On-Site Reports from Our Peacekeepers

Voice from South Sudan, the Newest Country in the World

Captain Takuhiko Hosokawa
Staff Officer (Information), UNMISS 

On July 9th, 2011, South Sudan was born as the newest independent country in the world. On the same day, UNMISS (United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan) was established with the purpose of supporting this country.

In this report, as a member of the International Peace Cooperation Corps in South Sudan, I would like to tell you how I feel about UNMISS as well as about this country, through my life and work there.

1. The Country of South Sudan

South Sudan is an inland country located in eastern Africa; its size is 1.7 times bigger than that of Japan and the population is about 8.2 million. South Sudan used to be a part of Sudan, which is currently the neighboring country in the north. After the founding of the rebel SPLM /A (Sudan Peoples' Liberation Movement/Army) in 1983 and the ensuing civil war, which lasted for more than 20 years with the Sudanese government, the CPA (Comprehensive Peace Agreement) was concluded between the Sudanese government and  SPLM /A in 2005. Following a six-year period of self-governance, a referendum was held in January 2011 to determine if Southern Sudan should declare secession, with over 90% of the population voting for secession. Then, on July 9, 2011, South Sudan became an independent county. With the assistance of the international community including the UN , the country is gradually developing, although it faces challenges such as the border dispute with Sudan, intertribal conflicts, and poor infrastructure.

Climate

I arrived in Juba, the capital city of South Sudan, in December 2011. The dry season had already begun, so I don't remember a rainy day there. It is cooler in the morning and evening; the temperature in the day time is above 40°C, with strong sunshine. My colleague who worked for UNMIS ( UN Mission in Sudan) in Khartoum told me that Juba was still cooler than Khartoum.

It is now February; it is getting slightly cloudy and it heavily rained for the past two days (although the rain stopped in a few hours). Anyway, I feel that the rainy season is coming. According to my South Sudanese co-worker, it is warmest in February; it starts raining around March and April, and the rainy season begins in full in May.

Economy

The official currency of South Sudan is South Sudanese Pound( SSP ). One SSP is roughly equivalent to 20 Japanese Yen.

Banknotes of SSP (From the front, 1, 5, 50, and 100 SSP. There is also a 25 SSP banknote. The image in the banknote is John Garang, the deceased leader of South Sudan's independence movement.)(img)

Banknotes of SSP (From the front, 1, 5, 50, and 100 SSP .
There is also a 25 SSP banknote. The image in the banknote is John Garang,
the deceased leader of South Sudan's independence movement.)

US dollars are accepted only in supermarkets and hotels for foreigners; we basically use SSP . Maybe they don't know about so-called "foreigners' price" in South Sudan; the same price is applied in local stores for both foreigners and local people. As far as I remember, I have never been ripped off. The country is not a tourist destination, and I guess the people are not familiar with foreigners.

In Juba, there are some stores for foreigners. Refrigerators, microwaves, and pots as well as other daily commodities, are available, which is more than I expected.

UN staff and foreigners are the regular customers of this Supermarket 'JIT.'(img)

 UN staff and foreigners are the regular customers of this Supermarket "JIT."

An apparel shop on the street(img)

An apparel shop on the street

South Sudan has rich oil resources, which constitute 98% of its revenue. It is an inland country, and there are no sea ports to export oil. Therefore, the country used to deliver oil through the pipelines owned by the Sudanese government and send it from the port in Sudan. However, negotiations with the Sudanese government over the transit fee for South Sudan's oil failed, and Sudan confiscated the oil from South Sudan. As a countermeasure, South Sudan has currently halted its oil production.

The South Sudanese government is now planning to build an oil factory within its territory and a pipeline to Kenya and Ethiopia. I'm concerned about how these plans will affect the future economic development of the country.

Transportation

In South Sudan, drivers keep to the right. In Juba, motorbike taxis called boda boda and customized shared-taxis are the prevalent ways to get around. There are many secondhand Japanese cars in the city. It is somewhat strange that most of them still have the Japanese logos on them.

There are no traffic lights in Juba, and therefore police officers control the traffic. Japanese people and my colleagues of UNMISS in Juba tell me that the driving manner in South Sudan is very bad. However, I personally think the manner is not too bad, because when I was working for the peacekeeping mission in Haiti ( MINUSTAH ), I saw a traffic control policeman nearly hit by a car and a one-way road congested with cars coming from the wrong way.

I have an UN driver's license to drive UN vehicles (left-hand and manual cars), but I only have a chance to drive fortnightly because one vehicle is allocated for four UN staff in our office. Anyway, I don't worry about the driving manner too much, by assuming that, when I drive a car, other drivers do not notice my car. One exception is that vehicles changing lanes without looking at the mirror are always scary. (Actually, many cars don't have mirrors at all.)

Boda Boda, the transportation device for the people, on the streets of Juba(img)

Boda boda, the transportation device for the people, on the streets of Juba"

Infrastructure

There are only a few paved roads in Juba. Many of the roads around the city are not surfaced, though some of them are now gradually being improved. Hotels and supermarkets secure a power supply with generators, but the power often goes down. It seems that charcoal is used for cooking, though I have not personally seen it; gas is not used. It is observed that water is provided to the water reserve tanks of houses and facilities by water tankers. As for telecommunication, mobile phones are widely used in Juba. Wi-Fi and external modems are used for the internet. However, the network is not stable, and sending an e-mail from a free mail account is not easy; it is often hard to reach the login screen. It would take an hour to send an e-mail with heavy attachment like digital pictures.

A dusty and foggy dirt road outside central Juba(img)A tukul, traditional residential house, in South Sudan(img)

A dusty and foggy dirt road
outside central Juba

tukul, traditional residential house,
in South Sudan

Water tankers lining up at the water station built by USAID(img)A dock at the Nile River in the settlement of the Bari ethnic group in Juba(img)

Water tankers lining up at the water station
built by USAID 

A dock at the Nile River in the settlement of the Bari
ethnic group in Juba

Sanitation

The sanitary situation is poor, but I found that there was less rubbish on the streets than I expected. (Please allow me to compare it with Haiti, where cars seem to just drive over the rubbish.) At the beginning, I was nervous about eating fresh vegetables, but now I enjoy eating them. Of course, I drink bottled water and don't use ice. So far, I'm staying healthy; no colds and no diarrhea. Because I have eaten various things while I was working in Nepal and Haiti, maybe my body is immune to different food.

Safety

In South Sudan as a whole, there are intertribal conflicts over cows and bordering issues with Sudan. However, the situation in Juba is stable. I don't worry about my safety when I walk around in the daytime. At this moment, there are no obvious anti UN groups, and that makes me feel safe.

On the other hand, it seems that the system of surveillance by the intelligence organization is well established in South Sudan even after the independence from Sudan. Especially, I think we must be very careful when we take a photo.

SPLA soldiers jogging on the street in Juba(img)An SPLA car running in Juba (The color of the license plate of SPLA cars is red.)(img)

 SPLA soldiers jogging
on the street in Juba

An SPLA car running in Juba (The color of the license plate of SPLA cars is red.)

2. Working with UNMISS 

After a one-week induction training and registration in Entebbe in Uganda from November 29, 2011, I arrived in Juba on December 4. Almost three months have passed already.

I'm working for JMAC (Joint Mission Analysis Center) as a Database Developer at Juba 3 (generally called " UN House"), located on the outskirts of Juba. In short, JMAC is a division to manage the vast amounts of data created by UNMISS ; information concerning the missions (all the information, including politics, economy, legislation, general crimes, and the military) is supposed to be summed up at JMAC , and such information would be sent to the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General through the JMAC analysts for her assessment of the situation. What I said is just an ideal thing; what we are doing now is putting together information and building relationship with information providers taken over from UNMISS , as well as doing routine work with limited staff.

 JMAC basically consists of the headquarters, the analysis section, and the database section, where I work. In particular, I mainly categorize reports sent from UN organizations including UNMISS and OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) and archive them so the analysts can make use of them whenever they are needed. Also, I create a statistical materials featuring such as the numbers in the report, thinking ahead what materials will be required by the analysts. The routine work is somehow manageable. Different sections forward information to JMAC . Reading through the information, I can vaguely anticipate what the country of South Sudan will be like in future (just my personal feeling). So, I find my job here very interesting, although it is simple. Also, I find it meaningful to communicate with the Secretariat of the International Peace Cooperation Headquarters of the Japanese Cabinet Office, Ministry of Defense, the Japanese troop in South Sudan and the Japanese Embassy.

English was, and is still, a big challenge for me. The acting chief of JMAC is from China (currently the posts for the Chief and Deputy Chief are vacant), and, needless to say, other staff members are from various countries such as Spain, France, Canada, India, Bangladesh, Yemen, Gambia, and South Sudan. At the beginning, I found it very hard to understand the pronunciations of "r" by the rolling tongues of South Asian and Middle Eastern people, and "p" with Arabic accent which sounds like "b." (As a simple example, a "personal computer" is pronounced like personal kompyurtal". "Copy" sounds like "coby," and "paper" like "baber.") It could be possible to understand such accents if we know how they pronounce their English beforehand. However, I still find it difficult. One day I talked with an American person, and thought his English was very clear (though he probably had an American accent). JMAC staff may find my Japanese accent difficult to understand, so it is undoubtedly a mutual thing.

Another thing I would like to mention is the kindness of my colleagues. It's a supremely friendly atmosphere, although different concepts of work and sense of time are sometimes stressful. I've just realized that if I work sincerely, like I did in Japan, it would be highly appreciated.

Juba 3 (the UN House) Headquarters Building(img)

Juba 3 (the UN House) Headquarters Building

Me, at the JMAC office(img)

Me, at the JMAC office

Picnic with JMAC staff (I'm in the back row second from right.)(img)

Picnic with JMAC staff (I'm in the back row second from right.)

3. Closing

I spent New Year's Day in Haiti last year. I never expected to celebrate this New Year's Day abroad again. Previously I worked in Nepal as a liaison officer of the Cabinet Office and then I became a member of the Japanese Self-Defense Force engineering unit dispatched to Haiti. Currently I'm working in South Sudan as a staff officer. I appreciate that I have been given these unique opportunities, because there are many things to learn from working in various posts of different countries.

I watched the arrival of the engineering unit from Japan with deep emotion. Rolling up my sleeves as a Japanese representative here, I would like to work hard for another three months so that I can be of help for the people of South Sudan.

In January 2012, welcoming the advance team of the engineering unit(img)

In January 2012, welcoming the advance team of the engineering unit

February 2012, Juba