Archive for the month “August, 2013”


A couple of weeks ago the President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, dismissed his entire Cabinet, and his Deputy, in preparation for a re-shuffle.  His plan was to streamline the administration by reducing the number of ministries from 29 to 18.

For some days there was a hiatus, and then gradually ministerial posts were filled.  All except the Vice-President.

As part of the re-shuffle, the President dismissed the Vice-President, which was a potentially dangerous thing to do.

The Vice-President, Riak Machar, was one of the top leaders that guided South Sudan to independence.  Unlike the President who is a Dinka, Machar is from the Nuer, who for hundreds of years have fought against the Dinka over cattle and grazing rights.  One of the reasons that it took so long for South Sudan to throw off the dominance of Khartoum, is that the Dinka and the Nuer spent a lot of time and energy fighting each other rather than fighting the Arabs, and the Khartoum government was more than happy to keep those fires burning by supplying the Nuer with weapons.

So, when independence came, President Kiir gave the Vice-President’s job to Machar, as a way of trying to achieve national unity and to avoid further bloodshed.  Broadly speaking, it worked.

When these decisions were being made, there was another strong contender for the VP’s job, another war-time leader called James Wani Igga.  He is a Jur, from the southern part of South Sudan, but he took the decision to stand aside and make way for Riak Machar in the interests of peace and unity.

New elections are due here in 2015 and Riak Machar has made no secret of the fact that he intends to challenge Salva Kiir for the Presidency, which is probably why he is no longer Vice-President.  His rhetoric, so far, is reasoned and respectful to the President.  He argues that the President has been in power since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed in 2005 and should be given full credit for steering the country to its eventual independence in 2011 and setting it on the road to development.  However, argues Machar, the time is now right for a change and a new direction.

Last week, it was announced that the new Vice-President will be James Wani Igga.

A South Sudanese friend was explaining all this to me and saying that many people are pleased about the new appointment.  They believe that Igga deserves the promotion because, at a crucial moment, he sacrificed his own interests to the needs of the new nation.  My friend also said that many people thought that Igga was a good leader and would bring lots of qualities to the job.

Personally, however, my friend, who is a Dinka, was against the appointment.  When I asked why, the response was, “He is a very short man.  How can he represent our country?”

Oh well, nobody’s perfect.



All In A day’s Work.

So there we were, walking into town yesterday when this big Dinka, with a fierce face, walked right up to us and stood in our way. 

His face cracked into a broad smile and his right hand was offered for us to shake.  Cordial greetings were exchanged and he went on his way.

In his left hand, he had a spear.


Prepare for More Radio Silence.

Only four more sleeps … and we’ll be on our way home!

Contrary to what we were told before we left, VSO has agreed to pay for mid-term flights home for volunteers who are doing two-year placements.

Most agencies here send their staff out for R & R every three months because they consider South Sudan to be such a hard place to live.  VSO won’t go that far, but at least we get a break before our second year starts.

We’ll be out for the whole of September.  Yippee.  We can remind ourselves about white wine, cheese, tarmac, brown wholemeal bread and using a knife and fork in restaurants.

If I come across anything interesting I’ll try to keep blogging, but for those faithful readers who get up on a Sunday morning, make a cup of tea and log on, there is a sparse time a-coming.

WordPress is the ‘host’ of the blog and they produce statistics every day to show how many people have looked at the blog and which country they come from.

That means that I can compare the total number of ‘views’ from one month to the next.  I know, for instance, that, with four days to go, I’ve beaten last August and last February and I’m now chasing the total for May.  I also know that there have been nearly 300 comments since the whole thing started just over a year ago.  Geeky or what?

It’s a bit pathetic, I know, but it keeps me entertained and it’s good to know that someone, somewhere is following my aimless ramblings.  It also means that the pressure is on to keep posting so that the ‘stats’ don’t fall.

So, steel yourselves, and I’ll make sure that the full, normal service is resumed in October.




I’m a Celebrity…

I'm a Celebrity...

… get me in there.

One Small Step.

Last week Linda and I were involved in running a three-day seminar for all of the County Education Directors from the eight Counties in Lakes State, and all of their “Gender Inspectors”.

The central Government in Juba has a Minister for Gender, whose job it is to try to address some of the glaring inequalities that exist in this society between men and women, boys and girls.

Men run everything in Rumbek and even well-educated men have difficulty in taking women seriously. When Linda corrected some examination papers written by a senior teacher, his comment was “You may be an old woman, but you are as intelligent as me!” Heaven forfend.

I can’t escape the thought that the existence of a Minister for Gender has more to do with the need to be echoing the concerns of wealthy aid donors than any real concern to improve the lives and life chances of women and girls.  However, the Ministry exists at Central level, so it is replicated at State level and down to the Counties.

So, sitting in each County Education Office is a Gender Inspector, most of whom are men, inevitably, and whose job it is to …….?  And there lies the problem.  Nobody really knows what these Inspectors should be doing.

So that’s where the idea of a Gender Seminar came from. 

The first hurdle to overcome was to dispel the idea that ‘gender’ means ‘girls’ or ‘women’, because, if it does, it is easily dismissed as not very important.   We had to explain that when we look at Gender issues, we are looking at the interaction between men and women and the power relations between the two. 

This led us into a discussion of the difference between questions of ‘gender’ and questions of ‘sex’ 

For example, the fact that women have babies and men have deeper voices is a matter of sex.  It’s biological, it’s the same all over the world and it doesn’t change.

However, the fact that women carry water and do the cooking  and that men look after the cows has nothing to do with sex, it is a division of roles that is decided by society.

The fact that many parents will decide to send their boys to school and not their girls, (the logic being that it’s worth investing in the boys because they will stay with the family, whereas the girls will be married off into another family), is a gender issue.

The fact that when and to whom a girl will be married will be decided by men, regardless of the opinion of the girl or her female relatives, is a gender issue.

In our own society, the fact that it has taken years for the principle of “equal pay for work of equal value” to be accepted and that it still is not fully implemented, is a gender issue.

So our seminar touched on some deeply sensitive areas and, hopefully, set trains of thought going that had never been considered before.

An early response to some of these challenges was “But it’s part of our culture.”  We had to point out that the fact that something is part of the culture does not mean that it is set in concrete. Culture and concrete are two different things.

Not so long ago, it was part of Dinka culture not to send children to school.  That has changed.  Within living memory, as people here are fond of telling us, the Dinka wore no clothes.  It was part of their culture.  Now things are different.  Questions of culture and questions of gender are not immutable.

There is a mountain to be climbed before much will change for women in this part of the world.  This was illustrated by one of the sessions during the seminar which was on Gender-based Violence and how it impacts upon the education of girls in schools.

We first had to define ‘violence’ and that took us way beyond the idea of one person hitting (or shooting) another.  Violence was eventually defined as “ an abuse of  power that happens when an individual or a group uses their power over someone against their will or consent in a harmful way.”

This opened the door to the idea of emotional and psychological violence, sexual violence and even ‘economic violence’, the controlling of women’s access to money, jobs and financial independence.  But back to physical violence.

One of the most  lively discussions that arose was when we looked at violence within the home.  Two of the gender inspectors argued strongly that beating your wife is not violence and should not be considered in the same league as beating someone in the street. The logic was that it was sometimes necessary to punish and correct your wife, if she annoyed you or did something wrong.  After all, you paid cows for her, didn’t you?

This echoed the comment of another colleague in the Ministry who told us, with only the faintest twinkle in his eye, that there is no ‘domestic violence’ in South Sudan; only ‘domestic discipline’.  Our two Gender Inspectors, however, were defending their point of view with great earnestness and without the faintest hint of irony.

Some of the greatest revelations came when we distributed copies of the relevant sections of the 2008 Child Act and the 2012 Education Act.  These are actually the laws of South Sudan, that have been drawn up by Parliament and signed into law by the President.  The trouble is that laws get passed in Juba and then not disseminated to the States, let alone to the Counties, so no-one knows what they contain.

More than one County Director’s jaw dropped when he read that anyone caught administering corporal punishment in a school is guilty of assault and liable, on conviction, “to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years”.  In addition to that, anyone who witnesses ‘an infringement of a child’s rights’, (which corporal punishment definitely is), and fails to report it, is liable to a term of imprisonment of up to six months.

Well, that’s me then.  I’ve seen kids being whacked with a stick in a school and I didn’t report it to the police.  Six months in Rumbek prison doesn’t sound like much fun.  Fortunately there is a big difference between a law being enacted and a law being implemented.

Did our three day seminar make any difference?  I have no idea.  You just have to be optimistic that a new idea or a new thought planted today might lead to some re-thinking at some point in the future.  Rome wasn’t built in a day, and South Sudan certainly won’t be.

But, hey, during the three days of discussion, argument and challenge, nobody died, nobody fought, nobody even stormed off in a rage.  People listened, people talked and people discussed, so that’s not a bad start. 

Managing Expectations

Managing Expectations

When South Sudan started to emerge as a completely new nation, there was no shortage of NGOs, Governments and UN Agencies anxious to offer help with money, training, policy formulation conferences and all kinds of meetings which they wanted South Sudanese people to attend.

This led to a bit of an ‘arms race’ as different organisations offered different inducements for people to attend their conference rather than someone else’s.

This means that the first thing we had to explain at the start of our Gender Seminar was that there would be no T-Shirts or fancy conference bags. Although we would refund travel costs actually incurred, there would be no transport allowance and most of all, there would be no ‘sitting allowances’, which many organisation offer and everyone expects.

I had to point out that VSO is not a funding agency and that extracting the modest funding for this seminar from them was like pulling teeth out of a rhino.

The most important thing, that we did have to concede, was the need for an Attendance Certificate. There was huge disappointment at the idea that one would not be forthcoming.

So Linda and I sat for half an hour at the computer and designed one. Linda then spent about half a day going back and forth between the Director General, the Director for Gender Equity and Social Change and the computer, until the big men were satisfied and would add their respective signatures and, more importantly, their rubber stamps.

The resultant certificate has no real validity, but everyone was very happy to receive one, so what the Hell?

Welcome to the Conference Hall…

Welcome to the Conference Hall...

… of the Panda Hotel in Rumbek. Swish, eh?

Sorry, there are no pandas. Panda in Dinka means ‘Our House.’

Our Colleague Marial Holding Forth.

Our Colleague Marial Holding Forth.

Our main brief in Rumbek is capacity building and Marial is one of the people we work with most.
He is bright and in his youth he was a ‘youth activist’ so he has some opinions and some energy with which to so something back them up.

Group Work

Group Work

The normal style of teaching or lecturing here is that the person with all the information stands at the front and everyone else listens, so group work does not come naturally..

People have actually said to us that they don’t like group work and that it is our job to tell them the information and their job to write it all down.

Small steps.

More Group Work…

More Group Work...

… because it works.

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