On-Site Reports from Our Peacekeepers

My Experience in South Sudan, the World's Newest State

International Peace Cooperation Assignment in South Sudan
Hiroshi Ono, Cabinet Office

Too simple a city to be a capital, but nevertheless filled with excitement and vitality is Juba, the place I am staying and the capital of the world's newest state, the Republic of South Sudan.

I have been here since April 2012 as a coordination and liaison officer of Japan's International Peace Cooperation Corps in South Sudan. I support Japanese staff officers in the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan ( UNMISS ) as well as the engineering unit of Japan's Self-Defense Force, liaise with relevant local agencies, and make daily reports to Japan. In these pages, let me introduce South Sudan, which I think is new to most of you, and explain the SDF 's activities that help the country's state-building.

In front of my workplace(img)

In front of my workplace

On South Sudan

Juba International Airport came as the first surprise to me as I entered South Sudan. You might imagine an international airport attached by a couple of colossal terminals, which are the last thing the Juba Airport has. When you disembark from the plane, you are asked to walk through immigration. You can see airport staff carrying checked baggage. The second surprise came when I stepped out of the airport and found no buildings as far as the eye could see despite being the capital. The tallest building I was able to confirm was five stories high at best.

Nevertheless, as the capital of the world's newest state, there are a lot of buildings under construction to draw your attention downtown. Streets are full of life. Markets are crammed with people and goods that are pouring into Juba from neighboring countries.

Konyo-Konyo Market, Juba's largest(img)

Konyo-Konyo Market, Juba's largest

Some of you might imagine that South Sudan is a dangerous place. I admit that I had been one of them before I came here. Since I started living here, however, I have gotten an entirely different impression. People cheerfully call me when I walk down the street, and I find them absolutely friendly.

With South Sudanese(img)

With South Sudanese

Unfortunately, tension mounted between Sudan and South Sudan when I started working here, and South Sudan would grab the headlines at times in Japan. My friends and my parents called me, asking if Juba was safe. And my unvarying answer is "Yes, it's safe and calm." There were certainly some sparse conflicts between North and South near the border that stemmed from boundary disputes, but those border areas are remote from Juba, and the conflicts had almost no impact on Juba. So, when I got serious emails from Japan, it was I who was surprised.

In the meantime, North-South tensions and the suspension of oil production have caused shrinking gas supplies due to the lack of dollars and soaring prices in Juba. I think relieving the tension and resuming oil production are indispensable for the future of the country.

A long line in front of a gas station(img)

A long line in front of a gas station

The Self-Defense Force's Activities

South Sudan was born as late as July 2011, while the lengthy civil war had ruined almost all infrastructure. Under the circumstances, the UN set up UNMISS , whose main mandate is to help South Sudan's state-building efforts. In response, Japan decided to dispatch an SDF engineering unit and upgrade the infrastructural situation, such as road conditions in Juba.

The first SDF engineering unit arrived in Juba in separate groups in January, and began to engage in road construction and other activities. The climate is harsh in Juba, with daytime temperatures over 50°C at times. The rainy season has crept in Juba since May, so sometimes it pours down. Under severe conditions like that, the Japanese unit has camped in tents for no less than four months. I cannot help being surprised.

Tents in the SDF camp(img)

Tents in the SDF camp

While they live in tents, SDF personnel can get decent meals. Instead of instant food they had eaten until March, they have cooked their own food since April, and the SDF site has become the only place you can enjoy Japanese dishes in South Sudan. I tried eating there, too, and was exhilarated by the long-missed Japanese specialties after eating only African meals for what seemed like forever.

The dishes of a day(img)

The dishes of a day

A medical team supports the activities of Japanese peacekeepers who perform daily duties under the highly challenging circumstances. Most staff members who provide medical advice usually work in SDF Hospitals back in Japan. When I got sick and used the medical service, I felt at ease with Japanese doctors.

The medical office is also in tents.(img)

The medical office is also in tents.

As of June 2012, the Japanese engineering unit continues to level the land for roads that lead to the water supply point, the UN apron, and the returnees accommodation site of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees ( UNHCR ). Let's take a quick look at those activities.

The unit's first task was to improve the conditions of the road that led to the water supply point, where trucks pump water that is for daily use among Juba citizens as well as UNMISS . The SDF engineering unit was tasked with leveling the neglected road. At some unleveled points, tires used to be stuck in mud and the truck could not go on anymore as the photo below shows. Local people highly appreciated the SDF 's job.

Unleveled ground(img)

Unleveled ground

After the SDF's work(img)

After the SDF 's work

The SDF has started developing the returnees temporary accommodation site (way station) of the UNHCR since June. Many South Sudanese live in Sudan, and they yearn to see their homeland. Although they are called returnees, they cannot return so easily. The UNHCR offers temporary shelter with great difficulty to people who have arrived in South Sudan. The SDF unit is in charge of the construction of an additional shelter. With the prospect of a further increase in the number of returnees, international agencies have strong hopes for the SDF 's activities.

The way station(img)

The way station

Aside from the regular work, some SDF members do volunteer work in orphanages on weekends make some repairs, clean rooms, and play with kids. I am very happy to see kids take to my colleagues and call them "Uncle, uncle!"

SDF members playing with kids(img)

 SDF members playing with kids

SDF members working at an orphanage(img)

 SDF members working at an orphanage

The UNMISS TV airs one of the SDF 's activities in an orphanage titled "Japanese Peacekeepers Win Hearts at an Orphanage in Juba." I hope you can enjoy it!

 UNMISS TV - Japanese Peacekeepers Win Hearts At An Orphanage In Juba

- Available for free.
- The Website above is not under Cabinet Office control.
- The Website above was visited in July 2012. The latest address should be confirmed by yourself.

In less than a month, I am supposed to leave here. What is a matter of course in Japan is not necessarily a matter of course in life in Juba. Power and water outages are common. Sometimes I feel it inconvenient, but I would have never empathized with the feverish excitement right after the independence if I had been in Japan.

With the help of the SDF and the partnership with international agencies and NGO s, the country is developing. Ownership is indispensable for the youngest country in the world to continue to develop and stand on its own feet. South Sudanese sometimes say, "Our country has few things. So we are going to build what we need." In this context, we need to support the country, giving our respect for their ownership. The support will not be a showy one, but I am convinced that the SDF 's operations do help in developing their ownership. I look forward to seeing a full-grown South Sudan when I visit again.

June 2012, Juba