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For Some, Fear Still Stalks Bustling South Sudan Capital

  • Hannah McNeish

South Sudanese children displaced by the fighting are seen in a camp for displaced persons in the UNMISS compound in Tongping in Juba, South Sudan, Feb. 19, 2014.

South Sudanese children displaced by the fighting are seen in a camp for displaced persons in the UNMISS compound in Tongping in Juba, South Sudan, Feb. 19, 2014.

South Sudan's capital, Juba, is bustling after months of internecine fighting devastated it and many of the young nation's other major towns. But not everyone is sharing in the city's turnaround. One ethnic group remains plagued by fear of violence.

At Juba's largest market, music from rival stereos overpower the chatter of pedestrians and the clamor of hawkers competing for customers. It is a very different scene from the days following the eruption of fighting on December 15, when city streets in South Sudan were lined with soldiers and the deathly silence of day contrasted with the crackle of gunfire at night.

Abdalla Ossua, a Ugandan businessman, said the majority of foreign traders here fled to neighboring countries along with what is now around 200,000 South Sudanese who feared for their lives. He said, however, many of the merchants have returned.

“Most of the Ugandans, like 80 percent, they went back to Uganda in December because of the war. But now it's almost like 65 percent, they are back”

Ugandan troops

Ossua said the sight of Ugandan troops in Juba has restored confidence among foreigners anxious to get back to work.

That confidence is not shared, though, by the country's second-largest ethnic group, the Nuer. They are caught in a violent political struggle between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir, who comes from the country's largest Dinka tribe, and his former deputy and now arch-enemy Riek Machar, from the second biggest Nuer group.

More than 45,000 Nuer remain in two base camps belonging to the United Nations peacekeeping mission in South Sudan.

Anna Cilliers, a nurse working for the emergency medical charity Doctors Without Borders, said she sees a lot of malnourished children, and diseases such as measles and severe diarrhea in the camps.

“Because people are living very densely, very close together. And people are still scared to go outside. That is what I know,” said Cilliers.

Displaced persons

Many of the displaced live near their homes, much of which were destroyed by soldiers in tanks who reportedly went house to house in predominantly Nuer neighborhoods, razing, killing and looting.

Some camp residents say their houses are intact. And they long to get out of the squalor, where strips of cloth and plastic sheeting are tied together in long lanes.

Some still talk of those who left to check on homes but disappeared, and of soldiers firing into the camp or breaching security to look for people.

Across the country, others in U.N. displaced camps report executions within and outside establishments by whichever side is currently in control.

Student John Chol said people here are still too mistrustful of security forces to go anywhere. He questions the wisdom of trying to travel to Uganda on southbound trucks, given the country's support to government troops now fighting Machar forces that include a large Nuer militia.

“They make it a kind of civil war between the Dinka and the Nuer. And they make it another tribal war, and they target Nuer people; not all South Sudanese. And the President Salva Kiir takes it as all Nuer, targets Nuer areas,” said Chol.

While life continues as normal outside the camp walls, people here say they are trapped in a tribal war that civilians did not start, and do not know how to escape.