Today I dared have a long walk from Juba town center back to office through a route I often trod before the events of 15th December 2013 and before a group of “locals” sat me down in the bush while on an evening jog in the neighborhood of our Juba office.
It is obviously more than a half-year since I walked past this once bustling neighborhood in which this afternoon I saw a signpost I had never seen before by the roadside that read, “Good Neighbors Head Office.” As I walked along the road I was struck by the absence of any form of human activity or the music that used to come from the many shacks scattered along the road, let alone the absence of people and the many abandoned homes with bushes growing in the once bare ground compounds.
I wondered where all the people had gone and what had happened to the various metal & wood workshops and the brick-making sites in this area? The haphazard electric cables which once criss-cross the road from one end to another from this generator or another where nowhere to be seen. An eerie feeling came over me as I trod along and I even became afraid that I might have made a grave mistake in taking this route which brought the unpleasant memory of that evening near Korok Guest House.
My situation was not helped when just ahead of me I saw several soldiers lying down on mattresses in an unfinished building that obviously before the war was meant to be a warehouse or factory building. Thank God, I went past this huge building without anybody stopping and I quickly changed course to a neighborhood that seemed to have more life by virtue one of the few institutions which seems to have been less affected by the December 15 crisis – a beer factory.
If I have never believed or got a glimpse of the effects of the civil war which South Sudan got itself into by the fallout between the senior leaders of the ruling SPLM party, there was no doubt that I saw it first hand this afternoon.
Somehow, I have been skeptical of the numbers of the internally displaced people, especially those who fled to the UN camps in Juba. But if this neighborhood is representative of the many once sprawling neighborhoods and slums, then there are really thousands of internally displaced people sheltering in the UN camps in Juba.
With this kind of situation, I wonder what some of my colleagues, some of whom have fled the country make of the jokes they used to have at lunch time in the dining hut about an imminent civil war. They used to say that they had fought the Arabs but they are yet to fight among themselves and being one who had seen effects of years strife back home in Uganda, I used to tell them that, “You guys are talking as if war is just like some football match where the loser walks home quietly or worse still as if you never lived in refugee camps”. Well, this year’s independence anniversary was like no other at our office. I remember being alone with my laptop at the dining room which in the past two anniversaries would be full of life – eating, drinking and loud arguments by our journalists.
Surely, like that song which is often heard on Juba airwaves says, “There is no good war and neither is there any bad peace.”