South Sudan: A Hidden Tour Of Juba, The Newest World Capital

As South Sudan declares its independence, its capital city Juba is a complicated and fast- growing metropolis, teeming with prostitutes, adventurers, refugees and NGOs

South Sudan is ravished by poverty, but has oil (babasteve)
South Sudan is ravished by poverty, but has oil (babasteve)
Christophe Châtelot

A rope suspended across the street in Gumbo Market marks the entrance to Juba. A long line of trucks, blurred by the heat and dust, waits at the makeshift border – guarded only by a handful of policemen.

Brazilian chicken, Chinese refrigerators, Kenyan cigarettes, vegetables from Uganda and medicine from India…the cargo heats in the sun. David Grassly, the head of the UN representation in Juba says that in 2005 "beer used to be brought here from Yei by bike, 90 miles south of here, near the Democratic Republic of Congo and former Republic of Zaire." The reason: only bikes could zigzag between the mines left during the second civil war in Sudan (1983-2005).

Six years later, as it declares its independence, South Sudan still imports most basic foodstuffs. Trucks have to drive many miles to provide water to homes that do not have electricity either.

However, the city is growing and so is its population from 200,000 to 1 million in just six years. Juba looks like a city taken straight out of an African western. Makeshift houses made of bricks and sheet metal spring up everywhere. "It's anarchy" says Dennis Daramalo, the king of the Baris tribe. The Baris have been living on the shores of the White Nile the longest, and technically own the land in Juba. "It's anarchy and misery here. I've been to South Africa and Zimbabwe where the traditional chiefs live in palaces," he says enviously. His house is the biggest one in the area but is hardly anything special.

One still needs a vivid imagination to see Juba as a future capital. But that's exactly what it became Saturday, as South Sudan officially declared its independence from the North, after voting the move in a referendum in January.

From now on, Sudan will no longer be the biggest country on the African continent.

The Global Peace Agreement (GPA) signed at an end to the second civil war in 2005 triggered a wave of immigration from the North to the South. Even people who had fled the war slowly returned to South Sudan. NGOs and UN workers also came to Juba; a new Eldorado that became a place of hope and ambition even for people from the neighboring countries.

Anjelina is one of them. Between two games of cards she sells her body to truck drivers and to slightly-drunk soldiers for just a handful of cash. The 22-year-old woman's face is puffy from "Kwete," a local beer made from corn and sorghum. She came here a few months ago from Uganda with her sister. "There was no future there" she said.

But business isn't always good. "It's all right when police close the road, because truck drivers stop," says Gladys, who runs a tobacco and mobile phone shop. "We got here a bit early, before the market opens," she says.

Oil and Asians

The construction of Juba's central market has just begun. It's being built on the other side of the tracks, not far from the new Telecommunications Ministry commissioned by the Chinese. The broad wasteland and its grazing cows with huge horns will soon disappear.

People have come from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Zambia and Lebanon. The youngest generation drive "boda-boda," Chinese taxi- motorcycles, run small shops or construction companies or import computer equipment, cauliflowers, water, toilet paper...a bit of everything since nothing is really produced locally in the oil-rich nation. Some of them make a fortune especially when catering to hotels. More and more tourists come here, spending the night in shipping containers converted into air-conditioned hotel rooms with cable TV and WiFi. The cost: 150 or 200 dollars.

"South Sudan has no industry, no big companies and no qualified work force" says the head of the Peace Dividend cabinet. Some complain about the number of foreigners in Juba. "They've been faster than us," says Diing Manok Ngor. "We only learned how to fight, or we were in exile when they started to come here. Isn't it too late for me?"

After years in exile, Ngor came back from Australia a few months ago to evaluate the local market which he considers competitive in some areas. His dream is to set up his own construction company in a city under construction. However, he has neither capital nor contacts in the Sudan's People Liberation Army - a former guerilla group which has become the country's armed forces.

"The former rebels have money and power to develop a country where 85 percent of the people are illiterate, but that has oil," says Melody Atil, founder of Peace Dividend. Three quarters of Sudan's oil reserves are in the South. The question is whether they will reproduce the North's political model (without the Sharia law), where a small elite controls everything. Atil says, that's exactly what the South needs to avoid if it wants to develop.

However, many analysts question the new country's viability. Some say it's a "pre-failed state," meaning an unfinished dream. "Many things have been done since 2005," says UN worker David Gressly. "The city was in ruins." This after SPLA rebels bombed Juba, a strategic region for the Sudanese army and supplies had to be brought in via planes or protected convoys on the Nile.

He adds that "the South's doesn't have its public services yet. They've only begun dealing with public affairs since the Global Peace Agreement. They're still learning."

Meanwhile, the presidential palace has been rebuilt for thousands of dollars. South Sudan's leader Salvar Kiir has been living in it since 2005. The South Sudanese government is also very proud of having built tarred roads, even though they total only a few dozen kilometers in a country as big as France. Most of them surround oil platforms near Juba platforms run by Asian companies.

Read the original story in French

photo - babasteve

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Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.

"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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