Posted on 7/7/15
by Rutendo Urenje, Managing Editor
African Peace Journal
Chemin Marc-Emery 25 | Case Postale 7 | 1239 Collex
A calm, calculating, strong looking woman, only 30 years of age, the age of my older sister, in fact, she reminded me somewhat of her.
Her hairstyle showed that she was not the normal South Sudanese woman.
Rose had fled South Sudan with her children to Uganda when the year had become protracted. Her husband Lawrence had stayed behind. I suppose he felt the need to take care of the family home and the community, but he also felt it was imperative that his children and wife should flee.
I was living in Rose’s family house in Mundri West, South Sudan.
One afternoon, as I sat calmly with Rose, I asked her to tell me her story. She looked at me almost suspiciously and then looked around as though to check where her husband was – this would be routine behaviour every time we would start talking about her life.
She told me she was 17 when she got married. Her husband had asked her parents for her hand in marriage and her parents had insisted that she married him. The fear, she told me, was that if she didn’t get married, the Dinka (a tribe in South Sudan) would come and kidnap her as they commonly raided villages for unmarried young women. The day of her wedding she ran away and hid in the bushes but her parents and community leaders found her, quite convinced that her only hope in life was to marry a man she had hardly known.
Rose had her first child in her first year of marriage and subsequently had three more, one after the other. She describes her lifestyle with tears in her eyes. At some point they had no money to feed her children and so she decided to work in the market while she was still breast feeding. She described herself sitting near a boiling pot of oil frying fat cooks while breast feeding her son at the same time. Life was unbearable, food was scarce and war was raging all around them.
Eventually her husband decided that Rose and the children should move to Uganda.
However, the situation did not drastically change as soon as she and her children arrived.
The first feeling she expressed to have found was peace. Her children started attending a school. A smile suddenly grew on her face as she described how her children’s education translated into her own education.
Rose had no form of formal education because of the war in South Sudan and when she got married she had no opportunity to go to school because she had children. Living in Uganda, her children would bring homework and she would do it with them. She described an evening where one of her sons would teach her how to read and write.
It made my heart well up with so much hope, seeing the resilience of humanity and the element of what grace does.
Now Rose can read, count and write through her children’s education in Uganda.
She has also started a small business in Uganda, baking and selling her goods so she earns an income and does not depend solely upon aid from the international community.
Rose is a symbol of the simplicity of the refugee situation in Africa.
It is easy to look at the situation and be overwhelmed by the complexity, but were we to take a case by case strategy we may realize that these cases are not far removed from one another. Although not all the situations and stories are the same the underlying thread runs well through all the reasons and contexts.
There is a socio-economic crisis in Africa.
Whether it is war or climate change or whatever else that causes people to flee their homeland, this crisis persists. Socio-economic factors are primary, but of course are also garnished by other factors. This then makes development the answer. We must be careful however not to ascribe our ideologies to what development may mean to persons in different contexts.
Development should not carry with it superimposed Westernized ideas but should simply be flexible enough to fit into the local context and work.
Rose’s example is that of a life given a chance.
Given a chance and a choice people do not want handouts, they want a livelihood.
The lure of Europe is not necessarily a search for the ‘diasporal’ dream but, at least for Africans, the opportunity to provide for the family, to survive in a world of polarized interests and will.
As we give voice to the silenced and yet to be spoken of, the African Peace Journal will this year bring together voices that will shed light on what exactly it means to be an African refugee and then move from that to finding lasting and sustainable solutions rather than problems, to this phenomenon. People have always migrated and travelled to places for many different reasons. This year we shall evaluate these reasons.
Following the initiative by UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, a World Humanitarian Summit will be held in Istanbul from the 26th to 27th of May 2016 to propose solutions to the humanitarian crisis our world is facing. In line with this initiative African Journal will focus on one of the themes:
“Reducing Vulnerability and Managing Risk’.
The choice to zero in upon this one theme for the year, stems from identifying a theme that is motivated toward giving more substance to the one thing that the African Peace Journal can do very well: Taking cognizance of the fact that migration will always happen and that it is common but also that, over the years, it has become more dangerous and is caused by many man-made disasters that could have been effectively managed and perhaps even totally avoided.
Living in Uganda as a refugee is not a choice that Rose would make if she did not have conditions in her own country forcing her to leave in order to save her children and her life. The question we need to answer this year then is this:
How do we as Africans reduce our vulnerability and manage the risk we may find ourselves in? That is, how do we make Africa a continent of peace and security where people thrive and love one another without fear?
To answer this we will evaluate what it is that is causing vulnerability and then how can we manage the risk of that underlying cause. I am looking forward to a year of practical and sustainable solutions that reach and change our Africa.