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"People just sat under a tree, that is how they used to solve their problems"

South Sudanese change-maker Augustino Lucano on conflict resolution

by Augustino Lucano

» Download audio file 'augustino_maaji_podcast.ogg' (19MB)

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Fishing in Maridi (Equatoria region of South Sudan), photo: Akashp65
Fishing in Maridi (Equatoria region of South Sudan), photo: Akashp65
Thatched roof earthen walled hut of the Dinka, in Juba - South Sudan (photo: Fabrizio Demartis)
Thatched roof earthen walled hut of the Dinka, in Juba - South Sudan (photo: Fabrizio Demartis)
young girl hangs the South Sudan flag
young girl hangs the South Sudan flag
Art and craft of South Sudan (photo: Steve Evans)
Art and craft of South Sudan (photo: Steve Evans)

Augustino Lucano - Maaji Peace Centre of South Sudan (Podcast/Interview Transcript) 

 

What is the Maaji Peace Center? 

 

Talking Maaji is because of the chief who had that vision since 1970, so then, currently he started thinking of relocating the people back to Maaji, because the people were relocated during the war time, people went to the mountains to live in the mountains and then Maaji was left in 1982. So, they left the place until 2004 when the chief thought he can reconnect the road to a certain place but then it did not happen because people are still in the mountains. 

 

And then, in 2011, I had that connection with the chief talking about the centre and why it is important. So, he said that because Maaji is, first of all, it is a land, it is very fertile land. People used to cultivate grains, millet, sorghum and different kinds of food. So, then the chief thought that if people can go back there then people can cultivate and they will reduce their hunger that happens all the time there. So then, he mobilized the community, he got 20 people, he said, could you guys go and stay there, and then they contacted another community who are neighbours, and they came and had a meeting there. 

 

So, they had a meeting, it was just a simple, simple meeting. People just sat under a tree, that is how they used to solve their problems, they sat there, then they talked about, "We have the grass, we have the water." Then the other community doesn't have the water, so then there is a conflict. When they come, they bring their cows, so then our community will say why did they bring their cows here. Then, you will have these young boys who will go and steal the cows from that community. Then, there was a conflict of killing sometime. 

 

The young people will lose their life because they go and steal, and then the other young one, because they keep the cattle, they have to watch who is coming to steal. And then it became really hard. This community comes by force to occupy the area, and our people were not happy about it, then the chief called both tribes and said come, that's when they go and they sat down, and say: "First, we have water. We have grass. Why can't we not share it." 

 

He talked to my community: "Why can we not share that resources." Then people were like: "No because these guys they bring their cows, they will come and destroy our land, destroy our gardens, and then the chief will say: "No, we have cows too. So then, we can separate that. Let us look at why we can be together. First of all, why do we fight each other?" Then they resolved their problems, and they said okay, the centre, because it is central, so they have to share the water, the land in Maaji. This is how Maaji came and existed. 

 

And then the government was cooperating with the chief. The chief asked the governor of Eastern Equatoria if he can provide the police to come and stay in the centre. It is a very remote area, so even the police can not go and stay, because it is just a forest compared to other small places. So, everybody's scared to go there. But then the chief said we can not burden the land. So then the five police officers went this year they went and they joined the community. So, they had been settling there. 

 

Then, I tried to coordinate with the chief, and ask: "How can we support them? How can we support him, so that he can support the centre?" So, then this is where the chief is coordinating with me and the community. We are very few, not even a hundred here who are supporting the centre there. And then sometime we figure out what can we do. We just encourage people to go and cultivate, and then they started cultivating this year. But then, because the rain came late, the first crops went and they started again. So, now the garden is not even ready. So, when I was there, and I talked to the chief: "What is going on now?"

 

Because I was going to do the workshop between the two tribes, and because the other tribe comes when it is dry season, but this is rain season, they just left like two weeks ago when I arrived there. So, I was going to do a workshop. So then I talked to the chief and then the chief decided that, you know, because there is a drought and a famine, and I saw people who are really starving, and then I talked to him and I said: "What can we you do?" and he said: "I don't have anything to support the community." You can see because we were sitting in his place, and then people were coming from the villages. You can see the young boys like fifteen or ten, they will come with their chicken or their goats to sell in that small town so they can buy food. 

 

Then, I talked to the chief, and the chief said: "If I have small money, I can buy food, and then I can call the community to come and pave the road that he [previously] mobilized the people [for] in 2004. So then, I said: "We don't really have the money, but I will go and talk to the community, and if we have a small amount, even a hundred, whatever, we can send it to you, and you can do that." And then I came back and then I talked to the group. We are only maybe about six or seven, so then we contributed a small amount, 400 hundred dollars, and then I sent it to Juba, and then the chief sent the other boy to go and pick the money, and then he bought the corn, the maize, about ten bags of maize, and then he calls people from Maaji Centre. 

 

We have the chief who is representing the centre, who is my uncle, and then the other elders also who are supporting him. So they came this week to collect the grain. Just a small thing like that, so the chief is thinking that because the community is so isolated, the only way is to have the road to go to the main other towns, so then people can do business. Local people who have businesses can come to the area, and that way people can at least get something. This is his vision since when he started in 1978, but back then he was not supported, but he was still working to make the road, mobilizing the community. 

 

This is how far Maaji Centre is. The people are there. The garden is there, and probably by next month the garden should be ready and people will be okay. But until that time people are still starving right now. 

 

What is your experience with Canadian foreign aid? 

 

Because when we started Maaji, we were looking for the connection, how we can connect the NGOs who are working on the ground to support the community there. So, such things like this should have been taken care of, and then there was a meeting here in Calgary where I went to meet with the Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister, who is working in South Sudan. He debriefed us what he is doing in South Sudan, under CIDA, CIDA is the head of all the NGOs, that's what we were told in the meeting, that CIDA is heading all of the NGOs and then the money will be given to the local NGOs who are working in the area to provide the services to the community, but then I just came back from there, from South Sudan. 

 

My village I left in 1986, and it is still the same village that I left in 1986. There is no any service, people are just depending on their own, they depend on their land. They don't have any doctors, they depend on this local people who practice the medicine locally, people are actually doing that. They are disconnected to their government so they don't actually have the services. Even though there is one service, you can imagine the whole community depends on that. It is just remote, even the clinics they have, some NGOs provide it, there are three nurses who have only been trained for six months so now they are helping the community, but people are depending on local people who practice their own medicine.  

 

What is that like for people who have an illness?

 

The three nurses who had been trained, they are acting like assistant doctors. There are three of them, one of them who had been trained in 1978, and then he had been working since that time. At least he has a lot of experience, but he has never gone to school for any medical experience. For the three, one of the NGOs who provided the medicine, they are giving to the people, but it is only very limited. People have had to walk for twelve hours to go and collect the drugs from the main headquarters. So then they will walk back to the village carrying the medicine that one of the NGOs are providing. But then, it can not cover the whole population, so that is why people are depending on their local medicine. 

 

So then, when I asked the lady who had the CIDA, how come if the NGOs are providing the services to the people who are struggling, like for instance my village and other villages, so how come there is no any service if there are so many NGOs, there were at least about 143 NGOs working in Southern Sudan, and Southern Sudan is not really that big. If all these NGOs are covering, they can cover then the whole place. If then, it was mentioned that there was 900 million dollars that were given to the NGOs to provide the services. So then, I just say, "If there was 900 million, the population is only 8 million." That's what I said to her. "So then, each one of the Southern Sudanese can have a million dollars." And then the lady said, we are not really giving the money but we are providing the services. 

 

But then, I haven't seen any service, for instance, in my community. There is no water, people are depending on the rivers. Women, they still go and collect the water from the river and they have to work a distance to get the water. They have to look for their firewoods. It is natural, and we get used to that, it's not to complain, but if we have the NGOs that are willing to help, then at least they can minimize the condition that people are dealing with. There is water, clothes. Then it will help women not to really go sometime, you will find the young girls will be raped because they tried to go to the water and people on the way can just get them, and that shouldn't be happening. But then nobody really says anything about it. 

 

So these are things. There are so many NGOs that can really provide services, even if just simple simple services. It doesn't have to be something special, just like, especially water. If there is water, then cases like the community fighting because of the water will be reduced. Then the water will be plenty, and then people can not fight for the water. 

 

What has been the role of the Peace and Reconciliation facilitators trained by government? 

 

There was supposed to be a national reconciliation, that should have been done for the whole country, but then there was a conflict between the president and the vice-president. So then the president stopped the reconciliation, but there were already trained people, about 200 people who were trained to go to the communities and train other people. Because we have ten states, so they called people from ten states to be trained, and then they can go and carry the services. So even though the reconciliation stopped, but the 200 people who were trained, they started now having workshops to bring more people, they are continuing with their action. Recently in Torit, they had a workshop. All the chiefs were called to go to Torit to learn about reconciliation. 

 

So, the reconciliation is going, but it is very slow. It is very very slow, even though it is happening, but it is still basing in cities, the people within rural areas, they are still waiting for these people, for instance in Torit, when the chiefs were gone for the training, then they will come and spread the message. Like the paramount chief, the paramount chief is having at least thirty chiefs under him, and then he will train the thirty chiefs, and then the thirty chiefs will conduct the reconciliation. But then, it is really really slow. But it is acting. There is action. At least people are carrying the reconciliation. 

 

There was one person in Magwe, Magwe is in Torit, they had a conflict, so they had to reconcile. So then they went to the community and said: "We as the leaders made the mistake, so we want the people within the community, when they have problems, they have to reconcile so that we can forgive each other." So that was a good example for the two people who had a conflict. And then, they, first of all, they talked about it, and then they went to the community and talked to the people. 

 

Have these workshops reached Maaji?

 

They haven't gone to Maaji yet. So, places like in Maaji and other places, these are the remote areas. It will probably take a while, if they were to speed up the national reconciliation, it would have been so easy to go to the places like in Maaji. So, it will take a while for Maaji. But even though people in Maaji, they already have the reconciliation among themselves, and they are just waiting for the government to also come and say: "You know it was a mistake made during the wartime, or currently." So then people will feel like the government really cares about them. 

 

The Eastern Equatoria governor was supposed to go to Maaji, even he told the people in Maaji to prepare the place where he was going to land using a helicopter, and people they cleared the area. Even when I went there, I talked to the chief and I said: "What happened?" And he said: Well, I just talked to governor recently and he said he's still coming, and this is almost a year now, and you can imagine sometimes the leaders are making mistakes of promising people and then they don't take that responsibility to say: "You know I have said something, I had to follow through." And then people will just look at them and say: "You know, they don't care about us." And they only care when they come for election. They want the community to support them so they can go and run the government. 

 

What was it like in South Sudan this year, in the wake of the political turmoil? 

 

When I was traveling, I was actually worried when I was leaving, because that was actually the time when the president was changing the government. So, I was just thinking like, What will happen? But then I just bought the ticket already, so I can not change it. Then I travelled. As I got to Juba, and I spent a day in Juba, there were some friends who came and I talked to them. They didn't really pay attention about what was happening, but then I talked to the elders. 

 

There were two elders who followed really closely what was happening, and then when I asked them: "What do you think what will happen?" The first one of them said: "Well, the president has done at least a great thing of changing the government." And I was saying: "Well, why is it a great thing?" And he was saying: "Well, these people are corrupted." So the government has to change the people who are working with him because they are so corrupt, and it seemed like people were happy about that change because they think maybe when the government change new things would happen. 

 

And then I asked: "What do you think will happen? How will people react now?" And they say: "Well, we don't really worry about now. We are worrying about 2015, because we don't know what will happen at that time." That will be the time when people are running for election and we don't know how it will go, but right now they seem to suggest that there was no real threat, it was just the government change, and we need new people and people were happy about that new people are coming into the government, hoping that the new people will actually bring something new. But then, saying it will take longer, these people they don't get whatever they were hoping for, then they will just think like: "Oh, maybe the government, maybe the president made a mistake." 

 

But it seems like people didn't really worry about it. Like in Juba people were just doing there own businesses and everything was just, you would never notice anything. I thought like people were panicking, even though maybe there was small, small things happening, but then people they just thought that it was no immediate thing. I was told that the vice-president made a comment that he was not going to fight. His position was to be the president who will bring change, and then people seemed to cool down because the vice-president spoke. 

 

And I asked about the general secretary who was also fired, because then the president asked the general secretary not to travel. He was not allowed to travel within Sudan, he was supposed to traveling within, but not outside Sudan. Because the general secretary is someone who speaks out, like he is not afraid, he just spoke out and said, I didn't commit any crime, and he had to tell the president that they would have to go to the court, and the court would have to decide if he has done something wrong, according to the constitution. To him, he thought the government was acting wrongly. So, but then there were cases where the general secretary filed the case and I think the case will be going to the court, I don't know how. 

 

Could you describe what it's like in Juba? How are rural-urban connections made? 

 

When I was in Juba, the first time I just arrived at the airport, even though I went to Juba in 2008, I didn't fly, I just went through the road, I went through Kenya, and then by road I went to Juba. Completely, it is different, just like the businesses, other people who are coming from countries, Ethiopians, Ugandans, Kenyans. There are more people now going there to do business, and it seems like Juba, in business it is a great place. 

 

Even people are so friendly. In the airport, I did not have a phone. I had no phone, somebody who was going to pick, I had no way I can phone. So then I just asked one of the boys to buy the air ticket to call, and he said: "What do you want to do?" I said: "I'm just calling someone who is coming to pick." He just said, okay, he gave me the phone and then I said, okay, how can I buy the card. He said, just call, and then I phone, and then I started talking to him. And then he asked me: "Are you thirsty? Do you want to drink some water?" And he wanted to buy me water. And then I had to say, Oh, no thank you. Thank you for giving me the phone. And then we started talking about how is Juba, and he was just telling me things are good and he came from the place called Aweil. He came from Aweil, and I asked him what are you doing here. And he said he finished his holiday, so he just came to Juba to see his cousin in Juba. 

 

People are just so friendly, I felt at home when I arrived there. I didn't really know Juba that much, I was afraid, like how am I going to move around, but people are really friendly. And you are talking about the arts and crafts, like how can people in rural areas [connect with business in Juba]. I think it is a struggle because it seems like most South Sudanese are not really getting a knowledge about their arts, but there was a market in Juba where the women, they have a market where they make beads. There were about maybe ten or twenty women sitting under a building, like actually a good building and they make the craft and they put it there for sale, and they were just sitting there and making the beads, and I just went there and I talked to them. 

 

I really see their potential, that if women from rural areas can make that arts and crafts, and then they can take to a centre like that women's centre, or they can have them in different places like in Torit or in Kapoeta, these are places where people from rural areas can access, and I think that can be something that can promote even people who go there can buy their arts, and this is how we can connect. Even when I went there I had to buy some arts. 

 

There were more people who actually were selling their crafts who are the Kenyans. And I saw some of the Sudanese crafts, and I wonder whether it was made by Sudanese or if it was Kenyans who actually made the craft, but they were selling them. I saw that it was a great way that people can be connected. People can come all the way from rural areas to take their craft there. This is how they can actually earn their living.  

 

* Maaji is also spelled Magi or Magii 

 

NOTE: This podcast was produced in partnership with AlternativeMediaYYC.com and the Arusha Centre with the Calgary Working Group initiative to establish a new local of The Media Co-op in Calgary

 

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