Thursday, July 28, 2016

Violence imperils peace journalist friend in South Sudan
My greatest joy in traveling the world spreading the gospel of peace journalism is in meeting wonderful, diverse people. The downside is that many of my new friends live in less-than-secure locales, which leaves me constantly anxious about their well-being.

For example, recent violence in Turkey and Kashmir, where I did peace journalism projects last year, has me sending anxious “are you ok?” emails and Facebook messages.

Perhaps the most perilous situation for my peace journalism friends and colleagues is in South Sudan, where I worked on a peace journalism project in May. (For details on this project, see: ) When I arrived in mid-May, a precarious cease fire and power sharing agreement had been in place only three weeks. While there were high hopes among my trainees, there was also a keen understanding that the whole arrangement could crumble with the slightest provocation. Sadly, that’s what happened in early July, when factional infighting in Juba claimed at least 272 lives, sparked over 100 sexual assaults, and displaced thousands of South Sudanese. Another cease fire was put into place after several days of fighting, and seems to be holding, at least for now. (

This flare-up followed a three year civil war (2013-16) that killed at least 10,000 (no one really knows how many) and has displaced two million.

As the recent violence erupted in Juba, I couldn’t help but think of my friends, and especially a journalist who I’ll call Robert. (Using his real name could put him in jeopardy). He and I have corresponded since May, and I’ve come to respect him, and his work, even more during these last few months. When the violence flared, I immediately wrote Robert to inquire about his well-being. It was several long weeks before he was finally able to respond.

Robert wrote, “Here we are fine except that the security situation in the country is so scary. I am sorry to have delayed writing to you just because the current political situation in the country has made it very difficult…As I talk now almost all NGO’s have evacuated their staff and most offices are closed. As such we are badly lacking Internet. Today I have succeeded through a narrow chance.”
He said that the situation at the radio station where he is a reporter has become almost untenable. “We have got stuck because (an international media NGO) has not given a new contract to our station and we do not know yet the fate of the radio because we entirely depend on the donation from (the media NGO). We have now stayed for three months without salary.”

Robert’s emails echo what the media have been reporting—that the situation remains dangerous in South Sudan. “About on the cease fire in South Sudan, it is now very very difficult to talk about because what we are able to see between our leaders is now tribal hatred. It is difficult to predict the future of the country as far as peace is concerned without the intervention of the regional forces and pressure from the international community…The situation is tough and hunger is looming in the country and many people have now left South Sudan for Uganda. I wanted to evacuate the family but I have got stuck due to financial constraints,” he said.

Robert never asked for money. I wrote him to inquire how much it would take to evacuate his family to Uganda, but have not yet received a reply.

Perhaps if the amount is within reach, and we are able to figure out how to get the funds to him, there will be one less colleague and friend for me to worry about.

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