- South Sudan
- Conflicts and Disasters
“I remember my sister Jekudu running frantically into the house. She stopped abruptly and tried to talk but she had to pause for air every other word. Someone was in trouble in the neighbourhood”.
Monica was 32 and living in Juba, South Sudan’s capital, in December 2013, when conflict erupted in the country. It quickly became a national, political and ethnic crisis.
‘I was just at Cousin Peter’s house. There is a man there in trouble. They want to arrest him because he is Nuer,’ she said.
The man was called Abraham. He was a young Nuer man with a wife and two children. They had sought refuge in a neighbour’s house. Four local policemen had knocked on the door and demanded that Abraham follow them.
‘But how did they know he was there?’ I asked.
‘The neighbour that offered her house got scared. She is a Dinka lady and was convinced that if anyone found out that she was protecting a Nuer family, she would be in danger and her children would get hurt.’ Jekudu said.
My cousin Peter is a senior official in the military and commands a lot of respect wherever he goes. He is a tall well-built man and when he speaks, people listen.
After hearing the commotion, he went out to see what was happening. ‘What is going on here?’ Peter asked. ‘Leave this man alone, he does not want to go with you.’
They argued for a few minutes and the policemen finally decided to leave. I am sure it’s because they realised he was in the military. Not more than twenty minutes later, they came back with eight additional men as back-up.
‘Please, there are many families here, including my wife and children. Look at all the children around, listening to this conversation. No. I will not allow myself to be the reason they are hurt or killed,’ Abraham shouted. He then turned to Peter and said ‘Thank you but I would rather go. It will cause more problems if I stay here. People will get hurt. Let them take me.’
For the first time, everyone was quiet. It was like no one knew what to do. I am not sure if it was his resignation or his willingness to sacrifice himself that changed the course of events. Whatever it was, it was enough to make the 12 men lower their weapons and leave.
When things had settled down, we all sat down in Peter’s house to discuss options for Abraham’s family. They wanted to go straight to the UN House but we all agreed that it was not safe enough to go yet. Peter offered his house for Abraham to stay, but it did not have enough room for his wife and children.
‘They can stay with us,’ I said. And they did, for about three weeks.
Abraham and his family were both able to leave to a safer area.
Photo: Mackenzie Knowles Coursin/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