, lack of capacity and undermines the value of her own organisation when it comes to executing its mandate. This comes in the backdrop of internecine fighting in Jonglei state involving the three communities inhabiting the state: the Nuer, Murle and Dinka. The SPLA with support from UNMISS tried to disarm the three communities and had started with the Nuer and Dinka with little friction. When it  came to the Murle, the friction between the majority Nuer in the SPLA force that was engaged in the DDR and the Murle youth led to fighting.

Although the Protection of Civilians cites were only temporary during the resurgent internecine fighting of 2013, the Murle case proved their role to be redundant with the communities’ adaptation and understanding of their surrounding. This prompts her to explain her understanding of anthropology into the culture of South Sudanese tribes which only serves to build her esteem. There are numerous example of her chest thumping beyond just her role in the signing of the CPA in 2005 for example she tarnishes the IGAD led peace talks stating that it was dominated by regional politics rather than the address of underlying issues.

The book is well written and gives a proper timeline of the engagement of UNMISS in south sudan, it lists the achievements (few) and none of the failures. After the war broke out in 2013, there were protests against UNMISS and she painstakingly describes how the Protests were organized and funded by the SPLM and takes offence to being called “Co-President”. In the numerous accounts of how she had contact with both President Kiir and Dr. Riek Machar, she seems almost proud of having a sway in their decision making and yet finds it offensive to being called a “Co-President”. Trying to highlight the good of UNMISS she downplays catastrophic errors made during the mission and doesn’t address the purpose of the protest.

This for the most part shows that although the book might be good intentioned, it only goes so far as to praise the author. When it come to explaining the nexus between the two leaders, President Kiir and Dr. Riek Machar and the subsequent fall out, she tries to create a profile for which to qualify any of the decisions they have made. It is a crude attempt at justifying her perceptions of the South Sudanese politics, which is disastrously unravelled on page 250 when she states that two persons seemed to have prepared in advance for the 2013 conflict. In the details of how the war started, she gives both the government and opposition accounts of how the events unfolded and tries to fit her narrative in the mould. The truth behind her theory about what happened of the 15-19 December 2013 seems to be a repeat of the UN and AU reports on the matter and hardly informs the reader of the events as they occurred.

Straight to the point; it is a disappointing read which only exasperates the need for a more enlightened approach to writing about south sudan. While many of the reviewers called it an insight into South Sudan’s brutal conflict, I find it lacking in details and only reiterates the published reports on the conflict and news clippings. It’s a shortfall of this western diplomat to dominate the story telling of a protracted civil war with her perception of events rather than give voice to the underlying issues. Her account of the corruption and lack of institutions to the breakout of all out war is little else than public knowledge, failing to reveal the perpetrators makes it all the more devastating in giving voice to the south sudanese struggle. The role of UNMISS as she stated earlier was to undertake capacity building for the young nation. The subsequent failings of the “nation without a state” would therefore be a mirth on her record. The subsequent mandate for protection of Civilians as she states was the only notable success amongst the countable few. This book has failed to give insight to the daily struggle of South Sudanese and only gives undue praise to the author without actual intel.

The recent breakout of violence from 7-11 July shows that the underlying tensions have yet to be addressed, the failures of the international community in understanding the dynamics and power plays (Game of Thrones) and the subsequent hijacking of the peace process in the regional campaign of the IGAD led peace process has only exasperated the struggles of our young nation. It remains to be seen if there will be any respite to the aggravated suffering of my people and the unaddressed issues. As it stands, there increasing pressure to return things to the previous status quo, ignoring the interests of the people. Should the August 2015 peace agreement work, it will need to be localised and endorsed at the community level rather than be owned by selfish leaders. Thus far the reference to “Nation with No state” as said by Hilde Johnson hijacks the story of the South Sudanese struggle and equates it to the failures of the leaders. It gives no voice to the Peace builders working inside the UNMISS Protection of Civilian camp and other actors’ initiatives being undertaken under her nose(forgive the metaphor).

 

Sanguine Hearts

This is a rough draft of a story i have been working on this week, its has been years since i tried to write a short story and this is the closest i’ve come to doing it. Comments will be appreciated below. 

“Falling in love is the most private thing, its not like the fairy tales or magic, it’s the simple things; the high pitched laugh you can’t get out of your head or the annoying words she retorts constantly.”

Jack stared for a moment into the blue sky, tracing the outline of the clouds, trying to make out a comprehensible shape. It was a lovely day, the weather was fair and the warm afternoon air drifting though the grass only causing a minor ripple on the golden grass, dried by the dissipating heat wave. She sat there staring at him, surprised by what he’d said, it was unusual for them to have such a talk, she’d only brought it up because of a book they were discussing.

“The thing about romantic novels that I despise is the way they describe it; the sex scenes are unreal and worse off the endings are always happy. It’s nothing like the real world. Perhaps that is why marriages end in divorce more often than not. The statistics are there to prove it,” jack continued.

“So what are you saying? Girls should lower their expectations? Or is it just your bias against the kind of books we like?”

For a moment, she stared at him intently with a mischievous look in her eyes. Would he finally give into her induced debate? Perhaps she could break through the blank stare and empty comments that Jack seemed to have perfected. Since they met, they had never gotten such a chance to talk. He’d always kept a distance and spaced out when the topics of conversation didn’t fascinate him. It was this mysterious veil she wanted to break.

“I’m not saying they are all bad, it is just the way the stories go, at least the few that I know, it is always predictable and there is sort of a niche towards romantic attraction from the beginning of the story. In which world does that ever happen?”

Feeling the pressure of having to back his own words, he shifted his gaze to the field watching as the football team practiced in the distance, the distant sound of the whistle reaching them faintly.

“It’s not all the stories that go that way, I’m more interested in the growth of the characters. The transition from girlhood to woman hood, which occurs in most of the novels, is for the most part superficial if it doesn’t include a little romance. That is just how it is,” said Jude, “Romantic stories always tell how lovers can overcome hardships together.”

She watched him racking his brain for a response; he looked good in his baggy T-shirt and grey trousers, not that she had noticed before when they arrived for the picnic, everybody else just seemed more preoccupied with sports and swimming leaving them in the shade to watch.

“But you can’t feel love without the fear of loss, that is why I say it’s a private thing. The characters are matched up from the beginning and so you can’t really find the romanticism of their affair. It sounds good when they go through hardships together but that looks more like a partnership than a romantic affair”, Jack said, feeling the heat underneath his collar.

He wasn’t used to such topics, but he wasn’t going to back down from the debate, maybe he could find enough reasons to keep him going.

“There is hardly ever a sense of urgency in the stories when the guy makes his move, there is hardly any anxiety. The author build up a confidence that is unshakeable through out the story which makes the characters all the more unreal. That’s why I probably like the end of Romeo and Juliet in the movie, when they both die…”

“Jack, surely you must know girls admire confidence”, remarked Jude fighting back the urge to tease him, “the main characters have to stand out. And Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy, also a very good example for the power of love. Which books have you been reading?”

“I really don’t like romantic stories, I prefer history books and fantasies, apart from the Merchant of Venice and Shakespeare stories in High school, I haven’t bothered to read any”, Jack replied.

“So what are you basing your arguments on? I’m sure you read a book or two which transverses those genres.”

She sensed the conversation was ending but wanted to get another topic on which to discuss. The awkward silences and his shyness had dissipated and she could not imagine having to lose the conversation.

“I can only think of Harry Potter, but that is not much of a love story. I just got disappointed when they made it into a movie and it lost some of its finesse. I’ve to say its one of the best books in all round character development,” he said smiling sheepishly, all too aware of the cliché he’d just made.

“it’s one of my favorite books, and the movie wasn’t all that but that didn’t stop me from watching all of them.”

For a moment they had found a common interest, and she wanted to keep the conversation going but Austin arrived panting.

“Some of the guys are heading back to campus and are taking a mini-van, so we wanted to know if you guys want to join us so we fill it up and he’d take us straight there.”

“Yeah, great idea. But I have to get off in town,” said Jude.

“Need some help with that?” asked Jack pointing at the backpack she carried. She nodded. They paced downhill towards the road, The 4 p.m sun bearing down on them as they went.

The ride felt short and Jack was back to his hostel watching a movie, he hadn’t started off on any assignments and felt too lazy to start any that day, then came the knocking on his door, He welcomed Austin to his room.

“Hey, so you and Jude hanged out for most of the picnic. Enjoying each other company?” He teased, waiting on Jack to react.

“Haha she’s cool, we just chatted a little before you came to interrupt. So what’s the plan for the weekend?,” Jack asked, “Can’t spend all Saturday on campus, need to get out.”

“I’m broke this week so I won’t be partying anytime soon, spending some time with my girlfriend tomorrow so we could go play PS at Johny’s, loser pays.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

Walking to Johny’s they meet Jude heading back from town seemingly disgruntled.

“Hey,” Jack said.

“Hi,”

“How’s your evening going?

“Not bad, just heading back to my place,”

“Is everything okay, you look a bit glum,”

“It’s nothing really, see you later.”

She left him there for a moment staring as she went; he’d almost forgotten Austin was by his side. They walked on to Johny’s with little to say amongst themselves. The sun was just starting to set, and the village near campus had just started to come alive, the night brought to life the otherwise dull bars and restaurants littered all over the village.

“Hey Johny, how many more tournaments to go before we can get a chance to play?” Austin asked, having found the dingy shop crowded.

The shop reeked of sweaty armpits, stale beer and musky dust: a proper man-cave with cool posters on the wall and hardly ventilated, except for an open window with the curtains drawn, Gamers like it dark inside or they would have an excuse for losing a game: not that they really could explain how.

They left and for a moment thought of going back to the campus. There was hardly much else to do in the village apart from eating and drinking. Austin suggested they go to play pool at one of the local bars if it weren’t crowded.

At SHiro’s there was always music and a gambling game going on, Austin couldn’t was always eager to play, knowing all too well he would win. There were also a lot of friends so they could perhaps get drunk if anyone was buying. Jack had only carried enough money for two bottles of beer each. What started as a winning streak for Austin turned sour on the forth game and he decided to bow out and go to the bar counter to buy himself a drink from his winnings.

“How far have you gone with your dissertation?” asked Jack.

“I’m still in chapter 2, the lecturer hasn’t come around to approve and tell me to proceed. I’m collecting material for chapter three, and I hope he won’t tell me to repeat chapter two again.”

“I’m in chapter four right now, feel exhilarated now that we’re almost done with school. What are you looking forward to?”

“Don’t get ahead of yourself bro, this place has a way of wringing the hope out of you. Look at Don over there, he’s always stressed and spends his day drinking.”

“I hope to finish my dissertation and start preparing for the specials exams this august, have to clear by December and graduate, I can’t imagine spending another year waiting around here Austin, this last lap feels like its dragging its feet.”

Reminiscing about the old days when they were first years, having met on the queue to the admissions office, they chatted on about how the parties in the first semester were always the liveliest and none since have lived up to the standard, with a few notable ones down the years.

“Man I feel old now that I’m almost done with school,” said jack, “The way first years are happily dancing around campus, they’d learn soon enough how the system works. Party now & study later, was the grand motto with came with now look at the bags below our eyes from coffee and turning pages.”

“I realized something my mother told me a long time ago is now true, girls and books don’t mix. I’m thinking about how to breakup with Eve. She’s been stressing me of late with trivial things. It’s going to be our two-year anniversary in September and I don’t think I can stand her attitude anymore”, lamented Austin.

Jack couldn’t help the smirk that came to his face as he reminded Austin of the way he was dumbstruck the first day he saw Eve and started dating her. “You were whipped bro, she had you wrapped around her finger doing her beck and call.”

“Haha, remember when we were being told on the meeting the student leaders that campus relationships don’t last? I think this is what they meant. What are you planning to do once you’re done with school?” Austin inquired.

Wracking his brain, Jack couldn’t come up with an answer. He was in an awkward position where he couldn’t discuss his fate without having to consult his father. Everything he had done until that point seemed to be geared towards finishing school and discovering what awaits, such is the life of a refugee growing up outside of his country. Looking back at Austin he seemed disoriented by the question, “maybe I’ll get a chance to go see my grand mother, It has been over six years since I last saw her.”

“So what does that mean, you’re not going to join us in Nairobi to attend the Kenya school of Law?”

“I don’t know, haven’t decided yet,” Was all jack could say. For a moment he felt a dull buzzing in his ear as everything in the room seemed to fade into the background, he looked around and saw how little affection he had for the bar and the crowd and the music that didn’t really make him feel captivated. His thoughts drifting back to the day when his mother reminded him that the only gift they could give him was education. What was he going to do next? The usual lingering question that always got him daydreaming about what it would feel like to go home, to laugh with the whole family over how awkward he sounded trying to speak his colloquial. Waking up to his grand mother gently nudging him awake, and her glowing smile.

“Dude you just switched off, what were you thinking about? Was it Jude? I saw you guys had hit it off before I came to her rescue,” said Austin, bringing Jack back to reality.

“ We were talking about books, not exactly something you can make much out off, but she’s really cool. Want to get out of here and get back to campus, it’s getting late.”

Walking back to the hostels, Austin teased Jack about catching the love bug and how he was swooning at Jude when they met earlier that evening. Before parting to go their separate ways, Austin asked if it was better to break up with Eve soon or after the semester ended, knowing her propensity to cause a scene Jack suggested he wait.

The weeks went by relatively fast, with the few classes they had and the research papers that took up most of the time, Austin and Jack barely met. The occasional call to go watch a movie in town and to play Playstation at Johny’s came but weren’t followed up on. As the semester came to a close, Jack and Jude had been meeting and greeting each other but nothing ever came of their conversations, just a friendship that grew with every encounter.

The semester ended and the only people remaining on campus were the forth years working on finishing their final dissertation papers. Austin, Jack and Jude all feeling drained from the hectic reading schedules they had decided to go out to a picnic and perhaps take a break.

“So where shall we go now that we’ve all agreed to take today off? Will there be more people or just the three of us?” asked Jude; she was feeling slightly uncomfortable with the idea of being the only girl.

“I tried to invite Eve but she said she wanted to go into town and do some shopping. Most of the people have gone home for the weekend and will be back on Monday,” answered Austin.

“How about we go to the park to explore the riverside, haven’t been there for a while,” suggested Jack.

There were two ways of getting to the park, walking was out of the question since it took more than thirty minutes and none of them wanted the exercise so they took motorbikes/ Bodaboda (aptly named for their function ferrying people from one place to the next). The short walk to the riverside was dull; having seen a distant entourage of ducks, they looked for a comfortable place to sit facing away from the sun that was bearing down on them.

“So Austin, what’s happening between you and Eve? You guys seem to be falling out and my friend Liz overheard you guys fighting at the cafeteria.” Said Jude, “I hope everything is okay.”

Feeling slightly exposed, Austin shrugged looking despondent, “I guess it’s hard to tell if she cares for me anymore. She is always going into town this days and wriggles her way out of making any plans with me.”

“It’s hard to imagine you guys falling out, you were always the envy of the crowd, especially during the miss Campus edition when she kissed you after winning the crown,” Said Jude.

“Could we not talk about her right now, kind of need a break from all the reading and stress right now,” Austin replied with a stern voice.

“I’d hate to point out how awkward it feels sitting here listening to all this girl talk, so how about we just talk about the graduation plans? Anybody else have a special exam next month, I need to find some notes,” interrupted Jack.

“Nice try Jack, I’m tired of all that school talk too. For a change I’d like a personal conversation. We are all friends here so there shouldn’t be anything to hide,” Replied Jude.

“Speaking of which, most of the time you’re day dreaming and hardly ever tell us anything about where you are from or what you always think about when you’re drifting off,” Austin added.

“There isn’t that much I can tell you about where I’m from. I was born in exile so this is all I have known all my life, the anxiety of moving from place to place. There really isn’t anything fanciful that I can tell you about my country, I plan to go back after I’m done with school and that is just about it,” said jack.

“You’re as much Kenyan as we are then, you speak our language and know everything about us. How come you didn’t apply for citizenship?” asked Austin.

“We can never really get integrated, beyond being a refugee, here I’m just a walking bag of cash from which to extort. So you see, I’m tired of having to cough up a little extra just to get a service. Until I finish my studies, I’m stuck waiting for the journey back home. I would like to know how it feels meeting relatives I never knew or haven’t seen for the better part of a decade. The war back home tore our family apart and most of the time I have to watch my mother anguish over how rudely she was treated or my sisters holding on to their dignities when insulted for not replying to crude advances on the streets. It’s a hard life to get used to and I can’t say I want to stay here for more than I have to,” replied Jack.

“I know that most institutions are corrupt, but it can’t be that its been all bad staying here. This is like your home away from home, you have friends here and we care for you. I know its not the same everywhere but at least you should feel free being with us, I’d like to help where I can.” Said Jude.

“I don’t see how it can be helped, it is what it is, besides it hasn’t stopped me yet. I just daydream most of the time about how much better it would be if I could get away for the day and fly home. Its silly I know but I can’t help but wonder how much more different it would be if I were staying there,” replied jack.

“You sound like a poet speaking about home like that. Most of the time I overlooked it when I visited my grand parents as something normal. You know you are like a brother to me, since I got to know you. Though I’ve to admit, I hate looking up to you, like literally,” Austin grinned as he looked skywards.

“Isn’t it true that girls like a tall dark and handsome man Jude? Or is it just another work of fiction like cupid?” jack asked.

“I can’t presume to tell you what girls like. You should probably get your heads out of the clouds though jack,” said Jude.

“You’re so punny, you remind me of a cousin of mine who had a problem saying p and f in any word,” Jack retorted.

“I can him saying the word pack and push in the same sentence,” said Austin.

Jack and Jude stared at him for a moment, noticing that his joke hadn’t really hit the spot he faked a cough. He was still feeling uneasy about having gone on the picnic without Eve by his side, it was as if he had become the third wheel on a date seeing how well Jack and Jude got along. She had given him unwavering attention as he talked, now that his joke went amiss he felt awkward sitting there.

“I’ve to ask, Jude, is it normal for a girl to go shopping and on dates every weekend with uncles. I can’t help worrying that Eve is not being honest with me, for the last three months its been fight after fight about how I don’t give her the same kind of attention as when we started dating or asking me if I’m serious about our relationship.” Lamented jack, “She has been so distant of late that I can’t even talk to her without starting a fight. I can’t tell what’s right or wrong with her anymore.”

“I don’t know how to say this to you, there has been a rumor that she is dating some older guy who drops her off at the campus gates in a black SUV. I’m sorry to be the one to tell you but it is not right that you find out like this.” Said Jude.

Austin’s face for a moment became distorted with rage; his brow cringed as he tried to contain his thoughts. He sulked feeling betrayed, angry that he didn’t find out earlier about the deceit. Had he been so blinded by love that he couldn’t see through that outright lie. For the rest of the picnic he seemed occupied in thought thinking about what he was going to do next, confront Eve about it or wait to confirm if it were anything more than a rumor.

Austin went to his hostel deep in thought about the new revelation. Walking along the pavements, he hardly noticed anybody passing him along the way. He looked down, trekking the footpath using only his memory for the number of times he had walked this way too inebriated to see more than two-step ahead of him. Suddenly he craved to go out on a drinking spree, maybe that could free him from the chains of betrayal that he felt yanking at his soul. For two years he watched Eve, she was the only thing that he felt proud of, she was everything he could ever dream of.

Since the day they met, he had never stopped liking her; she had a hold on him that he couldn’t easily shake. It was a rainy afternoon when they first talked, It had been raining since morning and she had just fallen into a puddle of mud and needed help getting back up. It felt like a cliché from a movie scene, him holding out a hand to pull her up. He walked her to her hostel talking about how cold it was and getting to know each other better. It was the first semester of their second year of studies and they were surprised that they had not known each other considering they were in the same class. They got to know each other and began dating soon after; she was always fending off advances from other guys while she walked with him that he hardly ever got jealous about the attention she got.

The thing that he loved the most about her was the way she looked at him. She had hazel brown eyes that seemed to bear down on his soul and swallow him whole. From the first day she looked at him, he felt compelled to follow her home. They were kind and yet seemed to burn, he could never look at them when he thought he was wronging her, he always gave in to her wishes. For a while he thought it was her charm that had him sprung, she had him doing her every bidding and he was powerless to stop it. Now he had to look into those eyes and demand to know the truth, could he really go through with it and break up with her?

He waited patiently for her call, practicing in his head every word he wanted to say to her to express how betrayed he felt. He kept asking himself what he did to deserve this betrayal, were there any signs he had missed. She didn’t call; he sat in his dark room shifting from the bed to the sofa and back to bed. Agonizing over every second that he didn’t know where she was he picked up his phone, looked up her contact and talked himself out of calling. It was half past nine when she texted that she would be spending the night in town and he could barely contain himself.

He walked to Jack’s place to talk, Jack noticing the strained expression on his face welcomed him in and asked him what was wrong. Pouring his heart out, Jack felt sorry for Austin. It had inadvertently been confirmed to him that she had no more love left for him and he could barely contain the whirlwind of emotions inside of him. He briefly suggested that they should go to the bar before changing his mind and saying he would rather avoid meeting the crowd. Austin was doing a poor job masking the rage burning in his eyes, a balancing tear clinging to his eyelashes but not falling from his eyes. He was otherwise preoccupied with the betrayal that he barely noticed the knock on the door.

Jack got up to go answer the door, Jude stood on the other side smiling awkwardly as if glad that he was in. She asked if he was busy and he replied not at all. He worried about how Austin would react having her in the same room as him but he greeted her with a slight grin on his face that seemed out of place. Jack ushered her to the sofa and offered to get her a drink, soda or water he asked. He always had a two-litre bottle of Coke in the mini-fridge in his room, he poured two cup for his guests.

For a moment the silence in the room was tense, Jack sat down on the bed filling the final angle of the triangle. Jude seemed rather cheerful and so she broke the silence asking if they had any plans for the evening. Austin shrugged and Jack answered that Austin had just arrived briefly before she did.

“It must be a special day for you all to visit me,” he retorted.

“Sorry to barge in on you like this, I couldn’t get what you said earlier out of my head. I’m glad we got to talk and it’s hard to defend the indignities you are put through. I just wanted to talk more about what you are planning to do when you get back home,” Jude replied, “there must be like a million things you want to do, and the number of opportunities for an educated lad like you. The Job markets here is saturated and I was thinking that I might join you there.”

“Falling for his charm already Jude, you’d better watch out, you’re proving the Cinderella stories true. You have finally met the African version of prince charming,” teased Austin, seemingly rejuvenated from the dark mood he had been in earlier.

Jack felt relieved that he had talked, he thought it would have been one of those awkward moments where he would have to fill in the gaps to keep the conversation going. The mood seemed to have lightened and soon they were all laughing their heads off. They watched a movie and Austin started dozing off on the sofa where he sat. Jack escorted Jude out and they talked all the way to her hostel. She thanked him for a wonderful day and went in to her hostel.

Jack walked back to his room thinking about the day he had, wondering what he truly felt for Jude. The jokes Austin cracked aside, the more time he spent with her the more he felt drawn to her. She had a crackling laugh that seemed to cheer him up too. She had a cute smile, and every time he looked at her she seemed to be wearing it. For a moment he seemed convinced that she was the girl for him, but then he remembered that Austin was still in his room napping off a relationship hangover.

Thinking to himself, he laughed off the idea of ever dating Jude considering how late it was to start. Graduation was a couple of months away and he couldn’t possibly string her along to his gloomy world of uncertainty. He convinced himself that it was just a passing glance at a beautiful friendship, he should not make up more out of it than the molehill it was. It’s funny how he thought up phrases like that, making mountains out of molehills, it was as if his mind had been colonized by some foreign voice feeding him those English phrases that filled his elementary school compositions.

Getting to his room he closed the door gently behind him, shut down his computer, covered Austin with the spare blanket and went to sleep. He woke up at around six to find Austin deep in thought. He seemed as morose as he had been the previous night; his hair was a mess and his heavy sighs showed how heavy each thought that crossed his mind weighed him down. Austin involuntarily coughed and went back to his deep thoughts. Jack didn’t want to interrupt his train of thought but felt it was necessary to distract him from it.

“Hey, so are you going to spend all morning planning your escape? Even prison breaks aren’t thought about that hard. Take it easy bro,” jack started, for a brief moment he felt tense that he had gone about it the wrong way but when Austin laughed he got up from his bed.

“ Want to watch a movie? I never start my morning unless I watch something interesting to replace that dreamless sleep I had,” jack inquired.

“ Sure thing, what movie do you have in mind? it’s not dreamless as such, you just forget your dreams when you wake up.” Austin replied.

“I was thinking of a series actually, not really in the mood for reading today either. I got this last week and wanted to watch it, the scribbled name is hard to make out but I think it’s good.”

Having waited for the computer to boot up, he put in the DVD and went back to his bed. The computer screen was large enough to be seen by both of them and so for the next hour none of them spoke. Jack received a text message from Jude asking him how he slept. He replied to her and asked what she was up-to. They texted for a while before Austin noticed and asked who it was. Jack replied and immediately regretted it. Austin started making faces, teasing him about what had happened after he had dosed off. He pointed out that nothing happened but it was to no avail, Austin didn’t believe a word of it.

Jude was asking how Austin was doing, she had noticed that he wasn’t his usual cheerful self since she had told him about the rumor and so she felt guilty for bursting his bubble. She wanted to know if anything had happened yet, weirdly enough jack seemed all to eager to engage her in the gossip. He was not sure if the confrontation would happen but he was anxious to hear how Eve would explain herself. It felt like being part of a telenovela soap opera.

It was a little past ten when a call came through, Eve asked Austin where he was and he told her he was with Jack. They talked briefly and agreed to meet at Austin’s hostel. He got up and began pacing the room, anxious about what he would say, he looked at Jack and decided it was better he went without any further delay. Every step he took after walking out the door felt heavier and the air felt thinner. He tried to gulp in as much air as he could, sighing with every step as if resigning to the fate that waited on the other end of his Journey. He had given Eve the extra key to his room and found her seated on the bed. She asked him where he spent the night, as if jealous that he had spent the night out. He replied that he watched movies with Jack all night and ended up sleeping on the sofa, that’s how the fight started. Before long they were shouting at each other insults and by the time he walked out of the room he was sure that the three cups and two plates on the overturned table were broken.

The argument had him feeling drained and so he paced for a moment unable to decide which direction to go in. He walked back into the room to find Eve crying on the bed and for a moment he felt pity for her. He wanted to comfort her as he had always done, but the anger and pride within him would not let him. He felt betrayed but wasn’t sure if he could go through with the breakup. He sat down on the opposite side of the room and buried his head within his hands, before asking the question that nagged him all night.

“Who is the guy in the black SUV that drops you off? Is he the same uncle you tell me everyday you are going to meet? Why do you lie to me like that, did you think I wouldn’t find out? I’ve loved you for so long I don’t know what to think anymore, so please tell me where did I go wrong?” he said tearfully recounting the memories they shared.

Eve said nothing; she just cried, occasionally shuddering as she blew her nose into the handkerchief in her hands. She sulked and looked away from Austin before saying, “I never meant to hurt you like this, I just didn’t know how to tell you it wasn’t going to work out between us. I’ve been holding on to the memories we share and didn’t want to throw it all away and I betrayed your trust when I decided to keep this secret from you. I’m in love with a married man and I know it will never work out but I can’t stop loving him.”

Austin was taken aback by her confession; he stood up and walked out of his room leaving her crying on the bed. There was a crowd gathering outside the hostel’s door the neighbors having overheard the fight. He walked to Jack’s room knocked on the door and recounted the confession barely believing the words as he spoke them. He felt even more betrayed and for a moment thought of going back and chasing Eve out of his room if only it would take her out of his life. Jack held him back and told him to cool off. For the next few days there was little else being talked about around the campus than the falling out between Austin and Eve, the rumors being distorted with each retelling that in the end Jude heard only a fabrication that both Austin and Eve had cheated on each other and fought after they discovered their indiscretions.

Jude coming to the realization of what happened tried to console Austin, but by then he had become numb to the comforting words. He simply smiled, that fake smile that seemed forced and only last for the better part of a second and restored the glum sulk of a sullen face burdened by inexplicable thoughts. He seemed almost uninterested in talking much, the heartbreak had removed the spring in his step and the usual cheery disposition he had. Jack spent his day chatting him up about alternative plans to sitting in the poorly lit room. Austin only seemed to respond to invitations to drink until he passed out. Eve had only come over once and he barely spoke to her as she begged for his forgiveness, she took her things from his room and left after he scorned at her for having chosen a married man over him.

Mom, I will wait -BY Moses M Akol

“A very good afternoon to you too, madam.”

“Yes madam, this is she.”

“Yes of course Madam headmistress, It is indeed a good time to talk.”

 

The mother of two young children listened attentively, pressing the small, burgundy mobile telephone to her right ear. She winced occasionally. The long fingers on her left hand reached for her forehead involuntarily. A somber look came over her face and some sweat glistened on the smooth edge of her left palm as the voice on the other side of the telephone line engaged in what was obviously a monologue of a rather serious nature. She struggled to maintain her composure and to defuse the shadow of melancholy that had began to creep to her rounded, pretty face. She eventually mustered stamina that proved adequate to sustain her thoughts, words and her voice. She proceeded to offer an impromptu speech of gratitude that sounded more like a requiem of some sort.

“Of course Madam headmistress. My husband and I understand, and our two small children will hopefully understand in due time that it is not always that good things happen to good people. We perfectly understand that the school cannot make any exceptions for our children. Saint Aquinas Nursery and you, Madam headmistress, have been very kind to our two children during the past school year. We could not have asked for a better school administration and a set of teachers than that which St. Aquinas has offered. All is not lost, Madam Headmistress. We will remain in touch, and into God’s hands we deposit everything for it is only by His abundant grace and through His merciful will that all things transpire and expire. Have a very blessed day and God’s speed, Madam Headmistress.”

The two ladies indulged in a brief prayer over the telephone and pledged to maintain contact at all times.

Although she had expected the school authorities to call since the school opened a week ago, the call from the headmistress left the mother of two worried and pensive. She remained motionlessly on the sofa in the living room, recalling the details and the conscientious tone of the telephone conversation. Soft spoken and generally shy, the stay-home mother obviously surprised herself by the deftness with which she applied herself to the situation on her own behalf and on the behalf of her absent husband.

She gazed vacantly at the glass window that opens into the courtyard of the apartment complex. Warm tears streamed down her cheeks. She sobbed in silence. But she suddenly realised that it was less than five minutes before the school bus arrives at the main gate of the apartment complex. She ran down the staircase from the fourth-floor apartment, arriving at the gate just in the nick of time. She hugged the children warmly as if afraid to lose them to some unknown future.

“Mom my jacket is on the school bus,” said her little daughter, pointing to the departing bus. They shouted in unison for the bus driver to stop. The bus stopped at the bend of the road, only half a block away. The five-year old boy ran toward it as fast as he could, his royal blue school jacket swinging clumsily behind him like a malfunctioning pendulum.

Back in the compound, the young girl, to her mother’s amusement, mimicked a fashion model striding on a catwalk. Her hands on her small hip, her jacket hanging precariously on her narrow shoulders, she shuffled her small feet and walk in exaggerated, long rhythmic steps.

“Not bad at all,” her elated mother said approvingly. The few onlookers in the compound, including the gatekeeper, laughed and applauded the girl’s creativity. As if to signal that “the best was yet to come,” the girl too a quick bow before she ran into her mother’s open arms. The mother hugged her daughter tightly as if afraid to surrender her to an unknown fate. A vague tear escaped from the corner of her right eye, cascading timidly down her unsuspecting cheeks. She ushered the two young children towards the small iron door and disappeared into the apartment building. Their footsteps echoed cacophonously as they climbed the stairwell.

Back in the apartment, the five-year old boy began to narrate to his mother the details of his class’ visit to the public library. “It is a very large building that has many books; more than the books in dad’s reading room.” He said that the public library was a gift from the government to the people of the city. “The library has books for old people and for children.” He said.

The mother, a librarian by profession, added to the delight of her children that the library also contains books for blind and deaf people. “That is nice! I did not know that blind and deaf people read,” said the little boy approvingly.

Not wishing to be left out of the conversation, the little girl pulled her swimsuit from her school bag and began to narrate her adventures at the school’s swimming pool. She recounted the benefits her sport’s teacher said result from swimming.”In addition to making one clean, swimming makes body muscles strong,” she said, showing off her minuscule biceps and tiny stomach to her mother. Her brother giggle disparagingly.

Being a Friday afternoon and a day after the children missed the weekly buy-one-get-one-free pizza bargain, the mother knew too well that she will have to drive a hard bargain with the children in order for her plans for the day to fall in place. Eventually the children agreed to indulge in an afternoon siesta, and to do their homework before dinner in return for chips with the evening meal and an extra hour in front of the television. That compromise left the mother with ample time to share with her husband the content of her telephone conversation with the school headmistress earlier in the day.

“Hello love!” she exerted her level best to sound as cheerful and effusive as always, especially now that her husband’s voice was as warm as it sounded close.

“i am fine and so are the children.”

She told her husband that the children were asleep and that they all miss him very much. The children, she said, cannot seem to stop asking about whether their father will come home for the season’s holidays as usual.

As a segue into the jest of her earlier telephone conversation with the headmistress, she asked her husband about the impact of the ridiculous devaluation of the national currency on the family.

She steeled herself to hear and digest the details of the worst financial challenge facing their middle class family. He described the latest financial measures adopted by the country’s financial institutions as the straw that broke the camel’s back, It was bad enough, he said, that he had to buy dollars at exuberant rate from the black market in the past few months, but it is even worse now that one has to buy dollars at even more ridiculous rates from the bank. He explained to her how the family’s once decent monthly income of $4,000 doesn’t amount to a hill of beans under the new draconian currency regime. The family’s monthly income, he said, has now shrunk overnight to a paltry $700.

She informed him about her telephone conversation with the headmistress of St. Aquinas Nursery School. There was a long, uneasy pause. His voice shaky, he confessed to his wife that he has lately spent sleepless nights agonising over what the future might have in store for the family. He intimated to her that although he had anticipated it, the call from the school could not have come at a worse time.

They weighed their options, made difficult choices, and agreed to have a heart-to-heart conversation with the children as soon as possible. He thanked her immensely for her wisdom, but more importantly for being his wife and faithful friend. Although they had said all there was to be said on the telephone that afternoon, the couple clung silently to the telephone line as if afraid to surrender part of something to the unknown. They listened to each other’s breathing in melancholic silence.

She remained motionless on the sofa in her living room long after she and her husband hang up. A fleeting tear dropped from her eyes as the echoes of her husband’s words rang in her mind. “Only God knows how strong I have to be for you, and I want you to be strong for the children.”

The sound of tiny footsteps cut the train of her thoughts. She quickly wiped the tear away and pretended that she had not noticed her little daughter trying to sneak up on her. She decided to be complicit in her daughter’s nefarious plot.

Sporting a mischievous smile that made her tiny dimples disappear even deeper into her shiny cheeks, the little girl tiptoed and quickly blindfolded her mother with her tiny hands. “Peek-a-boo. Guess who is there?” she asked, trying gallantly to disguise her voice.

“Could that be the one and only beautiful daughter of mine who could not complete her nap on time because the only thing on her mind is a plate of chips before nine!”

Her little plot exposed, the little girl surrendered into her mother’s embrace. “Mom, that is not fair,” she said with a defeated smile on her face, “You are not supposed to know that it was me who covered your eyes,” she added. They laughed, waking up the boy in the process.

The mother spelled out the program for the evening and the following day, including the weekly trip to Jeffrey’s Sports Complex. The children responded to each of her announcements with shouts of approval. There was even louder applause, cheers and clinched fists when she announced that their father would call before an important family meeting in the morning.

The first rays of the morning sun weathered the few clouds that had threatened rain at dawn, adding more brilliance to the purple flowers of the handsome Jacaranda tree standing tall in the backyard of the apartment building. Having gotten out of bed early on Saturday morning, the mother was somehow surprised by her rather calm mood. She seemed to have digested and internalised the facts and consequences of their financial predicament. “Only God knows how strong I have to be for you, and I want you to be strong for the children.” Her husband’s words resonated like a mantra in the cool morning breeze as she stood on the balcony.

“As you heard from your father, a few things will change until our money situation improves. The dollar has caused our money to buy us less things,” the mother said to her attentive children after breakfast.

“What is the dollar mom, and why us it making dad angry?” The three-and-a-half-year-old girl asked with enviable innocence.

“The dollar is Obama’s money; President Obama was here, remember?” her brother volunteered half of the answer, to their mother’s delight.

In her own way, the mother explained the impact of the country’s dire economic condition on families like theirs.

“Now, the real bad news is that we don’t have enough money to pay your school fees this term,” the mother said, her voice breaking. “Your father and I love you so much that there is nothing we wouldn’t do for you. Therefore, we are terribly sorry that you will not be able to go to the school on Monday.The headmistress called yesterday and said that she was very sorry that this had to happen to you. She said that you have been among her best pupils but said that school regulations have to be applied without favour.” The mother added with a lump in her throat.

With tears in their eyes, the children protested bitterly, arguing that they will miss their classmates, swimming classes and singing in the school chapel. The mother told them that she sympathised with them and that she was even more angered by the situation than they could imagine.

The children cried miserably. Heartbroken, the mother tried in vain to calm them down by assuring them that things will be better in the near future and that they will have to wait only for the time being.

The boy rose from his chair, fetched his school bag from the room and placed it besides him on the sofa, across from his mother’s. His sister followed suit, but lied down next to her bag on a separate sofa. They both sobbed quietly, staring pleadingly into their mother’s eyes.

With her husband’s words resonating in her mind like a mantra, she struggled to hold back her tears.

After staring at nothing in silence for a long while, the children fell asleep on their respective sofas. The mother watched their dried up tears in pain. She stared at the ceiling endlessly until she wandered off into dreamland.

The mother felt some tiny hands wiping her face. She opened her eyes suspiciously only to see two pairs of bright, small eyes staring at her affectionately as she lay on the sofa. Having lost track of time, she seemed confused momentarily before she realised that she had fallen asleep on the sofa shortly after the tearful family meeting in the morning.

Unfazed, the children continued to massage their mother’s face urging her not to cry and assuring her everything will he okay.

The little girl held her mother’s face in her small hands. Her little, shiny face radiated innocent calm and serenity that seem to flow from a bottomless spring of inner placidity.

“Mom I will wait,” she announced with mature spontaneity that left her mother temporarily confused. But while her mother struggled to comprehend the announcement, the little girl bared her little soul.”Since there is not enough money for both of us, let my brother go to school. He has more homework,” she pleaded quietly as she fiddled with her mother’s hair.

The mother totally moved by her little daughter’s profound selflessness, fought back the tears. She remembered her husband’s words; her mantra. She hugged her daughter as if afraid to lose her to uncertainty.

“Honey, that was very nice. I am proud of you!” she told her daughter. “But your education is as important as your brother’s,” she added sternly. “So you will both wait. In fact, we will all wait!”

`Like a jealous hen, she gathered her children. They put their arms around one another’s shoulders and pressed their foreheads together softly. Their eyes glittering in the huddle, they giggled, and high fived one another. They donned their sportswear and set out for an afternoon of physical exercise and fun at Jeffrey’s Sport Complex in nearby Lavington. After all, there can’t be a better tomorrow without a good today, fraught with tribulation and jubilation as it were!

Walking in the dark

I’ve been listening to so many sad songs, I read somewhere that happy people listen to the tune and sad people listen for the lyrics. The thing is; it is hard to listen to other kinds of music because I just can’t relate. I’ve been trying to clear my mind the only way I know how, earphones on blast and staring into the abyss so I wouldn’t see a thing. Nothing seems to be working though. I’ve been reading a lot of books too; its hard to finish any of them though because my thoughts start drifting mid-chapter and I end up looking for an alternative distraction, mostly skyrim or trying to perfect my driving on dirt 3. My current favorite song is Writings on the wall, am reading the Secret history of the CIA; It’s like a sequel to an earlier spy novel I read “The art of Betrayal”.

It’s difficult to explain how I feel. I think too much and yet I can’t explain this feeling. I feel as if I’m empty inside; I’ve been meaning to do a lot of things but can’t muster the energy or will to start. I’ve been procrastinating calling my Mum for a while now and sometimes want to get away from my Dad. I just heard that a family friend passed away and for a moment I was sad, I thought about how happy he looked the last time I saw him, always reminding me to pass his regards to my father. There was no indication as to what caused his death and my father informed me of his pre-existing medical conditions, which might have caused his death.

I keep finding myself in this dark place inside my head, I’ve been looking for an escape from this mood, sometimes I go out to drink and other times I would do anything just so I wouldn’t have to let it sink in. I could sit for hours in silence wondering what I’m doing with my life, I wish there was a simpler answer. Everything I’ve done so far has been unfulfilling. When I was applying for University I wanted to be an Electrician because it was the only field of physics which excited me, I’d given up being a doctor when the KCSE results came out and Law was probably the last choice I’d wanted to make but seemed to have qualified for.

I’m done with law school and yet I don’t feel drawn to the legal practice. I use my understanding of the legal principles to guide my reasoning but I’d rather work as a news editor. The Juba Telegraph has been closed for a while now due to the economic recession, they promise to reopen as soon as possible. I’ve been working at the law firm trying to get admitted to the bar but am not particularly thrilled about that. The legal procedures in South Sudan are incredibly bulky and frustrating to institute, my understanding of the common law greatly differs from my colleagues and I’m left to wonder the viability of my education.

At the end of each day, I get off from work with enough energy to get home. After entering the gate I feel hunkered down by a cloud. I lose interest in doing most things that would involve me getting out of the house; even going to the shop to buy credit feels like I’d be exerting too much effort. I’ve been meaning to make several calls but haven’t got around to doing it. It’s hard to get out of this funk. For a while I had decided not to go to work because it just felt like I was wasting away in the office space. I’ve lost the inspiration to write anything meaningful and everything just feels dull.

I remember the days when I could lose my temper and wouldn’t talk to anyone for days, my brother used to call it artistic flare. I would stomp out of the house and go walking around in the dark for hours; I practically walked around the whole of Eldoret in a night trying to get my head out of the fight. It was hard to cool off my temper and I’d go back home only when I realized there’s no escaping my culpability. I’d get home at around 3 a.m, knock on the kitchen door hoping someone is listening and sit at the servant quarter’s corridor trying to keep warm; I mostly got rained on during the long walks. My mother would open the door in her nightgown with a sad look on her face and I would bow my head and walk in to my room.

Compared to now, I miss those days. I could at least express myself better than now, feeling numb to everything and still having to fight the loneliness in my head scares me. There’s this girl I like and there are so many reasons why I think I shouldn’t, it’s a process I go through when I’m getting new feelings. The gist of it is that I’m no good and I think she’s great. I told her I like her but I can’t seem to open up to her. I’ve barely scratched the surface telling her who I am. I’m struggling with my own identity for now, listening to people telling me what they think of me has just created doubt in what I know about myself.

I’ve written so many poems trying to express my rage on a page, my father tried to get me to write how I feel down a few weeks ago. I hated that he told me to do so; I wanted it to come out on its own. Is deleting a post on a blog the equal of tearing out a page from the notebook? If it is, it’s not that satisfactory. I sort of stopped writing down my thoughts because I was stuck in a rhyme scheme. Every talk I had felt scripted, a repeat of another conversation I’d had prior. Now, I’m only looking forward to the Korbandi Saloon where I go to listen and share poems and short stories.

Last week I got to learn of a South Sudanese writer, Majok Tulba ( http://www.readings.com.au/news/alice-pung-interviews-majok-tulba-about-beneath-the-darkening-sky ), author of Beneath the Darkening sky. He discusses the life of a South Sudanese child soldier, he himself having avoided being recruited as one because he was an inch shorter than the AK 47 they were being measured against. The author lives and writes in Australia and his book was nominated for the Commonwealth book prize (http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/jun/09/majok-tulba-beneath-darkening-sky ). I’ve read several books on the origins of the SPLA and read up on my maternal relations; due to the long separation, we have hardly met most of our relatives and each day I get introduced to a new face whose name I try committing to memory. None of them though compared to that short excerpt which was read out at the Korbandi saloon. The reader had captured everybody’s attention and when he was done everybody wanted to chip in and talk about the main themes. It felt as if I was back in a class for English Literature.

I met my grand uncle, Brother to my grand mother, this past week. He was so glad to have seen me after 20 plus years since we left Egypt. He recognised me even though I was an infant back then and hugged me tight. The smile on his face as he looked at me was heart warming and I felt exhilarated. My father told him about the old photos he’d come back from Kenya with after his holiday, promising to take them to him on the next dental check up. He explained to us how we were related even asking if we knew the names of my mother’s mother. The lunch break ended and we departed to our offices excited.

Adventures in Juba.

Feeling out of place? The first day working as a news editor was like stepping into the twillight zone. I’d been given several stories to edit, having left the office early ( my work schedule was tight at the time) i got the email and had a deadline of 8 to send back the news stories. The first story was nearly impossible to edit, i read it through and through severally before the other stories were emailed. English, although considered to be the national official language in south sudan is not widely spoken, the author of the story had little vocabulary and for the most part i had to guess what he meant. I spent the next two hours of that day engrossed in the workload that when my father came to call me to diner i dismissed him saying that i was “working” (words i never thought i’d say).

Day two, i got a call from the journalist complaining that i had not run his story in the newspaper. I asked him to be patient; meanwhile joking with the editor- in- chief about how much of a headache his english had given me. Starting a working relationship with the other journalists was equally tasking as the work itself considering that we all had different backgrounds; I having grown up in Kenya and the others having varied backgrounds, made it especially difficult to engage in office humour. At the time i was also working at a law firm and often got to the Newroom mentally exhausted from trying to understand the technical differences in the legal systems between Kenya and South Sudan.

As i got used to my working schedule, I began to realise my affections towards the Newsroom, at first it was the late hours that bugged me because it gave me little time to rest. The Newsroom was quiet for most of the day, the generator was switched on for an hour at 1p.m and then at 6 p.m when all the work started. The editor- in- chief had before my arrival handled all the editing and was happier when i joined the team to reduce her workload. The initial introductions with the journalists and their stories brought an initial bias on the stories i wanted to read, the political stories had especially diluted my interests considering that i had to practice alot of censorship to avoid criticising the government; many journalists have been arrested on such charges.

The late night drives after work became my adventures. The fuel crisis that i had extensively reported on, even writing an editorial on the day that the director of NILEPET got fired, had made it especially difficult to make permanent travel arrangements. The Newsroom was also far from the printers, this in itself proved a challenge since there were security checks on my way home and we had to drop of the newspaper’s designer and the Editor- in- chief before i got home. Most days i arrived home at a quarter past midnight occassionally at one; if my sister and i did not meet up for an after office cocktail. Having gotten used to the military checkpoints, i often stared blankly ahead into the dark road ahead wondering where the next one will be. One day, the driver called ahead to inform us that the company car did not have a fuel and that he would come with his pickup. Excited, me and the designer jumped in the back. The driver raced through the empty juba streets, past the ICRC gate, slowing down near the junction leading to the president’s residence and onwards to the printers. The wind blowing in my hair and the scene from the back of the pick-up of the emptied juba streets remains etched on my mind.

The late nights proved especially risky to the editor- in- chief, the military check points put her on edge everytime the journalists brought the news in late. She had had an unfortunate incident with the security forces who harassed her for her nationality. She started sleeping in the office overnight and went home in the morning. On most evenings, the mosquitoes would be a bother, but with the rainy season, the office which was located on the 3rd floor was often swarmed with mosquitoes and she barely got any sleep. The sundays were especially tasking since there were hardly any journalists who attended the office, the lack of internet and the faulty supply of electricity made it harder to find any news. On such days however internet sources of news proved more reliable and as such it became my task to comb through every website available. The first three weeks of working improved my understanding of how things are done in south sudan and i also began noticing unique traits based on where my co-workers grew up. The diversity made for a lively work environment, one day we were visited by one of our correspondents from Bor who was interested in showing us off to a UN peace keeping contigent.

One day though, there was a shooting in our estate, my nerves were on edge for the most part of the evening and i began contemplating not going home. The reports that were coming in suggested that a bodyguard to one of the military officers resident in our estate had gone beserk and shot bystanders and butchered the family members of the officer before taking his life. The sources were unofficial and that evening security was tight. The news was also late and at midnight i resolved that i still had to do my job, we followed the routine and i arrived home a little past one. I bid goodbye to the driver and as i turned and walked towards our gate i noticed a figure appearing infront of me from the dark. Appalled by his sudden appearance, i removed my earphones and tried to secure my phone in the pocket. Shouting at me from the distance in arabic, “who are you?” “what are you doing here?” he asked in rapid succession. Appearing in the light, i saw he was dressed in the police uniform but was pointing an AK 47 straight at me. I answered back in english frozen in fear trying to keep my voice steady, “i’m a newsreporter from work returning home.” Having heard the commotion, a fellow officer came out and approached me, having noticed that i wasn’t any threat, he told his comrade to put his gun down and talked to me in english. I walked on a few metres holding my breath, praying that i don’t get shot in the back; I turned to confirm that i was in no danger before the sigh of relief.

This was not however the only scary interaction i had with the police, driving around juba is chaotic at best. I had gone out with my colleagues from the law firm to a client’s hotel and was driving back home when we were overtaken by a military convoy which was not even escorting anyone. We moved off to the side of the road to let them pass and resumed our journey. After reaching the traffic lights, the lights turned green, as we set off the military pick-up truck was racing towards us, for a moment my heart skipped to my throat and i braked. The pick-up which had a machine gun mounted passed us and flagged down a toyota allion which was moving in the opposite direction, one of the soldiers had dropped his hat and was backtracking to find it. I got home and packed the car and went to work that evening via public transport as had become customary on such weekends when i worked on sundays.

The most fulfilling part of my job however came from the compliments i got from the readers. First it was that the quality of english in the newspaper had improved, then the overall performance. The questions by the peacekeepers on the procedure which we used to obtain the news proved that they had an interest in the work, as they left they declared that they had subscribed to our newspaper and were expecting great things from us. On the day that i left for Kenya, I felt sorrowful considering what i had to go back to. I wanted more than anything else to avoid coming, but there was no way to evade it. I’m once again looking forward to my adventures in Juba and will hopefully get to travel around South sudan to garner more stories and experiences.

Incident report: Mob Justice

10:10 AM- 11:30 AM

Earlier today in what seemed like a mob justice, male residents of Langas estate escorted a suspected thief towards pioneer estate. Having briefly met the gang on my way around the fence separating Langas estate and the National Youth Service training grounds, I watched the mob march the suspected thief, even increasing the pace to a jog often enough. Some of the members of the mob were inquiring for lost property, one mentioning a stereo, reporting that it had cost him several thousands KSH.

A traveller cynically commented to his companion, “ hao wenye wanamchapa pengine hata wako nayeye, wanaoperate kirende (those beating him might be in league with him, they operate in gangs). Agreeing consequently that the fate of the man was unknown at the hands of the NYS.

For a moment they ganged around the suspect kicking and hitting him with all manner of foliage and rocks in the vicinity. Everybody wanted a piece of the man while others cheered them on, “tuambie penye vitu ziko(tell us where the things are)”. Begging to be spared, everybody seemed to be voicing over an opinion of what should be done to him.

It was later revealed that the suspect was called “Benja”, having been recognised by a neighbor. She revealed he was a humble resident, however it was not the first incident in which he was suspected of stealing. She stated that the had stolen an iron sheet from a neighbors roof, adding, “ni ngumu sana kujua chenye inaendelea kwa kichwa ya mtu(it’s hard knowing what goes on in a person’s head).”

Moving on, I found “Benja” having been beaten just meters from the NYS grounds and hour after meeting them earlier, he was bleeding profusely from a wound on his nose, blood from his ears, as he tried to negotiate with the gang beating him. He was even threatened; a man got on his motorbike and rode towards him as he yelled to be spared wriggling out of hold from those holding him.

An entire gathering of residents watched the incident that was fast unfolding avidly commenting on how he had been stoned, kicked, punched, the children adding how they were being chased away from the scene. I could hear some women saying that it was possible that they would just beat him up and let him go. The man was on his knees begging the mob, “mimi ni mmoja wenyu, na hustle na nyinyi”, immediately getting cut off by a kick that sends him squirming towards another, one of his assailants adding, “ni wewe unajua hadi manguo zangu, na vitu zangu, hatari sana(It’s you that know how my clothes look, that’s dangerous)…”

One of the observers; trying to distance himself, called on a guard watching within the fence, he seemed to be on the phone and moved slowly towards him.

The mob then turned towards the gathering audience at the scene. The children started running while the voice of the suspected thief rose to a wail. He wasn’t able to say much other than make noise. Having moved away, the mob marshalled the “thief” with a blood soaked vest, wiping his bleeding brow with a piece of a torn shirt.

They paused at the periphery of the fence to scatter the watching mass that had become audience to this mob justice. The emerging opinion was that the thief would be beaten brutally then let loose, others adding that they may take him to the police station.

Dissent in the mob

During the halt, members of the mob started asking where they were going. “mnanipeleka wapi (where are you taking me)?” benja dared to ask. With what appeared to be a slap, a man in a maroon trouser and a sweatshirt gave him a reply, “ unauliza nani? tutakupeleka kwenye babako atakuja kukutafuta(who are you asking? We will take you where your father will come look for you!).”

The mob circled benja out of view as others moved to scatter the increasing numbers of spectators. They started moving deeper into langas away from the fence. The few remaining watched as the man was rushed with kicks as the mob rushed him down the route having agreed to go to the police station. The motorcycles had preceded the mob as they moved away.

The spectators, now dispersing back to their various duties, avidly debating on the fate that would befall the suspected thief: split on whether the thief would die before getting to the police station or that he would be let go after getting thoroughly beaten.

The afternoon rains washed away any sign of the incident. The next morning as I went to scan the scene. Walking around, everyone seemed to be busy; it took a while before I found a familiar face. I asked him what had befallen “Benja”. He informed me that he was dead, it was another case reported by the police as mob justice. I inquired if he had made it to the police station, he did but the mob was informed they had to check him into a hospital: they took matters into their own hands and finished him off at an unknown location.

Photo: Angry mob by Gerezon

Heart of Gold

If there’s anything this fuel crisis in Juba has taught me, life is a bittersweet blend of meanness and kindness. At the bus stop I watched the otherwise respectable people scramble to get into the matatu(known as Mosalat). The first to enter always clung to the van before it came to a halt, shoving and pushing to get to their seats before anybody else. Then the women join into the struggle and the less inclined to struggle stepped off and watched the van fill up. Standing in my blazer in the already scorching sun of 8, I can feel particles of sweat crowding on my brow, I sometimes just drift off and wonder what is going on in everybody else’s mind. The language barrier, I being fluent in English and the others around me speaking in Arabic, forces me to listen to either the radio or my own music playlist.

A bus comes and immediately fills up, the scramble leaves out a man in crutches, he stands at the bus’ door and looks for an empty seat. The next van comes minutes after and I too am forced to join the scramble. I position myself near the van’s stop and wait for the first few to enter and take their position. A lady standing at the door tells me to get in, I could only understand by her gestures that she was getting off nearby. I take the window seat, which I can scarcely fit into and try ignoring the pain on my knees, the woman takes her seat next to me and we watch the rest enter, as is customary. The cripple stands at the door and a woman in the seat infront of us suddenly gestures to change seats with the man and takes the seat next to the door. I guess there is no language as universally recognizable as kindness. I felt touched and although I could not express it, my otherwise bewildering morning had taken a cheerful turn.

Having gotten used to commuting to work in my father’s car, I felt most aggrieved watching the Prado V8 and range rovers passing us in the traffic. I wondered how they had fuel while the rest of us were crowded in the matatu, a proud petrol head; I dared not to think that these were diesel powered. We came to a halt at the traffic lights where we watched the count down and other cars rushing off from their respective destinations. The light turns green, the driver hoots to the car ahead to move, there’s a boda boda that has stalled in the traffic as we rush to get to the other side of the round about. The first person alights and the overlapping cars delay our departure.

I looked forward to the next traffic light, there’s a particularly amusing traffic cop who motivates me before I get to work. He normally dances gracefully with his gestures and whistle to signal the next road available to the halted traffic while stopping the others simultaneously. The vigor with which he carries out his job is infectious as it lightens the otherwise dull and hot morning air. On the other side of the traffic, juba is a right hand drive city, there’s a UN convoy comprising of a oil/water tanker and several UN military police (UNMP) armored vehicles guarding it in the front and back. I sometimes wonder how delicate the situation must be to always have the UN police on such high alert. Then suddenly as we depart the traffic stop, a SPLA military vehicle hoots us out of the way and speeds off hooting everyone else out of the way, there were no soldiers on board and the car was obviously not heading to the barracks.

Several stops later the cripple gets off with his crutches and smiles at the kind hearted lady who gave him the seat and someone else takes his place. I guess this has been his routine in the juba hustle. Several oil tankers halt the traffic as we prepare to set off to the next stage. I watch out for my stop and think about what I was to do all day, waiting to put aside my blazer and sit under the air conditioner. I get off near the roundabout and walk to the office thinking about the evening scramble for the bus, funny how this black gold could define how my day goes, but to have reached the office before operational hours feels good.