- South Sudan
On December 15, 2013, conflict broke out in Juba, the capital of South Sudan. David, 35, was in the city. “Around 8:30 pm, I heard gunshots from the Presidential Tiger Guards base. I got a call immediately after from a friend who worked with national security, telling me to stay put. I was shocked because I didn’t know that South Sudanese people could still take up arms against each other.”
Two days later, as he was driving with his mother-in-law,he was stopped by some policemen on the road.
“Police officer dressed in uniform: ‘Maale?’ They asked, meaning peace be with you in Nuer. ‘Maale mugwa,’ I responded. Peace is good.
This was obviously the wrong response as they cocked their guns at me and ordered me to get out and fall to my knees.
‘Get him, he’s Nuer.’
As they were about to shoot, I opened my mouth to speak. What were a few minutes of running my mouth going to cost me if I was going to die? I had a few chosen words for them. This time I chose to speak in Dinka, my native language. The surprise on their faces was priceless.
‘I am not going on my knees. Feel free to shoot but I will never die on my knees.’ Bold, I know, but they did not shoot. I proceeded.
‘If you had asked me in Arabic ‘Salaam Aleikum’, I would have responded in Arabic saying ‘Aleikum Salaam’. Would that mean that I am an Arab? If you can answer that convincingly, then I am now ready to die.’
They dropped their guns and looked at me intently, then at each other. ‘Where are you from?’ they asked. Bold with the presence of life in my body, I decided to provoke them further.
‘Why do you want to know? Why is it so useful for you to know where I hail from?’ I asked.
‘Just tell us where you’re from,’ he repeated, now visibly irritated.
‘I roughly speak five languages, so I am from five different places,’ I said.
‘You, give us your ID!’
‘I left it at home. And even if I had it, what reason do you have for asking for it. Am I not a free citizen of South Sudan?’ I asked, now also visibly irritated.
‘Give us your Driving License!!!’
I did. They could not read.
They handed it back to me and told me that if I was moving around and wanted to stay alive, I should reveal where I am from and speak my language. Not everyone would be as patient as they were to me.
My cousin had lost his life the same way only a few days before. He had responded in Arabic and before he could finish a sentence, he was on his way out. ‘My people have shot me,’ were his last words in Dinka.
The man who had pulled the trigger then dropped his gun and started crying. He had killed one of his own. The irony is not lost on me.
I reflect on this as I say hello to my Nuer neighbours and their children who I have hidden in my house. How safe it is, I don’t know. I am considered safe but I was almost killed today based on flawed logic.
Photo: Stella Madete/Oxfam
Following decades of fighting, South Sudan became an independent state in July 2011. There was high expectation for growth and many believed they would not see another conflict in the country they fought so hard and so long for. But on December 15, 2013, a conflict erupted in Juba, the capital. It quickly became a national, political and ethnic crisis.
Over two million had to flee from their homes. Today, according to the United Nations, there are still over 1.6 million internally displaced people in the country.
Follow Oxfam in South Sudan @OxfamSouthSudan