By Anisha Desai
Our flight was to leave around 10:15 this morning, but we didn’t even board until 15 minutes after that. Then we sat on the tarmac for a bit as captain announced that they had to clear the flight through Khartoum and it would take about 10 minutes. About 25 minutes later I was beginning to wonder if they were going to be ordered to pull me and Mia off the flight in order for it to take off. But, right after that we took off.
Everything was green as we approached Juba; far different from the border area I saw of Chad and Darfur, where everything is brown and dry. Juba – the capital of South Sudan. I’d been told it was part “boom town” and part IDP camp and part military base. Others called it the “wild, wild West.” I can’t make that determination yet, but I’ll certainly share my impressions after we’ve had some time here.
When we got off the plane at Juba’s airport, no one directed us where to go. We simply walked around the plane in the rain and past a few others as we made our way to the VIP lounge in the airport. It was a bit startling to see a big red farm tractor with luggage carts hooked to it carrying luggage out to put on another plane soon to leave. I really regretted not having my camera at the ready – it was quite a vision.
We’re staying at the “Juba Grand Hotel” (which you can check out on its website) which actually isn’t too bad, considering Juba itself. There actually is wireless in my room! And I am able to use my cell phone/text message/etc, which I could not do in downtown Addis Ababa!!! Crazy.
Wednesday, 30 July 2008
Today is a big day here in Juba. 30 July marks the anniversary of the death of John Garang. Garang spent 21 years fighting for southern Sudan – in fact, for all the oppressed peoples of Sudan – and without his leadership it is hard to imagine that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between Khartoum and the south would have been signed. Just weeks after becoming Vice-President of Sudan and President of South Sudan, he died in a helicopter crash in bad weather. Not all believe it was an accident. There will be hours of ceremony here to mark the loss and celebrate his life.
Just as we were beginning our morning briefing here at the hotel we were greeted by representatives of the government of South Sudan, led by Dr. Cirino Hiteng, Deputy Minister for Regional Cooperation. In noting today’s ceremony commemorating the life of John Garang, one member of the governmental delegation left no doubt as to his belief that Dr. Garang was, in his words, “murdered.”
We also met this morning with Mary Kiden, Minister of Gender, Social Welfare and Religious Affairs. It was a really good meeting and the Minister was extremely clear about the needs of women in South Sudan, enumerating many, but particularly stressing the need for education for women and support for agriculture – 80% of farming is carried out by women and shortages have resulted in having to import food. Landmines and unexploded ordinance still pose a problem for cultivation, and less rain this year is also having an impact.
When we emerged from Minister Kiden’s office, we participated in interviews together with South Sudan television and radio.
We drove back to our hotel to bet met by Erin before we even got out of our vehicles to turn around and go back to where we’d been as an appointment had been confirmed for our delegation with H.E. Salva Kiir, President of South Sudan as well as Vice-President in the national government.
After warm welcomes and introductory comments, I’d asked if there was concern in South Sudan about the ongoing conflict in Darfur and possible ripple effects weakening the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the north and South Sudan in 2005. The President indeed said it was of deep concern; with so much focus on the unresolved conflict in Darfur and Khartoum doing nothing to end it, the CPA was not getting the support it needs, which could have very negative results. If the CPA were to not hold and the North and South to return to war, he predicted that the whole country would be pulled into the conflict which would also have an impact throughout the region. So many challenges for sustainable peace to be built.
Later in the afternoon, we headed out for the ceremony, which was held at Garang’s burial site. When we got there we were greeted by Minister Awut Deng. She led us to Garang’s grave then to sign the guest book, before we were all led to seats in front of the stage. The ceremony was packed with people, ringing the stage. The military was there in force, paying respects to their late commander-in-chief.
We arrived in time to hear Garang’s son speak, followed by a Governor. Then other dignitaries such as the Ambassadors from Egypt and the United States; a representative of the Arab League. Somewhat unexpectedly, Wangari, Mia, Dr. Gloria and I were also invited to the stage, but thankfully Wangari spoke for us all. After so many hours of speaking, it would have been uncomfortable, in my view, to have us all add our own words to the mix.
We then heard from the secretary general of the SPLM and finally from President Salva Kiir. During his speech, he paused at 7:09 pm and candles were lit to mark the moment Garang lost his life. The twilight sparkled with the flicker of the candles throughout the crowd. As the President drew to a close, I was startled when he thanked dignitaries for being there singling out myself, Wangari, Dr. Gloria and Mia. As our car worked its way through the throngs of people on foot and other vehicles to take us back to our hotel, when I mentioned that to the others, they all thought it excellent, since Wangari had been the only woman to speak – so why not name four women from the Nobel Women’s Initiative Delegation! ####