Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Sudan: 0smano & Four Paws update from Khartoum #SudanAnimalRescue #SaveSudanLions #اسود_حديقة_القرشي

Photo credit: 
Osmano instagram 21 Feb 2020 - Lion cub from a zoo in Khartoum

Copy of instagram by Osmano in Khartoum, Sudan 03 Feb 2020:
Another day of amazing work by the dedicated and caring @four_paws_international team. The team spent the day at Sudan University Vetinary college which is within Kukoo Zoo. They carried out theoretical training as well as alot of hands on practical training for the students and staff of the University. Procedures were done on a lion cub (umbilical cord infection), monkey (fracture), crane and other bird. Once again there dedication and care leaves us speachless. Would like to thank the University, especially Dr Hind for all the help in organising and help in getting equipment out of airport for them.
Team work makes the dream work! 
📸 Four Paws International © | Marion Lombard @_rapaper_
#SudanAnimalRescue
#SaveSudanLions
#اسود_حديقة_القرشي
[ Sudan Watch Ed: to visit the above instagram with photos click here: https://www.instagram.com/p/B8zPCYmn73t/ ]
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Photo credit: 
Osmano instagram 21 Feb 2020 - Four Paws' vet treating bird in Khartoum

Copy of instagram by Four Paws in Khartoum, Sudan 03 Feb 2020:
🔻🇸🇩🔻#SaveSudanLions 🦁: Another daily update from Sudan 
Here is another look at the current mission in Sudan. Besides Kandaka and Mansour, the two other lions, a male and a female, have received special care from our emergency team on-site. Since these two lions arrived in Al Qurashi Family Park Zoo only two months ago, they are in much better condition than Kandaka and Mansour. Still, the female already has bowel issues due to the improper feeding. The two lions, as well as the other animals on-site, are receiving species-appropriate food and medical attention.
Please keep the animals in your thoughts and support the mission team on-site http://bit.ly/sudan-lions [LINK IN BIO]

[ Sudan Watch Ed: to visit the above instagram with video click here: https://www.instagram.com/p/B8G3kfAiqGB/ ]
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Photo credit: 
Osmano instagram 21 Feb 2020 - Four Paws' vet treating monkey in Khartoum

Photo credit: 
Osmano instagram 21 Feb 2020 - Four Paws' vet visiting Khartoum

Photo credit: 
Osmano instagram 21 Feb 2020 - Four Paws' vet visiting Khartoum

Photo credit: 
Osmano instagram 21 Feb 2020 - Four Paws' vet visiting Khartoum

RELATED STORY
Sudan: International help for starving lions in Khartoum zoo - Osman Salih's story goes viral
Sudan Watch - 20 Feb 2020

Monday, March 30, 2020

Sudan: the real magical kingdom - This is Sudan, land of the kingdom of Kush - The pyramids in Meroe

The pyramids in Meroe
GETTY

Article from The Sunday Times, UK
Written by Teresa Levonian Cole
Dated Sunday 23 February 2020, 12.01am

Sudan: the real magical kingdom
You’ll be enchanted by historic sights, dazzling desert and warm‑hearted locals

From the 16th floor of the Corinthia Hotel in Khartoum, I looked out over three ribbons of silvery water glittering in the sun. Two of them, on my right, belonged to the Blue Nile, which hugged the landmass of Tuti Island. On my left, like a muscular biceps, the bulge of the White Nile gradually tapered to where the two rivers met. In Egypt, such a significant union might be marked by fanfare or, at the very least, a tourist kiosk. But here, as I discovered when I took a boat ride downstream to the confluence, there is nothing. No guests, no celebrations: the marriage of the Blue and the White Nile is an intimate affair.
This is Sudan, land of the kingdom of Kush

Sunday, March 29, 2020

South Sudan: Call for citizen scientists to help unravel the mysteries of South Sudan's forests

Call for citizen scientists to help unravel the mysteries of South Sudan's forests
Dated 22 August 2018
Eastern chimpanzee caught on camera trap. Credit: FFI & Bucknell University

Conservationists from Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and Bucknell University biology researchers have teamed up with government and conservation authorities to capture more than 425,000 images through a camera wildlife survey in South Sudan. The Bucknell team has launched a website where volunteers can view the images to identify and verify animal species.

The website will be housed on Zooniverse, the world's largest platform for online citizen science; a collaboration between the University of Oxford, Chicago's Adler Planetarium, and the broader Citizen Science Alliance. It is home to some of the internet's largest, most popular and most successful citizen science [ https://phys.org/tags/citizen+science/ ] projects.

The researchers have already documented species [ https://phys.org/tags/species/ ] not previously known to be found in this richly forested area, where the wildlife [ https://phys.org/tags/wildlife/ ] of East and Central Africa collide to form a diverse and unique ecosystem. The project will enhance wildlife conservation efforts in a protected region threatened by poachers.

"We've already found eight species of large mammal not previously recorded in the region," said Bucknell biology and animal behaviour professor DeeAnn Reeder, who is leading the project. "They were found in an area suffering from heavy poaching that is exacerbated by conflict in the region."

Reeder and her research partners, including Laura Kurpiers, Bucknell, who designed the site, and conservationists Rob Harris, Adrian Garside, Nicolas Tubbs and Ivan de Klee of FFI, initially teamed with local wildlife service [ https://phys.org/tags/wildlife+service/ ] rangers to document and protect wildlife in the South Sudan, an effort funded in part by a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The group initially set up 23 motion-sensing camera traps in January 2015 which has grown to 76 cameras in the field today.
Photo: Bongo running. Credit: FFI & Bucknell University

Most of the images were captured in protected areas, as the studies are part of FFI's overall conservation program in the region, which began even before the country gained independence.

"The images coming out of this survey are really exciting, and will act as the essential scientific bedrock upon which effective conservation depends. South Sudan's forests still harbour many mysteries, but already the cameras are revealing just how important the region is for biodiversity [ https://phys.org/tags/biodiversity/ ]. 

The challenge now is to process all of the information the cameras are yielding, which is why we are asking for the help of Zooniverse users to help us identify the species in the pictures. But the ongoing struggles the people of South Sudan face, whether it be food security or unrest pose a threat not only to the country's people but also its wildlife, so time is of the essence," said Nicolas Tubbs, Senior Program Manager for Eastern Africa at FFI.

Images include some of eastern chimpanzees, the species the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gave Reeder her grant to document. They have also collected images of pangolins, an endangered scaly anteater that is among the most trafficked mammals in the world; forest elephants, which represents a significant expansion in their known range; and the African golden cat, which has been threatened by deforestation and bushmeat hunting.
Photo: Team finalising camera trap setup. From left to right: Nicola Junubi (WS), Imran Ejotre (Ugandan scientific partner), Charles Dikumbo (WS), Andrea Musa (WS), Masimino Pasquale (CWA). Credit: Fauna & Flora International

All images are time-stamped and can be viewed on at this site. Harnessing the collective brain power of multiple users, once 12 people agree on the specific wildlife species identification, the identification is confirmed for that set of images. Additional data such as behaviours observed and animal group size add to the richness and value of the data.

"Our species list is long, but we really want to precisely identify the specific biodiversity," Reeder said. "We are really excited about engaging citizen scientists because we know there a lot of people who care about wildlife conservation. The success of this project will be contingent on getting a lot of users."

Explore further

Saturday, March 28, 2020

South Sudan: Remote cameras offer glimpse into the 'forgotten forests' of South Sudan

Remote cameras offer glimpse into the 'forgotten forests' of South Sudan
by Sarah Rakowski, Fauna & Flora International
Dated 09 December 2015
Photo: Camera trapping survey captures newest country's first photographic records of forest elephants, African golden cat and more…

Remote sensing cameras ('camera traps') have given scientists an unprecedented insight into the wildlife of South Sudan—a battle-scarred nation still grappling with civil conflict following its declaration of independence four years ago.

The cameras were deployed as part of ongoing surveys under a partnership between conservation charity Fauna & Flora International (FFI), Bucknell University, and South Sudan's Wildlife Service to survey the wildlife of Western Equatoria State—an area that encompasses some 8,000 km2 of relatively unexplored terrain thought to be of high ecological importance.

The camera trapping survey was made possible thanks to a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Great Ape Conservation Fund, with additional funding from the Woodtiger Fund, Bucknell University and FFI.

Over six months, the camera traps captured more than 20,000 wildlife images, including the first pictures of forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis) ever taken in South Sudan.

"This is an extremely important finding," explains DeeAnn Reeder, Professor of Biology at Bucknell University. "Forest elephants are Critically Endangered, and have declined dramatically over the last two decades. 

Finding them in South Sudan expands their known range—something that urgently needs further study because forest elephants, like their savannah cousins, are facing intense poaching pressure."

Forest elephants are ecologically and behaviourally quite distinct from savannah elephants and play an important role in forest ecosystems by dispersing seeds across a wide area, thanks to their frugivorous diet.
Photo: Forest elephant family. Credit: FFI & Bucknell University.

The cameras also found a number of other species never before recorded in South Sudan (or in pre-independence records) including the African golden cat, water chevrotain, red river hog and giant pangolin.

Chimpanzee, leopard, four species of mongoose, spotted hyena, yellow-backed duiker, honey badger, monitor lizard and a healthy population of western bongo are just a few among 37 species caught on camera during the survey, proving the ecological importance of these West Equatorian forests.

"Camera trap surveys play a fundamental role in biodiversity conservation," says FFI's Adrian Garside. 

"First, they provide information about the distribution, movements and behaviour of wildlife found within an area, giving us a baseline upon which we can measure changes and success. Second, and just as important, they offer clues as to where we need to focus our efforts, and they can even identify potential threats."

Conservation in times of conflict

FFI has been working in South Sudan since 2010 (in the run up to the country's formal declaration of independence) and first partnered with Reeder, an African mammal biodiversity specialist, in Western Equatoria in 2012. With substantial experience of operating in fragile and conflict States, FFI's focus has been on ensuring that South Sudan's remarkable natural ecosystems and wildlife could be effectively conserved from the outset of the country's independence.

To do this, FFI is helping to find pragmatic, community-focused solutions to environmental threats, while also ensuring that local authorities and stakeholders have the skills and equipment they need to manage their natural resources sustainably.
Photo: Golden cat walking on human trail. Credit: FFI & Bucknell University

As part of this mission to develop local capacity, Garside and Reeder ran a camera trap training exercise for rangers from the Ministry for Wildlife Conservation and Tourism and local Community Wildlife Ambassadors. During the last four years, local knowledge provided by people living in the area has helped the team find evidence of significant wildlife, and this local expertise also proved critical in the successful situating of the cameras. Joint patrols by the wildlife and community rangers continue to monitor the cameras and conduct data analysis.

But despite the successes of the survey, great challenges remain says Garside.

"The violence in South Sudan and the spectre of economic collapse is a challenging situation for conservationists, but we had established strong partnerships here before the current conflict and we are all determined to continue working together through this difficult period. To date, this support has included ranger training and biodiversity monitoring as well as numerous foot patrols to monitor wildlife and deter illegal activity.
Photo: Wildlife Ranger and Community Wildlife Ambassador setting camera traps. Credit: FFI & Bucknell University

"Experience has shown that wildlife and ecosystems often suffer enormously during and after conflict, and in periods of political instability, and this depletion of natural resources affects some of the poorest and most vulnerable sectors of society," says Garside.

"By maintaining our presence in-country, building good relationships with local communities and supporting our partners, we will find ourselves in a far better position to help people manage their resources sustainably, both now and in the future."

Explore further

Friday, March 27, 2020

South Sudan: Mystery monkey: Rare red colobus caught on camera in South Sudan

Report from Phys.org
Fauna & Flora International (FFI)
By Tim Knight
Dated 25 February 2020 
Mystery monkey: Rare red colobus caught on camera in South Sudan
Photo: Credit: Bucknell University/FFI

Oustalet's or Semliki? That is the question. It may not be on everyone's lips, but it's uppermost in the minds of conservationists after a rare red colobus monkey triggered a camera trap several hundred miles outside its known range.

The image was captured in a remote forest in South Sudan as part of the extensive and ongoing camera-trap [ https://phys.org/tags/camera+trap/ ] surveys that began in 2015 as a collaboration between Fauna & Flora International (FFI), Bucknell University and the South Sudanese government.

Even for seasoned primatologists, Oustalet's red colobus—the Central African version of these acrobatic, fiery-coated monkeys—is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. A remarkable 20 subspecies of this highly variable species have been described, according to The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals.

These include the version known to its close friends as the Semliki red colobus, named after the river valley in Central Africa where an isolated population was first recorded, and which may or may not turn out to be a separate species.

Identity crisis

While the experts are grappling with the complexities of colobus categorisation, there is no doubt that the monkey caught on camera represents a very exciting discovery, whatever the uncertainty surrounding which species or subspecies actually appears in the image.
Photo: Black-and-white colobus and red colobus. Credit: Bucknell University/FFI

Oustalet's red colobus—named in honour of a nineteenth-century French zoologist—is officially categorised as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, but is described as 'possibly extinct' in South Sudan, which lies at the extreme north-east of its range.

Most of the known populations elsewhere are widely scattered and typically confined to remote, seldom visited areas. This could explain why an apparently extinct monkey has remained undetected for so long before its cover was blown by a camera trap.

On the other hand, if—as the experts are speculating—the primate in the picture turns out to be the little-known Semliki red colobus, we have incontrovertible proof that this monkey occurs well beyond the previously accepted limits of its geographical range.

Either way, this is momentous stuff.

The latest photos, including the snapshot of the red colobus, are helping conservationists to compile an inventory of the previously undocumented species lurking in what is a relatively unexplored corner of Africa. The online citizen science platform, Zooniverse, is enabling the analysis of over half a million separate images captured by camera traps in this wildlife haven [ https://www.fauna-flora.org/news/south-sudan-latest-images-reveal-global-hotspot-biodiversity ].
Photo: Eastern chimpanzee. Credit: Bucknell University/FFI

Conservation in a conflict zone

FFI has been a constant presence in South Sudan for the past decade, despite the civil unrest that continues to blight the country. Focusing our efforts on the region of Western Equatoria, we are working closely with communities and government officials in order to build bridges, defuse conflict and secure commitment to a common conservation goal.

Decades of conflict have devastated lives and livelihoods—and wildlife—in what is now South Sudan. At the time of writing, a transition government has just been formed, sounding a note of hope for the future.

Mercifully, the biologically rich forested landscapes that lie within the 14% of the country that benefits from formal protection have remained largely unscathed. In particular, the band of dense tropical forest running along the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo in the south-west of the country harbours an exceptional range of species.

Its remarkable diversity is due largely to the fact that this tropical belt lies at the eastern edge of the Congo Basin, at the point where Central and East Africa's respective assemblages of animals and plants collide and coalesce.

It is also the only region in South Sudan where the red colobus occurs, along with nine—possibly ten—other primate species, including the endangered eastern chimpanzee.
Photo: Duiker in the spotlight. Credit: Bucknell University/FFI

Primates under pressure

Wildlife trafficking and the bushmeat trade, combined with poaching pressure resulting from food insecurity, are putting numerous species at risk.

There is an urgent need for further investigation into the extent to which the red colobus and other threatened primates are targeted for bushmeat. 

In the meantime, the combination of regular patrolling and camera trap footage will help FFI and partners to build a clearer picture of this monkey's distribution and likely population size.

The red colobus revelation is highly significant, but is by no means the only secret laid bare by the coordinated and comprehensive camera-trapping campaign. The protected areas [ https://phys.org/tags/protected+areas/ ] where the motion cameras have been deployed and where patrolling has focused are evidently vital strongholds not only for this red-listed red colobus and other primates, but also for African golden cats, forest elephants and a range of threatened antelopes including yellow-backed duiker and bongo.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

South Sudan: images reveal global hotspot for biodiversity

South Sudan: latest images reveal a global hotspot for biodiversity
Report from Fauna & Flora International (FFI)
Written by Nathan Williams
Dated 16 August 2019

In 1979 the government of the Democratic Republic of Sudan and the government of Italy began working together to survey the incredible wildlife in the forests of Sudan’s Southern National Park in preparation for drawing up what they called a “Master Plan” for protecting the park.

Surveys undertaken over the following two years revealed a spectacular variety of animals, including elephants, pangolins, leopards, chimpanzees, monkeys, servals, hyenas and much more. With logging and hunting growing as threats, officials and researchers said, in an official report produced in 1981, that the protection of the park should be considered a “priority.” The stage seemed set for one of the world’s most biodiverse regions to secure the protection it deserved. 

But when civil war broke out soon afterwards, the plans were shelved. Conservationists left the country, government focus switched to fighting a war, and wildlife protection efforts were derailed for the best part of 30 years.

In recent years, despite the huge challenges, that has started to change. Fauna & FIora International (FFI) began working in South Sudan (when it was still part of Sudan) in 2010, and over the ensuing decade has built the trust and relationships essential to working in an environment still riven by civil conflict.

A significant development in FFI’s South Sudan work was reached when FFI and Bucknell University researchers teamed up with government authorities and local partners to deploy motion-sensing camera traps to record South Sudan’s still poorly understood wildlife.

Hundreds of thousands of images later, stunning pictures have emerged that shed light on the vast array of wildlife that inhabit these remote forests.

Through these images researchers have documented species not previously known to be found in this richly forested area, where the wildlife of East and Central Africa collide to form a unique tropical forest belt. From African golden cats to leopards, chimpanzees to aardvarks, the stunning images captured over the last year are evidence that this patch of Africa is home to some of the most varied wildlife on Earth.
Photo: A young bongo. Credit: Bucknell University/FFI

The images are hosted on Zooniverse, the world’s largest platform for online citizen science; a collaborative project of the University of Oxford, Chicago’s Adler Planetarium, and the broader Citizen Science Alliance.

Community engagement

This region of South Sudan has historically fallen within a regional wildlife trafficking corridor from Central to North Africa, so to enforce laws and step up protection FFI and its partners have initiated patrols, involving local people and communities, focused on working within two reserves.

Delivering this protected area management and maintaining community led conservation efforts within community managed areas requires the Wildlife Service rangers and the communities adjacent to the Game Reserves to work closely together – cooperation that is unique to this area of South Sudan. The bridges that have been built between communities and government officials has created a pocket of stability and security which is enabling the continued build-up of on-the-ground efforts.
Photo: A curious chimpanzee. Credit: Bucknell University/FFI

And these efforts are very much field-based. Despite the huge challenges of working in this region, FFI staff and its partners are not stuck in a compound but are out every day getting their hands dirty monitoring boundaries and conducting field work across a wide area of the landscape.

FFI’s approach also goes beyond dedicated species work and includes assisting communities with food security issues as well as equipping them with the tools for natural resource management. FFI’s goal is to see these communities become strong, long-term stewards of nature.
Photo: An African golden cat. Credit: Bucknell University/FFI

With civil strife a sadly regular feature of Sudanese life in recent years it would have been easy to pack up and declare South Sudan too difficult or dangerous to work in. Instead FFI has maintained a presence, adapting to situations and the reward is clear to see: some of the world’s most iconic species roaming the land they have called home for thousands of years, protected by a growing network of communities and conservationists.

Written by: Nathan Williams
Communications Executive, Press & Media
Nathan has a background in climate communications, journalism, and PR.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

S. Sudan: UN medal for 100 British Army engineers

Here, for the record, is a copy of an article from British Army UK Ministry of Defence 
dated 19 September 2017 14:01
Army Engineers receive UN medals

One hundred Scottish-based soldiers from 39 Engineer Regiment received campaign medals to mark their successful contribution to the United Nations’ peacekeeping effort in South Sudan at the at Kinloss Barracks.

Soldiers from the Regiment’s 34 Field Squadron built the groundworks for a new field hospital in Bentiu, also providing it with power, fresh and waste water pipes, with drainage installed to mitigate against flooding.

The temporary hospital supports 1,800 UN peacekeepers and staff, enabling them to continue working to improve conditions in South Sudan. It is run by medical staff, including specialists in fields such as infectious diseases, intensive care and surgery.

The engineers also reinforced the security infrastructure for a UN camp, enabling aid agencies to work with local people as part of the UK contribution to the UN Mission to the Republic of South Sudan, designed to protect civilians, monitor human rights and support the implementation of cessation of hostilities agreement under the terms of UN resolution 2155 (2014).

Major Wayne Meek, the Officer in Command of the team during their time in South Sudan said: “The work of the soldiers of 34 Field Squadron in South Sudan has benefitted extremely vulnerable civilians by enabling aid agencies to deliver aid.

“Our troops overcame tough conditions with extreme weather conditions, a sensitive security situation and the prevalence of diseases not seen in the UK. The Squadron worked long hours throughout the deployment but it was important to us to achieve as much as we could possibly could during our time there.

“Today’s medal presentation is recognition of the UK armed forces’ global role but it also says thank you to the soldiers and their families for their service too.”

Lieutenant Colonel Jim Webster, Commanding Officer of 39 Engineer Regiment echoed Major Meek’s sentiments, saying: “It's been a huge privilege to contribute to an essential UN mission and I'm very pleased that these efforts are being recognised in the September parade back here in Moray, the home of 39 Engineer Regiment.”

The medals were presented by the Lord Lieutenant of Moray, Grenville Johnston, Commanding Officer (Lt Col Jim Webster) and Major Wayne Meek.

The British military contingent in South Sudan also provides engineering support to the UN mission in both Bentiu and Malakal, including projects like the construction of a jetty on the River Nile, helicopter landing sites, and other infrastructure improvements.

39 Engineer Regiment provides Force Support engineering and construction to both the Royal Air Force (RAF) and to the Army; as such it is the only regular Army regiment focused on providing force support to the Air component. Its specialist Air Support Engineering, Combat Engineering and Artisan trade skills mean that it is called upon regularly to support UK operational commitments.

S. Sudan: 160 British Army engineers awarded medals

Here, for the record, is a copy of an article from The Press and Journal UK
By DAVID WALKER dated 17 July 2019, 10:04 am

Medals to be presented to Moray soldiers who took part in peace-keeping mission in South Sudan
Soldiers based at the Kinloss Barracks will be honoured for their role in a UN peace-keeping mission in South Sudan.

Squaddies from the 39 Engineers Regiment who have been deployed on Operation Trenton will be presented with their medals in Grant Park, Forres next week.

A parade of 160 soldiers will start at 10am a week on Friday, with troops marching from Tytler Street down the High Street, and onto the park.

When there, the 160 soldiers will be presented with their medals.

The troops from 39 Engineer Regiment were based in Malakal and Bentiu and during their time there they completed a wide range of construction projects, including building a hospital and new roads.

They also provided training in carpentry, bricklaying, concreting and domestic electrics for the local population, and delivered self-defence classes for women living in civilian camps.

View original article here: 

South Sudan: Medals for British troops supporting United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS)

Here, for the record, is a copy of an article from and by Sudan Tribune.com
Dated Monday 29 July 2019 

British troops get service medals for South Sudan mission
July 28, 2019 (JUBA/LONDON) – A total of 160 British troops who were deployed on Operation Trenton in support of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) have been awarded service medals.
Photo:  British Troops, proudly wearing their distinctive blue UN berets arrives in Juba on 2 May 2017 (UN/Isaac Billy Photo)

The troops, from the 39 Engineer Regiment, were in the war-torn East African country for a six months operation.

The British troops were based in the South Sudan capital, Juba and near two protection of civilian camps at Bentiu and Malakal.

Their work focused on improving facilities for other UN troops, strengthening and securing the civilian camp’s protective fences.

Two more engineering units are set to replace the 39 Engineer Regiment in an operation is expected to end in March 2020.

A team of 14,000 people, among them peacekeepers, police, security and civilian personnel, from more than 60 different countries are currently active in the country as part of the UN mission.

Since July 2011, the UN has been carrying out a mission in the country to protect civilians and restore durable peace in the region. (ST)

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

S. Sudan: James Aguer Garang one of S. Sudan’s most well-known painters uses art to give trauma therapy


Can South Sudan's men of war lead the country to peace?
Report from Middle East Eye.net
Dated 15 February 2020 09:28 UTC 

The long rivalry between Salva Kiir and Riek Machar exploded into civil war with South Sudan’s independence in 2011. Now a deal could be in sight

South Sudanese artist James Aguer Garang has invited us into his sparsely furnished studio. Propped against the wall is his most famous painting.

On the right side of the canvas is the nation envisaged at the time of independence in July 2011. Blue sky. Cattle grazing in lush grass. A father and daughter walking hand in hand.

The left side of the canvas represents the reality of war: rape, destruction and death. A child tries to suckle milk from its dead mother’s breast. Villagers flee from their burning huts as soldiers advance.

“This is the story of our country,” says Garang, a gentle and serious man in his 40s. With a pen in his shirt pocket and wearing a dark suit, he dresses more like an accountant than an artist.

The picture is personal for him. Aged nine, Garang was one of a force of 20,000 children enlisted by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army to fight in the second Sudanese War, which lasted from 1983 to 2005.

Told by soldiers he would be going to school, instead he was taught to use a gun. He saw combat in one of the most bloodthirsty conflicts of modern times in which more than two million lives - approaching one quarter of the South Sudanese population - are thought to have been lost.

Garang has a scar above his right eyebrow. “We were running from the enemy,” he explains. “We had to cross a river. They were shooting at us so I dived down deep to escape the bullets and hit my head on a rock.”

“Every day when I look in the mirror, I am reminded of that time.”

After five years Garang deserted, making a five-month journey on foot through the Ethiopian bush before reaching a refugee camp in Kenya.

There he learned to paint, following in the footsteps of his father who had been a traditional craftsman, carving sculptures out of wood and cow horn.

Today, Garang is not only one of South Sudan’s most well-known painters, but also uses art to provide trauma therapy to children and adults affected by war.
Photo: Graffiti on walls near James Aguer Garang's Ana Taban street art project in Juba, South Sudan (MEE)

“There is no worse disease than trauma in South Sudan,” he says. “The first thing trauma attacks is your thinking brain. You don’t concentrate. You don’t remember things. You have issues in your personal relationships with people.

“In South Sudan, fighting is the normality. There are no apologies. That’s the life of a traumatised community.”

South Sudan has been in a state of conflict for much of the period since Britain gave Sudan its independence in 1956, ignoring repeated warnings from local people and knowledgeable colonial officials that the south was too distant and underdeveloped to submit to rule from Khartoum.

The first Sudanese rebellion broke out in 1963, and persisted for a decade. An uneasy ceasefire held until 1982 when war broke out again. It lasted 21 years until a peace deal was struck in January 2005.

South Sudan secured independence after a referendum in 2011 only for civil war to erupt two years later.

Most have suffered the loss of family members. Far too often their entire family. Many have themselves committed atrocities. Millions have known the terror of fleeing their homes. There are more than one million South Sudanese refugees in neighbouring Uganda alone.

James Aguer Garang's organisation tries to confront this spiral of violence with street art projects for young people. It is called Ana Taban - Arabic for “I am tired”.

“We in South Sudan are tired of war,” says Garang.

“We need to come to our senses, to prevent ourselves from being victims and aggressors. But it’s hard to change by yourself. That’s why we need programmes for people who cannot stop aggression.”

Garang firmly believes there is the potential for change. “From trauma there can be reconciliation,” he insists.

Scorpions in a bottle

An attempt at reconciliation is under way. Fifteen minutes' walk from Garang’s office is a dusty road beside which men sit in plastic chairs drinking tea.

On one side is the national football stadium, separated from the street by a corrugated iron fence. Opposite is a row of modern hotels. This year these have been home to rebel leaders, warlords, diplomats, government officials and international powerbrokers.

They are there to negotiate a peace settlement between South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and rival Riek Machar. Peace depends on the two men forming a transitional unity government by an agreed deadline of 22 February.

Machar and Kiir started out as comrades nearly 40 years ago in the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, the main rebel opposition to Khartoum, led by legendary guerilla fighter and national hero John Garang.

They became enemies in 1991 when Machar mounted a failed coup against John Garang, with the support of Khartoum. Kiir remained loyal and was named Garang’s successor after he died in a helicopter crash in 2005.
Photo: Salva Kiir (L) and Riek Machar (R), with Sudan's General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo at peace talks in Juba in December (AFP)

The pair reunited in 2011 when Kiir became president and Machar vice president of the newly created Republic of South Sudan. The partnership failed - think scorpions in a bottle - and in 2013 South Sudan again descended into war.

Only this time the war was not between the north and the south. The South Sudanese were fighting each other.

Machar was reinstated as vice president in 2016 in a failed attempt to broker a peace. After three months, fighting broke out between the two men’s forces. Machar fled the capital, pursued by Kiir's forces. There is still no consensus on who started the fighting. All too quickly, the renewed political struggle mutated into a barbarous conflict between the nation’s two largest tribes ("tribe" is the term used by the South Sudanese), Kiir's Dinka and Machar’s Nuer.

Soon the southern Equatoria region, which largely avoided conflict in 2013, was dragged into the fighting. Before long the entire country was at war. Many feared South Sudan would descend into the genocidal violence that overtook Rwanda in 1994.

Under international pressure, South Sudan somehow pulled itself back from the brink. By December 2017 Machar and Kiir had agreed to a ceasefire, and have been dragged back to the negotiating table. Many regard today as the most hopeful moment in South Sudan’s short history.

Negotiations are being led by a trade group of eight east African countries known as the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which was responsible for the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in 2005.

Support is also being provided by the so-called troika made up of the United States, United Kingdom and Norway. Local and international church leaders, including the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury, have played their part.

Every power in the region supports peace. Uganda, (a long-term backer of Kiir) is playing a significant role. Ethiopia, which has often hosted rebel troops, put on the start of the peace talks.

South Africa is pushing for a settlement, which it sees as the perfect start to its term as the new chair of the African Union, a role it assumed in January this year.

Perhaps most significant of all, the ousting of Sudan’s former president Omar Bashir, who waged war against the south for many years, has produced a more positive atmosphere. “The stars are aligned,” one diplomat told us.

The world's youngest country

South Sudan is called the world’s youngest country. The 11 million population is made up of over 60 ethnic groups, none of which are a majority. The largest group, the Dinka, make up around a third of the population. The second largest group, the Nuer, is around half that size.

Some differentiate themselves with facial scars. It is not uncommon to see men with long v-shaped lines etched into their foreheads. Others have parallel lines stretching around to the back of their skull or crosses and stars on their cheeks.

Almost every tribe has its own language. Arabic, from the days of unification with Sudan, is the closest South Sudan has to a national language. English and Swahili are also popular among the millions who sought refuge in Uganda and Kenya.

During the decades of war with Sudan, tribes had a common enemy. After independence, any national identity unravelled almost immediately as South Sudan’s leaders returned to tribal affiliations and lined their own pockets with resources meant to build a country.

South Sudan is the size of France, but where France has more than a million kilometres of tarmac roads, South Sudan has less than 300 - a discrepancy that becomes worse when you consider that South Sudan has had a yearly revenue of more than £1.15bn from oil alone since 2005.

A lack of formal institutions at the time of independence made theft easy. The vast majority of South Sudan’s population are farmers or cattle keepers with no formal education.

Cows have for centuries been the centre of the economy and culture. Little has changed. In villages cows remain the preferred currency. In Juba, the most powerful people in South Sudan pay for dowries, or hide stolen money, in vast herds.

Money for roads, schools and hospitals quickly ended up in the pockets of the new administration, made up of former generals and veterans with no experience of government.

One particularly nefarious example, known as the Dura Saga grain scandal, saw £1.53bn set aside for food storage facilities to protect against famine disappear.

After two consecutive years of flooding in much of the country, famine is again expected in much of South Sudan. There is still no infrastructure to protect the starving.

In 2012, President Kiir - a major beneficiary himself of looting the public purse - issued a half-hearted public appeal to 75 top officials to return over £3bn.

Unsurprisingly, nothing was returned. Corruption is still widespread. A report published in September 2019, released by the Sentry, an investigative team in the nonprofit group Enough Project, detailed an international network of actors assisting local kleptocrats in the theft of billions, from “Chinese-Malaysian oil giants and British tycoons to networks of traders from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya and Uganda”.

The result for the people of South Sudan has been famine and war. The breakdown of national unity into tribal disputes and poverty has led to uncontrolled, armed clashes across the country.

'You don't know why they want to kill you'

It takes at least two days to drive the 400 miles north from Juba in the south to Wau, the country’s second largest city. There are no tarmacked roads, and roadblocks manned by militias. Robbers line the route. To avoid trouble, we drove in from the north.

We reached a school with no windows, no doors, no benches, just a blackboard. Teachers get paid 3,000 Sudanese pounds, less than £10 sterling, a month. Even that money seldom gets paid.

One tells us: “We are used to going six months without salary. How do you think we can eat? I cannot feed my children.”

Philip Nyok, principal of a nearby teacher training college, says that peace “will change so many things. People will be able to go back to their areas. They will cultivate their land. They will get more income”.

“You cannot get away five miles from here because you will be killed by unknown gunmen,” he says. “You don’t even know why they want to kill you. That is why you cannot get out of town and cultivate your crops.”
Photo: Teacher Philip Nyok in the southern city of Wau says people cannot cultivate their crops because of the threat from gunmen (MEE)

Despite the heat, Nyok is dressed in a smart grey suit, a jumper and tie. Like James Aguer Garang, he tells us “we are tired of war”.

“South Sudan needs strong people. Independent people. Hard-working people who can support themselves,” he continues.

“They won’t need support if there is peace. But with insecurity there are no jobs, no food, no shelter.”

Despite the current situation, Nyok has ambitious plans. He drives us out of the town to show us. At once the landscape opens out, dry bush spreading for miles on either side of the increasingly worn-away track. Small trees provide occasional patches of shade.

We pass a man collecting firewood, sweat dripping from his face. After 15 minutes we reach 50 hectares of virgin land that Nyok has set aside to turn his college into a university campus.

There is no fence or sign to mark out the site, nothing to distinguish it from the miles of bush surrounding it. There is still everything to be done. It is men like like Nyok who are determined to deliver the future South Sudan dreamed of at independence nine years ago, if their leaders will let them.

'Too dangerous to go home'

A few miles from Nyok’s campus, at a camp for internally displaced persons on the east bank of the Jur river, we found Adom, a mother of eight.

Sitting cross-legged outside her tent, children playing at her feet, she said: “I was born in the conflict. I was married in the conflict. And now I am growing old in the conflict.

“I miss my house. I miss it so much. But everything has been destroyed.”

Adero, a mother of seven, recalled: “My nephew was shot dead while we were sharing a plate of food. We just ran. I can’t go home until security comes.

“When I hear the opposition and the government agree, I can then think about returning home. I’m not just missing my village. I am crying my heart out. But it is still too dangerous to go home.”

Another lady, Asunta, arrived in the camp last March, having walked three days after her village came under attack. She said that “if they form a unity government, I will go back”.

Most of the people we spoke to were members of the Luo tribe, who had fled from Dinka raiders. The collapse of order in South Sudan has enabled indiscriminate warfare between different tribes.

Disagreements which used to be settled with low-level violence and regulated by elders are now settled with machine guns and RPGs, all too easy to obtain in a time of civil war.

The South Sudanese tragedy is only in part fought between the rival armies of Kiir and Machar. The horror of their war has unleashed a kaleidoscope of local conflicts which cannot be resolved without national unity.

'We are all one'

Back in Juba, negotiators face two sticking points. The first is the sensitive matter of merging Machar and Kiir’s armies into a national institution. This is going better than expected.

Beside the swimming pool of a Juba hotel we met Colonel Lam Paul Gabriel, spokesman for Machar’s opposition army. Gabriel told us there had been no major clashes since November 2018, and that huge strides had been made in merging the two armies in training centres set up across the country: "The troops are really happy together, sleeping together, celebrating together, eating together."

He added that troops enthusiastically sing “We are all one” at the training centres. Up to 40,000 members of the new national force will soon be deployed at border checkpoints and on policing duties.

The colonel insisted that no decision had yet been made whether opposition chief of staff Lt General Gatwech Dual or General Gabriel Jok Riak, head of Kiir’s army, would be in charge.

The same positive message comes from the government side, though one diplomat observer of the talks is sceptical.

“Are they sending core combatants to the camps?” he asked. “Or are both sides recruiting people to go to the camps while leaving hardened troops in key defensive positions?”
Photo: A trainee soldier for a new unified army gestures with his wooden rifle while attending a UN-run reconciliation programme in Mapei (AFP)

In any case, the unification of the army still holds great symbolic value. It is an institution that transcends tribal loyalties, a rare thing in South Sudan.

If peace is to hold, the formation of a new national identity will be key. In a society where most positions of authority are held by former SPLA generals, the army is an obvious place to begin this process.

The second issue is the number of South Sudanese states. What sounds like an administrative detail is deeply political. At independence in 2011, South Sudan was split into 10 states. Since then, Kiir has twice increased the number - to 25 in 2015 and then to the current 32 in 2017.

Critics insist that Kiir’s redrawing of boundaries is designed to gerrymander Dinka majorities in resource-rich areas, especially those with oil. More importantly, those same majorities will ensure Kiir wins the national elections slated to take place in three years' time.

Machar has understandably refused to accept the current 32 states. He has also rejected a suggestion from South African mediators that the issue is put to an international arbitration committee.

Machar has offered a return to the 24 states recognised under the British administration, with Juba being made an additional neutral state. It’s one of the more attractive options, due to having historical boundaries to work from. However, Kiir is refusing to compromise.

This failure to reach an agreement reveals more than bad faith. Machar and Kiir are terrified of each other.

After years of bitter fighting, both fear for their lives. Kiir has refused to provide Machar (who is said to have British citizenship) with a South Sudanese passport.

Machar, who lives in Khartoum, travels to Juba in the military jet of Sudan’s General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, widely known as Hemeti, a senior member of Sudan's transitional government and commander of the country's Rapid Support Forces, formed from elements of the Janjaweed militia accused of massacres in Darfur.

He never stays in the city without his Sudanese protector. And whenever the pair are in the city, trucks full of elite presidential guards - known as the Tiger Battalion, named after Kiir’s rebel codename - are stationed outside their hotel.

Bullet holes in the walls

The guards outside Kiir's presidential palace in the centre of Juba look more relaxed. They wear stylish military fatigues and red berets. They sport dark glasses and smoke cigarettes. But the walls behind them are pockmarked with bullet holes, legacy of the gunfight between Kiir's and Machar's troops last time they tried to form a government in 2016.

Goats graze in front of plaques announcing South Sudan's slogan “Justice, Liberty, Prosperity”.

In Kiir's private office we meet the president’s secretary, who tells us she used to campaign against gender violence. Kiir enters wearing his trademark stetson hat, presented to him by US President George W Bush on a visit to the White House almost 15 years ago. He has rarely been seen without it since.

The president walks slowly, and his conversation is interrupted by long, pregnant pauses. Kiir maintains he is “hopeful” that a unity government can be formed this month.

At the same time, suspicion of Machar can be heard in much of what he says: “Riek is not convinced about the agreement because the agreement does not make him president. He has been threatening to go back to war.”
Photo: A wall of the presidential palace in Juba pockmarked with bullet holes. Kiir says he will repair the walls when a peace deal is agreed (MEE)

“If he captures the centre of power, if he controls Juba even for a day, he will claim he is president,” the president continues. “Even if he is here [in the room] for 24 hours, his ambition is completed.”

Who will be commander in chief? Kiir replies: “Of course, it will be someone from our side,” contradicting the earlier briefing from Machar’s military spokesman.

“We all want peace except Riek Machar,” adds the president. We reply that Machar also says he wants peace. “There is a difference between what you say and what you have in your heart.”

We observe that making peace requires forgiveness. Kiir replies: “I’m a very forgiving person. In my life I don’t seek revenge. If a person does me wrong on many occasions, I have no problem.”

“Last time the peace did not hold because Machar was not convinced. If we form a government now and Riek accepts the role of first vice president, it will hold. If this government succeeds the past will be forgotten.”

Kiir pauses, then mentions the bullet holes outside the presidential palace: “You have seen the walls. The bullets. I did not close them. I want to remind him. When he comes in together we will plaster the walls. We will repair them. Paint them.”

History is full of examples of men of violence who have given up arms and led the way to lasting peace. 

But are Machar and Kiir capable of the necessary generosity of spirit and moral heroism? With the 22 February deadline nearing and no compromise yet reached, that question is yet to be answered.