2010 was an eventful year for me... or at least, the last four months of 2010 was eventful. Not only did I go to Africa in the first time in my life (meaning that only continents I have not visited is South America and Australia), but I got to stay and work in a country that is full of contrasts. War torn, but with extremely peaceful places. Abject poverty right next to significant wealth. Expensive cars driving alongside cheap bikes, all on the same bumpy roads. The oppressive heat and dryness of the desert around Khartoum, and the equally oppressive heat and humidity of Juba. People whiter than myself working right next to people blacker than coal.
What does strike me though is how almost everybody is happy to see the international society being present*, and how everyone - locals, NGOs and the UN - is working towards a common goal; peaceful referendum, compliance with the CPA and rebuilding of the civil society. And while some horrible things do happen in the vicinity, such as the Lord Resistance Army attacks near the Sudan-Congo border on Christmas eve, the really bad things don't actually happen in our Area of Responsibility. We 'only' have the occasional robbery, rape and murder... which the local police, supported by the UNPOL, handles. This means we can concentrate less on peace building and more on what I like think of as 'nation building'.
I must give recognition to the NGOs I meet down here: usually strapped for cash and supplies (with a couple of exceptions), the underpaid or even volunteer international staff are working long hour in an adverse environment to give the locals access to what they need. Off course, what they need isn't always what they want, but you have to be able to walk before you can run. And I think that is part of why I do enjoy being here, even if I am a long way away from my family** and friends, the chance to help people by giving them what they need.
For the most part what I give is simply the knowledge that the international society actually cares about what goes on in their little corner of Africa. The knowledge that a white guy - maybe one of the first white guys they ever seen - cares enough to come all the way from Europe just to help secure the peace in a county that have known precious little peace over the last half century. The knowledge that I'm just one of many who leave their home and family for a while to help in a small way rebuilding their homes and families, expecting little or nothing in return+.
Off course, now that schools are back in session after the holidays, I'll swing by the YWAM school I've mentioned earlier and give a bit more - not from me, but from a group of old scouts in Norway who heard about the school and decided to do an impromptu collection in support of their work. Pretty tidy sum to, and it'll go a long way to help with the daily grind of running a school on a shoe string budget.
Also coming up - and starting next Sunday - is the Referendum, the culmination of five years of CPA. We all hope, and I'm sure each and everyone of you reading this agree, that it'll will proceed peacefully, calmly and in the best and most democratic way possible. The EU referendum observers are already in place in Yei, and the TSL and I gave two of them a quick brief on the security situation the other day. What will happen after the referendum depends greatly on how the referendum goes and what the majority of the voters actually vote for, but I foresee no major issues in our little corner of the Sudan. Most likely there will be a period of posturing from both sides, before people sit down around a table somewhere and starts discussing what the actual results mean and how to implement any changes... and there is bound to be changes.
I don't foresee an end to the UN presence in South Sudan anytime soon. Even if a successful means the end of the CPA, there is simply too much left to do in either securing the peace in a united Sudan, or help build a new nation in South Sudan. Who knows, it may be that this mission is only the beginning of my adventures in southern Sudan?
*) Please keep in mind that my experiences is mostly limited to Yei, Lainya, Morobo and Kajo Keji counties.
**) Which can be very hard at time, as I'm sure everyone understands.
+) From them, that is. I get plenty back from the Norwegian Government - who hands me my paycheck - and the UN - who pays my MSA.