In a South Sudan State of Mind

Af Kim Karina Kaagaard

This is the first blog post in a series related to the upcoming project ‘Oyee! Give Peace a Chance’ – a project that focuses on the world’s youngest nation and how raptivists there use rap as a way to promote peace and reconciliation.

An optimistic tone was never harder to strike. Having known such adventures and challenges, having experienced the multitudes and beauties of the people and the land, and having cried, laughed and sworn my head off – for two amazing years in South Sudan – my heart is breaking. As I write this, the United Nations has confirmed the newest rounds of massacres of civilians, and South Sudan seems to have surely descended into what seems like the deepest abyss.

It started so well

I may live for another 100 years without ever experiencing the excitement and optimism that I was part of on the day that South Sudan came into being. I considered myself blessed – after all how often do you find yourself witnessing the birth of the newest country in the world? I even took part in rehearsals to memorise the new national anthem, incidentally entitled ‘South Sudan Oyee’ and offering far-reaching inspiration. And so on 9 July 2011 – following almost 50 years of warfare and a referendum which saw close to 99% of the eligible voters cast their ballot in favour of independence from Sudan – we all celebrated. For one day we all seemed to ignore the staggering challenges facing the young country.

The present is bleak

But the euphoria was soon muted. Not just because South Sudan is one of the least developed countries in the world. Or because a South Sudanese girl is more likely to die giving birth than she is to finish secondary school. Or because skirmishes, and sometimes outright fighting, continued between Sudan and South Sudan even after independence. Or the fact that multiple local conflicts over issues of land, cattle and other resources proved more tenacious than hoped for. South Sudan had an anthem, flag and football team set in time for independence; however, beyond these albeit significant symbols of nationhood very little effort had gone into carving out a South Sudanese identity that would stand over local identities. Add to this that some of the newly minted country leaders apparently did not get the memo that they should serve all South Sudanese and not just their own pockets of supporters. Sadly, it was not a surprise that South Sudan seemed to stumble before it really learned how to walk.

I will refrain from going into more of a diatribe at this point. Suffice it to say, that the “political crisis”, as the positive spin on the current situation in South Sudan would go, leaves me struggling to breathe. South Sudan is constantly on my mind, and I wonder if South Sudan is also a state of mind – kind of like feeling exhilarated and going bonkers at the same time.

Return to South Sudan

Once you drink from the Nile, you are destined to return. Proverb

During the rapture that surrounded independence, lots of South Sudanese, who had ended up in far away places as a result of the prolonged war, decided to return home – to take part in building their country from scratch. I am lucky to known many of them and I am still blown away by their enthusiasm and the fact that many of the them left behind comfortable lives in North America and Europe to go back to one of the least developed places in the world. And even though they got American, Canadian, German or whatever passports and could pack up tomorrow and travel to more peaceful parts of the world, many of them are determined to stick it out. They got their minds set on doing their bit – however big or small – for South Sudan.

One of them is Lual D’Awol, also known by his stage name L.U.A.L. He is a dominating presence – his height and bass-driven voice alone make you stand up and pay attention. But it is when he launches into his ideas and thoughts and rhymes that you really start to listen.

Another young man, who commands respect, is Mijok Lang, or Hot Dogg as his artist name goes. As a former lost boy Hot Dogg ended up in Canada where he took up rapping and won praise for his effort to mentor youth in his adopted home city of Winnipeg. Quote from Hot Dogg:

I was lost in war, lost in the jungle but today I have a new life.

After spending years separated from his loved ones Hot Dogg decided to come full circle and returned to an independent South Sudan to finally reunite with his mother. Hot Dogg says:

I came back to South Sudan a year ago for family reunion but now nothing changed…I’m trapped in the civil war!

The mind is strong

Truth be told, I half expected L.U.A.L and Hot Dogg to say “screw this, I’m outta here”. Just as I half expected them to pull out from our collaboration But they are determined to join the Oyee! project – just as they are determined to keep pushing for positive change in South Sudan through their music. L.U.A.L’s message is clear in the track “Give Peace a Try”:

We need a common meeting ground instead of groups in certain crowds

South Sudan may not have the leaders it deserves but it has an abundance of imaginative and passionate youth who demonstrate creative leadership in the face of adversary and continue their struggle to turn the tide. The present may be bleak but the hope for the future remains – and L.U.A.L and Hot Dogg are coming to Denmark to prove it.

I wonder what drives them but I already have an idea.

About the blogger: Kim Karina Kaagaard Kristensen co-founded RAPOLITICS in 2009 and took the initiative to the Oyee! project after spending two years working on youth engagement issues and conflict transformation for UNDP South Sudan. All pictures are taken by Kim herself.