I spent a life changing four and a half weeks in South Sudan last summer; on a field research trip for the African Peace Journal. South Sudan is a beautiful country, with valleys and rivers that flow ferociously during the wet season, the bright orange sun, green, thick forests and dark red soil; full of surprises and a life time of experiences.
I remember one hot sticky evening; we were all huddled around a tiny table unshelling peanuts/g-nuts for the South Sudanese. It was bonding time for the family I had been privileged to become a part of. We cracked jokes, we laughed at and with each other and then from nowhere, suddenly someone shrieked in pain. As we turned to see what had elicited such a shrill we realised brown fanged ants had come quietly into the house through the door, through the walls and had privatised the house without notice! Before long everyone was shrieking and jumping and stripping. We spent most of the late evening fighting muru muru (brown ganged ants). I had never experienced such a vicious attack from such a seemingly insignificant creature! An ant of all things! That evening I was educated in natures, humorous practical.
Owing to my combatant evening, I was late for school the next morning. That in turn occasioned for a scolding from the head teacher, but after relating my battle with the muru-muru, I saw a sparkle in his eye as he said, “Now you have truly experienced South Sudan”. At first I didn’t appreciate his amusement with my ordeal, but then he began educating me on the importance of these unruly creatures to the community’s wellbeing. He spent the morning explaining that the muru- muru were vital to life and a blessing. He described how they are able to kill snakes, cockroaches, rats, scorpions and anything their fangs find to overpower together! I spent the week, watching the muru muru trail and making sure they were nowhere near my little dwelling. I will never forget this evening and although I was scared to death of the muru-muru and could not fall asleep for a whole week for the fear they would return. They had earned my respect! I was officially afraid of them! They had made me dance around and strip in the presence of people I had only known for less than 14 days!
Reflecting on this experience I am reminded of the conflict situation in South Sudan. Soldiers always on guard, war constantly raging, army tankers passing through the roads and convoys of humanitarian aid constantly tracking to displaced peoples. More than half of South Sudan’s population is under the age of 30 and of that percentage there are more males than females. The general scheme of the situation is that there are no jobs, no farms on which people may labour and no industries except in the oil groves, others do not attend school in order to find ways to provide for their families. Girls are married in their teens and young men drive motor bikes for a living. The rest pass time sitting in the market, waiting for something to happen; anything, and life carries on.
One cannot help but notice the presence of purposelessness of the youth. Idleness is a war machine! I remember while I was in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, big struck loads of young men would convoy in the street, transporting new army recruits to training camps. The war in South Sudan feeds on the youths idleness. The nation is however lulled in the normalcy and complacency of armed conflict, the common place repercussions that perpetuate poverty are dulling their ability to resist a state of perpetual conflict.
I was wondering the other day that what if there was a way of breaking the cycle of perpetual conflict! What if one could shut down the machine that fueled conflict? What if the youth were given options? Would war perpetuate? I believe that the youth are like the muru muru!!! When well equipped, instead of feeding into the war effort, they can transform the nation. There is need for less politics and more investment in real people. We need less ineffective AID systems and more sustainable, life changing, mind altering true education for sustainable development. There is need for a different story of an army of youth rightly trained to lift the plight of a war ravaged land. This is real development; true education is the weapon for peace. We know after all that the biggest battles by nature are fought in silence, when a tree grows on a rock and muru-muru privatises a house.
Rutendo Urenje (Sweden) – Peace Builder with African Peace Journal.