South Sudanese have gone through a difficult historical period. No one wishes to go through that history at personal level. Bit women, men, youth or children, none of them would wish to experience this in life. That period covers approximately the span of over five years. During that time, a civil war took place and claimed millions of lives. The source of that civil war was the political crisis between South Sudan President Salva Kiir and his former Vice President Riek Machar.
The War started when President Salvar Kiir alleged that His Vice President Riek Machar planned to overthrow his government. Through this civil war, millions have been killed and other were left homeless. Women and children were the main victims.
Civil war has shut down hopes of the majority, but it has created new opportunities because in every situation, there is always a chance of opportunity. It is therefore fitting to say, it is possible to “Make the best out of the Worst” scenario like in the South Sudan. When that is done, a Burden can be transformed into Benefit.
There are people who lost beloved ones, lost properties and thousands were disabled. To make the situation Worse, some Peace keepers were implicated into raping refugees and some acts bordering being crimes against humanity. It is against human rights for Peace keepers to be involved in crimes against humanity. Under such negative conditions, one would not expect a Joyous moment. But in Wau region area, I witnessed children who were singing songs that demanding peace and dreams that seek positive outcomes.
Ngoromoro is the border area between Uganda and South Sudan. This is the main gateway into South Sudan but also a main exit gate of refugees into Uganda. Most of refugees in the camps are elderly people, women and children. Their life in the camp are very difficult without certainty of getting basic needs. Others die on way before they could reach safe zones.
On arrival to Uganda, refugees are received, and screening is done there by checking Polio vaccinations. After screening, refugees are loaded into trucks and being sent to various camps in Uganda. Parabek is one of those camps that receives them.
As a matter of fact, Food, Shelter and Clothing are universal human Basic needs. Therefore, distribution of these human basic needs is done almost every day in the refugee’s camp. While parents are busy receiving these human basic needs, children do play around even though if you look at their faces, sadness and uncertainty are visible on these innocent kids.
Another major refugee camp is Bidibidi. This camp was officially opened in August 2016 and up to now it is the largest refugees camp in the World. Daadaab camp in Kenya was the largest before Bidibidi outnumbered it.
Bidbidi is found in Yumbe district located in the Northern part of Uganda. It has more than 800,000 refugees, most of them from South Sudan and few from The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The camp has length of 48 kilometers from one zone to the other. Of all, there are about five zones and the camp have 250 square meters. One need to visit and spend days in order to realize how refugees can take the best out of the worst. I made a trip to Bidibidi camp and this essay results from eyes on experience.
Refugees have started to familiarize with life in the camp. Some of them are even considering not returning home when they are given that opportunity. Each passing day, there is a sign of hope in the eyes of these refugees and therefore, some are considering this camp to be their permanent home. Rather than going home in an insecure environment, they feel happy and safe to be in the camp.
As a way of showing their potentialities, some have started to display their talents in sports, singing, saloons and other hand craft work. The camp has all important social services and therefore it is even difficult to differentiate it from other local cities. Established social services in the camp are water, power, hospital and spiritual centers.
Life in the camp can be dehumanizing and deprive people of their valuable talents and dignity. Most youth have realized this and decided not to give up. They are showing their potentialities through different vocations. Some are excelling in studies and social work. Sense of community is so high such that everyone in the camp is able to find something worth to do and contribute to the life together.
My Coligue Kassim Kayiira while interviewing Mr. Denis Isiah, the Barber in one of the Saloon found in Bidibidi Camp.
In recognizing their potential and their vocations, most of them are given Passport to travel to other countries where they can offer their services. This is done by Rwanda in East Africa. The passport aims to give the refugees free access to any country in the world without any objection to the original. There are health experts, carpenters, sports, innovators, masons and other competencies. Through life in the camp, their potentialities and talents have been recognized and put to usefulness. This is exactly what I mean by “taking the Best out of the Worst” or transforming Burdens into Benefits.
It is expected that with signing of peace agreement between President Salva Kiir and his deputy Riek Machar, new opportunities and space can be found for refugees to live positive life. This peace agreement was signed before President Yower Museveni of Uganda, President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya and other high-ranking diplomats. It was in August 2018. The question remains: “Will this Peace agreement be the solution of peace in South Sudan”?
The positive experience gained by many South Sudanese through life in the refugee camps, can be used to transform and create a new South Sudan. Leadership is needed in this area of utilization of potentialities. Present leaders in South Sudan ought to realize that the future of South Sudan belongs to the Youth whose experience gained through the civil war. Taking seriously their aspiration is a must if we need to put to an end of civil wars. This is a precious opportunity which should not be left to slip away. Out of Bitterness comes of Sweetness. Out of Worst experiences can come out the Best future for everybody. And out of Burdens, Benefits can be gained.
Civil war in South Sudan is caused by ethnic tensions. Even though all are South Sudanese, but they belong to sub-ethnic groups that still nurtures hostilities. What is needed is politics of inclusion that will accommodate all ethnic groups in governing the country.
Modern Democracy as seen and taught by Western countries, cannot bring sustainable peace in South Sudan. It is very important that the people and institutions of new South Sudan come together to decide on the future of their country.
South Sudanese are scattered all of over the world. Coming together from Diaspora is a first step to transform burdens into benefits. These benefits were not planned by the authors of civil wars, but they have come out as a result of bitter experience.
This feature story is prepared by Merabu Birakashekwa, During the Inter University Media Challenge