16/1/11 Peter Clifford – http://www.petercliffordonline.com : SOUTH SUDAN Part 2 l JUBA PRISON SEQUEL
Sudan has 597 ethnic groups and more than 400 different languages and dialects.
When I was there in the late 1970’s I was able to enjoy much of this culturally rich diversity.
From the hospitality of Arabs in the North who took me into their homes for a meal and to stay, to observing the tough Dinka tribesmen tending their very long horned cattle on the grasslands and seeing spear toting tribesmen coming out of the bush wearing little more than a penis sheath near Wau, to finally meeting the friendly smiles of the Black African Sudanese in the deep South, there was, and is, much to discover.
If the separation of the two halves of Sudan goes ahead, after 21 years of conflict, the challenge will be to preserve peace and harmony between the two nations and to prevent inter-racial antagonism. It will not be easy.
Another potential flashpoint is the discovery of oil in Sudan, mainly in southern Sudan, which northern Sudan is relying on them to continue to export by pipeline to Port Sudan on the Red Sea.
In 2009 revenues from oil in Sudan accounted for 50% of the country’s domestic revenue and 93% of it’s exports, but tribal conflict in the oil rich Adyei province on the north/south border prevented the people there taking part in last week’s referendum.
Unsurprisingly, the latest news in Sudan is that the crucial 60% tipping point for the implementation of the independence agreement has been passed but the final result will not be known for 30 days. There are almost 4 million registered voters in South Sudan, over 51% of them women.
Interestingly, South Sudan has already decided to adopt English as its official language and when I was there many people already spoke it, having been educated in Uganda or Kenya, both part of the British Commonwealth. English lessons are now a major industry, including for some members of the Judiciary.
JUBA PRISON SEQUEL:
If you read Part 1 of this article you will have read my story about being carted off to prison in Juba by a Secret Police Officer. To continue….
As he and his plainclothes officers took us and our luggage away I said to my girlfriend in German (she was from Germany, I am half Austrian), “Just tell them the truth, we are just travellers, nothing more”.
“No good speaking German”, barked the Secret Police Officer, ” I was trained by the Starsi” (former communist East German Secret Police not known for their humanity!). Not a good start.
For a couple of hours we were interrogated separately at the Police Station. It wasn’t too gruelling and they never did manage to work out that the cartridge camera I had at the time had a film in it.
The trigger for their interest was that our passports had been re-issued in Turkey. Having stayed in Israel we thought it prudent not to advertise that fact as we travelled through Egypt and Arab north Sudan.
As our luck would have it, this particular week, President Nimeiry (later deposed in a coup) had flown in from Khartoum to open a new radio station and the Secret Police were on “high alert”.
It wasn’t long before they had convinced themselves that we had come all the way from Israel to assasinate their Head of State!
Eventually we were taken to the prison proper and released into the prison compound, my poor girlfriend alone into the women’s section and me into a separate larger section with 304 black guys! Frankly, they were amazed to see me. According to them “white men” didn’t get put in prison,”it was all wrong”.
They crowded round me asking questions and a number of them, assuming I must be extremely hungry after being interrogated by the police, gave me little cubes of food to eat (rather like Oxo cubes). I later discovered that this was their meat ration for a week. I have never forgotten their kindness.
Daily Life in Juba Prison:
From then on the other inmates made sure I got the best of the meagre resources and those that had been assigned jobs around the prison offered to take messages to my girlfriend.
One of the many high points was every time I decided to use the one and only cold water outdoor shower. On each occasion I would look up to find myself surrounded by a ring of about 200 black guys peering at my “equipment”.
I quickly realised that most of them had never seen a white man with no clothes on before! Fortunately I am not particularly shy.
For the first 24 hours I was rather tense, imagining the worst but after that, being a pragmatist, I went with the flow of prison life. Some of my fellow inmates were very young – a 15 year old imprisoned for stealing a transistor radio for example – and some others, manacled at the ankles, were clearly mentally ill and were there because there was nowhere else to put them.
After a while I also discovered a South Sudan opposition politician kept in a separate compound in the middle of the prison yard, whom Nimeiry had kept locked up for several years. We had some conversation and on my release I passed his details onto Amnesty International who took up his case.
The other prisoners wiled away their time keeping themselves clean and their particularly spot in the prison tidy and playing a curious game in the sand with little depressions and stones. It is only in recent years that I have come to realise that this game was Mancala (UK Store Folding Mancala) (USA Store Mancala), a simple but fascinating game with unpredictable outcomes. I recommend it.
I was also given a rather battered Agatha Christie murder novel to read but as the last half dozen pages had been used as toilet paper by someone else I never got to find out “who did it”!
After 10 days both my girlfriend and I were brought to the Governor’s office. I was glad to see that my girlfriend was okay, she, like me, having been well looked after by her prison companions.
The Governor informed us that we were being flown back to Khartoum immediately. This was a bit of a blow, considering we had spent two weeks travelling from there and I had got a hernia in the process.
We were driven to the airport under armed guard, followed by a bit of a farce as they tried to get us on the aeroplane.
But I see this is turning into a book again………. So I will conclude the story in a few days! I promise….. In Part 3
Until the next time,
Peter Clifford: www.petercliffordonline.com
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