News / Africa

In Malakal, a Struggle to Survive in South Sudan's New Normal

  • A U.N. peacekeeper stands guard at the U.N. Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) base in Malakal, where some 19,000 people have been sheltering for nearly half a year.
  • People walk along dirt roads that have been turned into streams of mud by the rains, in the UNMISS base in Malakal, South Sudan, where 19,000 people have sought shelter from months of fighting.
  • UNMISS head Hilde Johnson (R) shares a laugh with a South Sudanese woman, inside the UNMISS base in Malakal where around 19,000 people are sheltering.
  • A young girl rubs sticks together to try to start a fire. The girl is one of thousands of people who have sought protection inside the UNMISS base in Malakal.
  • A man looks at what remains of a house in Malakal, South Sudan.
South Sudan's New Normal in Malakal
Mugume Davis Rwakaringi
Matthew Chol Jok used to work as director general of a sanitation and environment company in Upper Nile state, in the northeast of South Sudan.

The 61-year-old remembers how his town was vibrant and full of life. People worked all kinds of different jobs to make a living. Children went to school. Malakal was bustling.

But then the war came.

Malakal wasn't immediately drawn into the violence when fighting broke out in mid-December in Juba, but when the unrest finally did reach the town, it was fierce and prolonged. 
Women carry the body of a civilian killed in the center of Malakal, Upper Nile State in South Sudan, Jan. 21, 2014.
Women carry the body of a civilian killed in the center of Malakal, Upper Nile State in South Sudan, Jan. 21, 2014.

For months, government soldiers battled opposition forces for control of the capital of Upper Nile, the state that produces the bulk of the oil that is the lifeblood of South Sudan's economy. Malakal changed hands several times and ordinary citizens like Jok were forced to flee their homes and seek shelter at the U.N. Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) base in the town.

In th  five months that he's been at the camp, Jok has not dared to venture outside, not even to go and check on his house.

"I cannot step three steps at the main gate to go out," he says. "I can be killed.”

Jok left everything behind when he ran for his life as fighting engulfed the town. He's not sure what happened to members of his family, and fears some of his children might have been killed in the unrest.

"I am hearing that some went to Ethiopia and some went to Khartoum and some are in Juba. Some of my children were abroad, and they arrived the second day of the crisis. All of them were caught up in the fighting and where they are now is not known," he says helplessly.

'I cannot go back'

In a sense, Veronica Chan is luckier than Jok. Yes, she lives in the same deplorable conditions inside the U.N. compound as he does, but her six children and her husband are alive and with her. The family lives in a small mud house inside the UNMISS compound. Life is hard in the camp, Chan says, but at least the family is together.

Like Jok, Chan says she is too afraid to leave the camp. Besides, she says, she has nothing to go back to in Malakal.

"My house was totally burnt down. I even don’t have any neighbors to live with. I cannot go back,” she says.

Trudging through thick mud brought on by heavy rains, Chan worries about the future of her children. No one has organized classes for kids at the UNMISS camp and Chan's children are not going to school.

Outside the camp, schools were closed when the fighting erupted in Malakal several months ago, and last week the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said men in uniform were occupying schools in three states, including Upper Nile.
Children living at the UNMISS compound in Malakal hang around outdoors near a UNICEF tent. There are no schools at the UNMISS base, and the schools in town are shut.
Children living at the UNMISS compound in Malakal hang around outdoors near a UNICEF tent. There are no schools at the UNMISS base, and the schools in town are shut.

The state has seen some of the heaviest fighting of the conflict as the two sides battle for control of some of South Sudan's most productive oil fields.

Before the conflict, oil fields in Upper Nile produced around 200,000 barrels per day of oil. Reports by international news agencies last month said oil production in South Sudan has fallen by around 30 percent since the fighting began in December.

The U.N. Security Council last month unanimously adopted a resolution to extend UNMISS's mandate for six months, and to change its focus from promoting development and nation-building to protecting civilians and ending the violence in South Sudan.

Among other duties, the new mandate calls on UNMISS "to deter violence against civilians, including foreign nationals ... in areas at high risk of conflict including, as appropriate, schools, places of worship, hospitals and the oil installations, in particular when the Government of the Republic of South Sudan is unable or failing to provide such security." 

On Monday, UNMISS inaugurated a new facility that it would probably have preferred not to open: a PoC, or Protection of Civilians site right next to the Malakal base.

The new 100,000-square-meter facility can accommodate 8,000 to 9,000 displaced persons -- around half the number of civilians who are sheltering at U.N. facilities in Malakal. 

Even before the facility was officially inaugurated, 3,100 people had been moved to the new site from the cramped, unsanitary U.N. facility where they have lived for nearly half a year.

'They sign things, but they don’t fulfill their promises'

Malakal has been relatively calm since President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar signed a new ceasefire agreement in May -- replacing the ceasefire agreement signed in January but never respected. However, few of the residents of Malakal who have been sheltering at the UNMISS base are willing to return to their homes, even if they still exist.

Leaving the U.N. camp is too dangerous, says Jok. He is not optimistic that things will change for the better in the near future, even if Mr. Kiir and Machar sign yet another peace deal. The two rivals in South Sudan's conflict were meeting with regional leaders in Addis Ababa on Tuesday to try to chart a way out of six months of bloodshed in South Sudan.

"They sign things, but they don’t fulfill their promises,” Jok said.
South Sudan's rebel leader Riek Machar (R) and South Sudan's President Salva Kiir exchange a signed peace agreement in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, May 9, 2014. Matthew Chol Jok, a displaced person in Malakal, says the country's leaders "sign things but don't fulfill their promises."
South Sudan's rebel leader Riek Machar (R) and South Sudan's President Salva Kiir exchange a signed peace agreement in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, May 9, 2014. Matthew Chol Jok, a displaced person in Malakal, says the country's leaders "sign things but don't fulfill their promises."

UNMISS chief Hilde Johnson said during a brief Monday visit to Malakal to open the new PoC site the cycle of violence in the town has destroyed people's trust in the government and the opposition.

"When they have tried to trust that stability is here again, the town is retaken again. So until they see complete peace over a long stretch of time, it seems that they won’t feel that they are safe,” she said.

You May Like

Photogallery Brussels Schools, Metro Reopen Under Heavy Guard

City remains under the highest threat alert level due to what authorities have described as a 'serious and imminent' threat of attack

Video Debt-ridden Refugees Await Onslaught of Lebanese Winter

Aid agencies are attempting to reduce potentially devastating consequences of freezing conditions and snowstorms that killed eight last year, including three Syrian refugees

UN Warns Air Pollution in Asia Pacific Has Rising Cost

Globally some seven million people a year die prematurely due to indoor and outdoor pollution with about 70 per cent of those deaths in region

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: voges from: juba
June 11, 2014 9:44 AM
Kuch from Bor - Nice conspiracy theory you got going there. Like most, doesn't stand up to scrutiny, though.

by: Kuch from: Bortown
June 11, 2014 3:55 AM
That is what every Nuer camping at the UN compounds always tell the news wires, that "they are not going back to their homes" for they fear they might be killed?

So are they going to live in those squalid conditions and depend on the UN hand out for life? The Nuers with their usual stupidity are letting themselves being manipulated by the UN; that they are being targeted by the Dinkas; when in fact the opposite is glaringly true.

This disaster was created by their Riek Machar, the US and with the help of the UNIMISS and some Nuers from the US that were shipped in from the overseas to South Sudan and roughly trained by the AFRICOM purposely to change the elected government of South Sudan, knew what the Nuers were aiming at.

But now that the Nuers' sleazy game with the UN and the corporate America plots against the South Sudanese people had been detected by the South Sudanese people.

The Nuers are now refusing to get out of the so-called UN compounds, because: Firstly, the UN is keeping them hostage in those squalid conditions, purposely to keep the UNIMISS in South Sudan on the pretext of protecting civilians, while it continues to look for ways to generate more wars in South Sudan just like, the UN did in Congo. And finally, the Nuers are cheated that they would be resettled to America or Europe.

My Nuer cousins are the South Sudan's brats; most Nuer elders to be honest; but chiefly their principal, Riek Machar is the best example of the Nuers' brat. He is the most stupid and shallow minded South Sudanese with a Phd we know around.

Young people like myself are questioning if at all, Riek Machar is well educated like people made him to be? Riek Machar only wants to copy the steps that Dr. Garang followed to liberate South Sudanese people.

All in all, who would want to kill the Nuers in South Sudan? Riek Machar killed the Dinkas and brought back South Sudanese peoples over twenty years of progress, and know he [Riek Machar] is hoping to be let scot free this time around!

Good to him.

Now that the Nuers aim has been sha

by: Lisa from: Tx
June 10, 2014 11:09 PM
Am asking divine mercy to intervin in salva kiir's heart, please do it for Jesus. let their be peace hear the cry of the innocent. The fear in their hearts, they have lost hope in their children's education, health, land. where they live in peace. Please kiir set God's people free. Overcome evil with good. Think about the human suffering, every body is looking towords you. Am asking kiir to work with riek to come to peace and am asking you kiir your not a bad perston . your surounded by people who don't care ,they lie to you and you believe them, but now it time for you and riek never to let any death. Kiir your legacy is a head of you if you transfer power to Dr riek, you will still help the country to overcome the bloodshade.
The world is not caring, and why should they care if both of you are not brother's keeper. It is possible that you can be each other keeper for the shake of south Sudan. Guys forget your different ances and work for better south Sudan. Yes this will happen only when you kiir and riek mean the real peace. No one will ever bring peace to south Sudan, its both of you. Am asking south sudanese who really believe in peace in themselves without any interest of their own but for the betterment of south Sudan. Stop promotion of hate, but be your brothers keeper and sisters keeper.

By the Numbers

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs