For a capital city, Juba has a surprisingly new and even temporary feel. Having never served as a colonial outpost, there are no remnants of luxurious hotels or crumbling ornate facades lining the town center as seen in many other African capitals. The U.N. is housed in a compound filled with rows of trailers. A former garrison town during Sudan’s two consecutive civil wars, Juba was selected as the new capital of the semi-autonomous region of southern Sudan as recently as 2005 during the signing of the peace deal that brought the war to an end. Its population rapidly multiplied, attracting businessmen, motorbike and taxi drivers, and translators from around the region, as well as aid workers, peacekeepers, and diplomats from around the world.
Juba is now a boomtown, and it seems like many of the people you meet are here because of the peace deal. Promoting peace is a catchphrase that finds its way into even the most unlikely places; consciousness about the South’s monumental decision next year on whether to secede and form its own country permeates daily life. (During my recent trip, my colleague Maggie Fick pointed out her favorite billboard in town, an ad for a Sudanese airline, which reads: “Your flight with us is an investment in your baby nation.”)
Juba presents economic opportunities as the city develops and the chance to get involved in work to help set the country on a more peaceful path following more than two decades of war this region has experienced. According to stories I have heard, people are enticed by the combination. Rarely do you meet someone “from” Juba, but the stories people tell of how they came to live here are remarkable and often tie in to the peace deal that gave Juba its prominence.
Even the pop stars.
In 1992, Sudan was in the midst of a bloody civil war that would leave an estimated two million people dead. Duop was a 10-year-old living with his parents in Akobo, a town in southern Sudan near the border with Ethiopia. The war had come to Jonglei state and the southern rebel movement, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, was recruiting able bodies – even the small ones. Duop became a soldier in SPLA’s “Red Army,” a group made up of boys, and fought for two years before the SPLA delivered many of the young soldiers to Pugnido refugee camp over the border in Ethiopia. “They let the young ones be taken to the refugee camp because we were not able to survive,” Duop explained.
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This post is part of a new series that will appear every Thursday on Change.org’s Stop Genocide blog.